This was my craft book pick for my second term at the Seton Hill Writing Popular Fiction master's program.
One of the things I often struggle with in...moreThis was my craft book pick for my second term at the Seton Hill Writing Popular Fiction master's program.
One of the things I often struggle with in my fiction, especially in long fiction, is the meandering scene. Sometimes things just draaaag in my writing. I've come to realize that part of that is sometimes a lack of focus in my scenes. They're just *there*.
I'm somewhat of an organic writer. I don't tend to plot much and while I do have an idea of where things are going, and several scenes in my head that I would like to hit, it can change without notice. So the idea of sitting down and planning scenes kind of scares me.
But I chose this book to get an idea of what a scene should have in it. And thank goodness, it's not about sitting down and plotting out your scenes a head of time. Sure, there are things you should think about when sitting down to write a scene, but it gives more tips about how to fix scenes (or just get rid of them) once you've written them. It'll come in handy when I sit down to revise my thesis.
And it did improve my writing already. I ended up going back over a scene that felt flat in the pages I'm working on this month and make it serve the story.
So, what's a scene? Ms. Scofield defines a scene as follows:
Scenes are those passages in narrative when we slow down and focus on an event in the story so that we are "in the moment" with the characters in action.
Scenes are blocks of action that serve the telling of the story. This is one thing that I have to remember--every part of the story should be there to serve the story. Sometimes I end up with scenes that flesh out a character--for me as the author--but does the story no good. Those are the scenes that need to be ripped out or summarized.
There are four basic elements to a scene: 1) event and emotion 2) function 3) structure 4) pulse
Yes, the first element there is two things. It's because they're intertwined. In a scene your characters act on and react to events. Characters do and feel. And there should be a reason behind what the characters are doing/feeling that furthers the story (that's element two).
Scenes have structure: beginnings, middles, and ends. In a way, they are little stories themselves, though connected to a much larger piece.
Now, the fourth element, I had heard bantered about, but never understood. Scenes have pulses. What's a pulse? It's a bit more fuzzy than the other elements. It's what makes the story stand out on the page, the heartbeat that keeps it moving forward. It's the tension.
The book goes into describing each of these elements in detail, provides examples and exercises, as well as questions to ask when it comes to your own work.
The most useful section I found was the section on beats. That's another writing term I heard a lot, but didn't understand. What the heck is a beat? It turns out that a beat is a little piece of action and reaction in a scene. All the beats add up to the event of the scene. It's the physical actions of the character that drives the event forward.
Ms. Scofield also talks about conflict and tension, which I'll admit to skimming over a bit. We got the Big Tension Primer from Donald Maass my first term at Seton Hill, so much was repetition of what he focused on. What was useful was a section called Negotiation: An alternate view of conflict. This part of the book talked about tension arising not from characters being in angry conflict all the time, but in character negotiation:
[...] an exchange of character desires and denials and relenting, until some sort of peace is carved out, or else the whole interaction falls apart
It's a slightly different way at looking at conflict--that of a process of change and resolution.
Ms Scofield also has a section of the book devoted to reading for technique, that is, studying other writer's scenes, as well as studying your own scenes with an eye to improve them. She condenses the tips in the book down to a few pages of questions to ask as you look at your own writing. This is a goldmine of revision-fodder. I'll certainly be using her tips and questions on one of my revision passes. It's all good stuff, but if I try to implement it while writing, my writing will grind to a halt.
The trick to using much of the knowledge in craft books is to know when to use it. I'm more aware of needing to have a purpose for my scenes, and more aware of the need for tension, as well as weaving in beats of action, but I'm also trying to balance that awareness with just getting the story out. Bones first, then I can flesh the rest out.
Certainly, the Scene Book is one craft book I'll be picking up again, and applying to my work once I'm at the stage where it would make the most sense to do so. In the mean time, I'll take what I've learned by osmosis, and it'll come out in the writing I do now.
It's a very useful book and I recommend the it if you have issues with meandering scenes or scenes that just seem... flat. There's a lot of good advice on how to deal with those issues.(less)
I wish I could give half stars... this is really a 3 and a half book rather than a 4 star book.
There is a lot of good information between the covers,...moreI wish I could give half stars... this is really a 3 and a half book rather than a 4 star book.
There is a lot of good information between the covers, but some of it I found trite, like the entire humor section. The religion section makes the fallacy that religion isn't rational and that its either/or when it comes to religion and science/rationality.
I also got tired of the "And we did this in our novel..." bits.
But when it was good, it was *very* good, and is certainly a decent book for the beginning writer, as well as a nice refresher for the more experienced writer.