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1-13-13 Variations on the Scene

1-13-13 Variations on the Scene

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Published by K.M. Weiland

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Published by: K.M. Weiland on Jan 13, 2013
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01/13/2013

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If writers have one complaint about the whole notion of story structure, it’s thatit makes them feel boxed in. But the great thing about structure is that itprovides a solid framework for your story, while still presenting endlesspossibilities. This is just as true of the Scene* as it is of the three-act structurethat guides your story as a whole.Now that we’ve concluded our exploration of the first part of the Scene—the
scene
—let’s take a minute to explore some of the variations upon that standardmodel of goal/conflict/disaster. You’ve already probably thought up somesuccessful scenes, in your own stories and in popular books and movies, thatdon’t seem to quite fit the proposed structure. How exactly does that work? Is itone of those “if-you’re-famous-you-can-get-away-with-anything” instances, orare there credible exceptions?Well, undoubtedly, there are a few of the former lurking about. But, in truth,Scene structure can flex to fit just about any proposed situation in your story. Aswith just about anything in writing, the key to breaking the rule is, first, knowingthe rule and, second, knowing why you’re breaking it.
Variations on the
Scene
Goal· The goal belongs to a character other than the narrator.
Most of the time we want our
scene
’s POV character to be the one with the mostat stake. But there will be occasions when he’s just an observer. He will always
have
a
scene
goal, but his goal may not always be the one that drives theconflict and disaster. For example, he may want nothing more than to make aPB&J sandwich, while his sister wants to get the attention of the cute TVrepairman working in the living room. Your hero may be just an observer to thegreater stakes of love and war. However, his observation and probable inputmust either immediately or eventually relate back to
his
story. If you can tie inthe other person’s goal and conflict with the narrator’s, so much the better (forexample, perhaps his sister’s flirting interferes with his lunch).
· The goal is discovered after the
 scene
begins.
Although your character will usually have decided upon his goal at the end of theprevious
sequel 
(more on that in future posts), this won’t always be the case.
Variations on the
Scene
http://www.helpingwritersbecomeauthors.comhttp://www/kmweiland.com
 
Sometimes he’s going to enter
scenes
without yet knowing what he wants. Don’tever let a character wander aimlessly for too long, but if you need to introducecertain events to set up his goal, don’t be afraid to give a
scene
a little time todevelop its objective.
· The goal is implied instead of directly stated.
Stating your character’s goals at the beginning of a
scene
grounds readers andhelps them focus on the point of the
scene
. But subtlety is never to beoverrated. Sometimes your character’s goal is just gonna be plain obvious—bothfrom the context (for example, he runs into a bank with a hood over his headand a gun in his hand) and/or from the decision at the end of the previous
sequel 
. If you feel your character’s
scene
goal is obvious, you may be able toget away without ever referring to it outright.
Variations on
Scene
Conflict· The
 scene
opens with the conflict instead of the goal.
Beginning a scene
in medias res
is a great way to hook readers into the action.Instead of dawdling about with set-up, we’re often better off cutting to thechase. This variation can go hand-in-hand with that of the implied goal,discussed above. However, you can also put it to use in situations in which adirect statement of the goal is still necessary. After opening in the middle of theconflict, slow down for just a sentence or two to let readers know what thecharacter is after. You’ll want to use this variation carefully, since readers needto be oriented in a scene as quickly as possible; you don’t want themfloundering around, trying to figure out what in thunderation is going on.
· The conflict is understated.
Conflict doesn’t have to mean guns blazing—or even tempers flaring. Sometimesyou’re going to want your
scene
’s conflict to remain understated. ErnestHemingway’s classic short story “Hills Like White Elephants” offers an aproposexample, in which the characters’ small talk hides a deeper conflict brewingunder the surface.
Variations on
Scene
Disasters· The
 scene
ends before the disaster.
Sometimes you will need your disaster to occur off-screen or merely throughimplication. This might be either because you don’t want to show the disaster indetail (the ol’ cut-and-fade used in the movies to avoid unsavory details) orbecause the disaster will need to take place in a different time and place,effectively distancing it from the current
scene
. You can get away with this, no
 
problemo, so long as you close with the
threat 
of disaster. Readers will fill in theblanks and get the same bang for their buck as they would if you included thedisaster full-on.
Variations to the
Scene
as a Whole· The entire
 scene
is skipped, implied, or summarized.
One of the easiest ways to control pacing is to manipulate the length of 
scenes
and
sequels
. Emphasis on
scenes
speeds things up; emphasis on
sequels
slowsthings down. Although
scene
and
sequel 
are both integral halves of the Scene,we can sometimes perform a sleight of hand with either of them. In the case of the
scene
, you may sometimes feel your story will be better off for downplayingcertain events. The
scene
may take place entirely off-screen, or it may besummarized briefly at the beginning of your
sequel 
. This is an importanttechnique but always one to be used with caution. Your
scene
is your story.Avoid too many, and your story will teeter.
· The
 scene
is interrupted by a new
 scene
.
Sometimes the introduction of new information or events will stop the currentgoal/
scene
before it plays out and, in its place, begin a
new 
scene dynamic.Your character may begin a
scene
with a specific goal, only to be interrupted bya new catalyst that causes him to abruptly change goals. Maybe he wants toapologize to his wife with a huge bouquet of roses. But when alien lasers takeout the flower stand, his priorities are going to change in an instant. Whenpossible, you’ll eventually want to return to the original goal, just to tie off loose ends, but this might not happen until the end of the story.
· A POV switch interrupts the
 scene
.
If you’re using more than one POV narrator, you may sometimes find it necessaryto switch horses midstream. Because a POV switch is indicated on the page inthe same way as a normal Scene break, we tend to think a new POV alwaysmeans a new Scene. But this isn’t necessarily so. For example, in one Scene inmy historical novel
Behold the Dawn
, I switched POVs smack in the middle of adialogue exchange.Annan swallowed and brushed his hands across the front of his tunic. “That is what he has deceived himself into believing.He stood, andhe could sense more than see the tension that swept over her. Shewas suddenly like a hare, tensed, ready to run if the hound came butone step nearer. “Lady Mairead.” 

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