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Saturday, August 21, 2010

Scene Building, How I Start part 4

 My novel Aegypt

Why and what: you need to begin scene writing with the input and a "what."  The "what" is something that will be entertaining to your readers.  Let's continue with the example of Dana-ana.  The main character has been accused of stealing lunches in school and is about to be beaten for it.  The tension in the scene is obvious.  The excitement in the scene builds through the description and conversation.  Description is the critical ingredient in building the scene.  You have to set the scene for your readers.  I follow Arlo Guthrie's advice and use description in many ways to tell the reader when, where, and who.  Without description the reader isn't anywhere.  You have to establish the reader in the world you are building in the scene.  I do this early on.  Let's look at the first few paragraphs of Dana-ana:
     The yells of students burst from the halls and classrooms and pressed into the yard. Byron Macintyre was carried along with the crowd. He just wanted to get to lunch. He rolled his eyes and kept up with the moving mob. The halls of their old school building were not very wide, and the lockers on either side made them smaller. The high school didn’t have that many students, but when they were all out of class and moving in one direction, it was nearly impossible to travel anywhere else. Byron figured he would just wait until he could get outside the doors, then he could duck back to his locker, the cafeteria, and then the library.

     Byron was tall, but he still couldn’t see what was going on ahead. Out of exasperation, he yelled over the noise of the crowd, “What’s going on?”
     From beside him, one of the sophomore girls laughed, “It’s that girl Diana. The stinky skank, who wears crappy clothes.”
     Yeah, Byron knew about Diana. Everyone knew about Diana. She was never very far from trouble with teachers, students, or parents. She didn’t have any friends, but she usually kept a low profile.

In these few paragraphs, I establish for the reader the place (a High School with some info about the school), the time (it's lunch, modern world is kind of obvious too), Byron, and the main character, Dana (Diana).  This, in my mind, is necessary.  You have to establish the reader solidly in the scene, then you can let them go to experience the rest of the action.  Note, the action moves even in this descriptive portion.  You can't let your readers loose by simply stating a description.  You need to keep your readers involved throughout.  Once you establish the basics of where, when, and who for a scene, you can continue to build with description in the conversation and narrative.
One more point about scenes: show don't tell.  Don't tell us motivations.  Don't reveal everything.  Show us what is going on in the scene and let it play out like in real life.  You don't know motivations in the real world.  You don't know what others are thinking.  You don't know even that much about yourself--sometimes.  Reality becomes real in a scene when the reader can see the entire situation, but doesn't know the internal motivations of the actors.  This is the way of the real world.  This is what builds tension in the real world--and this is what drives the power of a scene.  Tomorrow, I'll delve deeper into moving the scene through conversation and narrative.  You can read the rest of the chapter at

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