Wednesday, July 18, 2012

I Know What My Scene Is About -- Do You?

First off, let me apologize for not posting Fridays Links last week. I was sick (along with my daughter) and didn’t feel like it. Sorry. Now on to the post.

Yesterday I came across a post entitled “What is the scene ABOUT?” over at Edittorrent, (a site I heartily recommend, BTW) and was reminded of the dramatic change I made in the way I approached my story.  A change that helped tighten up my chapters.

When I first started writing my story about further events at Hogwarts, I had little concept of how chapters or scenes should be constructed. My strategy was to just let things happen in chronological order until a natural break occurred and then start a new chapter. After doing it this way for a while, I came up with what I thought was a brilliant idea for organizing the book. Since lots of wild and crazy things happen at the school throughout the course of the story (most of them only tangentially related to the plot), I decided that each of these events would become the basis for a chapter. Then I would shoehorn the necessary plot points or dialogue (or whatever) into whichever chapter seemed most appropriate.

Surprisingly enough, this actually worked a few times (mostly by accident), but most of the time it failed miserably. The plot moved in fits and starts. And the book lacked cohesiveness. After an embarrassingly long period of time, I realized a book should be organized around the plot and so I rearranged everything appropriately. The book improved significantly, but many of the chapters still seemed bloated, with no sense of focus. It took me another year and a half, but I finally figured out what I was doing wrong. I had no clue what the scene (or chapter) was about. I was packing so many different events and unrelated plotlines into my chapters they were falling apart under their own weight.

So, similar to Theresa’s post above, I went through my manuscript and determined what the purpose of every scene and chapter should be. I would write a one sentence description for each scene and perhaps two or three sentences for each chapter. For example, “The MC learns about a clue and proceeds to investigate.” And then I ruthlessly went through each scene and tossed out everything that didn’t further that goal. I’ll admit it was a painful exercise. I have no assurance that the many paragraphs I removed will ever find a home somewhere else in the story, and I will shed a tear for them if they don’t, but the chapters are much tighter now. And that has made all the difference.

Do any of you have trouble keeping your chapters focused?

5 comments:

  1. Yes, I totally understand! It happens all the time to me. Sometimes I find that I just have a random chapter in my story that has almost no purpose at all! It hurts cutting out scenes you put lots of work into and poured your heart into, but sometimes you just have to let go to make the whole story stronger.

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    1. I had quite a few scenes that didn't need to be in the book. Since I'm trying to shorten the book, this is probably a good thing.

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  2. I think I told you about Snowflake Plotting which is exactly what you did, but in reverse order. I learned about it too late to write my book the easy way. I never thought of trying to reverse engineer a snowflake plot. I'm afraid of what might happen, as in I might grow old and die before I ever publish a book. But I have been trying to focus on the MC's goal for each scene, if not my goal.

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    1. My biggest problem was the way I began the whole process of writing. I started out by writing a bunch of individual scenes and only later did I figure out how they could be arranged to fit together as a coherent story.

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  3. I tend to have the opposite problem in that my first drafts are all about the plot and the MC's goals. I usually end up with a very tight and pretty short manuscript lacking description or breather scenes. The first round of editing I do is to flesh out the scenes, give my characters a little more playing room, extend the moments etc. Not sure if it's the best way to do things but I think it's working for me although my character development sometimes suffers for the sake of the plot.

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