Brett Williams's Reviews > Scene & Structure

Scene & Structure by Jack M. Bickham
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really liked it

Having read this years ago, it remains an excellent reference. As one in the Elements Of Writing series, Brickham does a very good and thorough job of showing why structure matters and how to use it to your advantage. Of course the main point of it all is to keep the reader engaged and tell a good story. One does this by tailoring the tale to human psychology (at least modern reader psychology). He says readers are fascinated and threatened by significant change; they want a story to start with it and a story question of vital importance to the characters (is there salvation? What will happen to America? Is the world going to end?), and thereby the reader, keeping the reader worried, with their questions answered at the end through a means that is plausible (logical cause / effect inside and outside characters in the story) and rewarding (which doesn’t mean a happy ending if the story unfolds a bad one). He describes a classic structure of “scenes” with external action that could be watched on stage, followed by what he calls a “sequel,” composed of internal character thought / consideration / conflict / emotion and decision leading to more external action of the next scene. How you manage their order effects the pace. A series of action scenes where your character responds to every new difficulty quickens the pace, while back-to-back internalizations slow it down. And the tools he provides span more than just writing books. The act of inserting a time constraint (a ticking time bomb, bad weather arriving any minute, the world’s going to end soon unless…) can elevate the reader’s tension (good) and ruin a movie (bad) when we know what the screen writer’s up to. While some of these tactics can be overused—as they are in pulp fiction—they don’t hurt the serious literary piece either. If there’s a message of value to deliver over and above mere entertainment, why not get the reader there with some intensity of interest, especially if you’re going to take them on a long haul? The only negative to Brickham’s instruction are his writing examples, at times mundane, poorly written and often trite as to make the point without enthusiasm. He admits this, but it reads like an excuse not to make the examples interesting with a bit more effort. Tolerate this minor point and you’ll get a much better idea of what writers do, how they do it and you could do yourself if your goal is to be an effective writer. BTW, this applies to non-fiction as well.

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Reading Progress

July 15, 2011 – Started Reading
October 20, 2011 – Finished Reading
April 29, 2020 – Shelved

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