Friday, February 4, 2011

What I've Learned About Scene

     I wanted to talk about scene today. I'm working on the first draft of a middle grade novel. (I've had a few false starts.) In the process I have noticed a few things. 1) I keep trying to order things 2) My "beginning" is getting vague as I go deeper into my story.3) I keep reading over my written scenes.  *pulling out hair*

    I've continued to look for all the advice I can about the role scene plays in the novel. The main point idea: scenes are the starting point for story. Usually, scene presents itself long before you have a coherent story. However, we who are control freaks or want to sound "authory" try and explain the scenes instead of just writing them. Don't misunderstand this is not the editor showing its fangs--that comes later. This is our need to order things, understand exactly where we are going, write everything in our minds eye and plan accordingly.

     So, what to do. Well, here it is...*listen up you pantsers your gonna love this*. Story shouldn't be our concern until we have created enough narrative that the "elements themselves begin asking for the coherence of structure" (Vandenburgh, 27). Simply stated: Write our brains out without thinking about order or where it's taking us. As far as this draft is concerned, the writing should suck. Vandenburgh calls this "prewriting" to make it easier to toss later.(Resource: Architecture of a Novel by Jane Vandenburgh.)

    Holly Lyle on her post about scene states,"As the atom is the smallest discrete unit of matter, so the scene is the smallest discrete unit in fiction..." Our scenes are to story what scaffolding is to skyscrapers. It appears we try to manipulate our scenes before we give them a chance to spill out on the page. 

     Kay Kenyon writes,"If you are reading and re-reading your last few pages to get a run-up on your next scene, stop this now. Rereading causes revision blindness later."  She suggests using a tool called a scene list to jot down things that occur to you while you are writing to keep you from going back. I believe this is similar to the process Joyce Carol Oats uses when the story is first being born.

     Linda Clare explains that the most important element of scene is change, something has to happen. We still have the work of choosing, we need not tell everything in our minds eye. The adage..."Enter late, leave early" should be all the order we care about at this point.

     I love Jean Oram's analogy of a scene to a Thanksgiving dinner. What if you sat everyone down, insisted that everyone act a certain way, eat in an order you dictate and not allow any spontaneity. Why? Because, it is your dinner and you have a vision of what it "should" look like. She goes on to explain that this would create a "cardboard cutout of real life". This is what too much pressure to order can do to scene. (Besides, whats Thanksgiving without some drama?)

Bottom line folks...there is a ton of great advice out there. At some point you discover what works for you and I have great faith that I will too.

What helps you to get the story on to the page? What role does scene play in that process?


  1. I'm so in agreement with the re-reading. I block myself the minute the negativity starts climbing it's way into my head.

    Sometimes I find that starting over does well. Sometimes it's about enjoying the moment and deal with the crap later.

    Happy Friday!

  2. Starting over seriously helped me when writing my novel. It just wasn't working so I scrapped it and started fresh and just wrote until my fingers bled. Things work much better now!

  3. i love to edit as i go, even if it makes me write slower. i'd rather deal with little edits then a whole big revision at the end.

    that being said, i just started over on a novel i wrote two years ago. UGH. oh well!

    oh and i've finished your crit! send me an email at amiegr8tstuff (at) aol (dot) com and i'll send it to you!


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