Plotting To Be Scene – Part Seven
I am studying how to plot, and the relationship of plots to scenes. I recently completed my first draft of Scepter’s Sacrifice, and know that, once I start revising and editing my story, I will have much work to do. I am using James Scott Bell’s Plot and Structure to help me learn to write more professionally. In Bell’s seventh chapter, Scenes, he includes three exercises.
You can see my answers to Part Six.
EXERCISE ONE – Pull a novel at random from your shelf. Open to any scene and read it. Now identify the places where you learn about the character’s objectives in the scene.and the conflict. How does the scene end? Do you want to read on?
I love Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time, so I turned to The Dragon Reborn and picked Chapter 29. Then, I typed it all in, by hand. It was about 3,200 words. As I typed it in, I immersed myself in it, absorbing as much as I could.
Robert Jordan constructed his action scene with two bookends wrapping around an inner scene. As we start and end our scene, our POV battles her antagonist, the Head Cook. She seeks to avoid knuckling under, while serving out her punishment, performing kitchen drudgery. Inside, our author takes us into an altogether different realm, where our POV struggles to understand her sponsor before she begins her own perilous journey into uncharted dangers.
Our POV’s immediate goal is to endure until she finishes her shift, waiting for her punishment tour to end. Her larger goal is to escape her sponsor’s benign confinement, and chase bad guys. Her second goal does not emerge until we are well into the second scene.
Our POV is already in conflict, her personality clashing with her chief tormentor. Their ping-pong match uses few words, and Action and Reaction are clear.
When her sponsor arrives, our POV finds herself in another contest of wills. This conflict revolves around being put into dangerous situation without explanation or disclosure by her sponsor. Our POV is irritable by nature, and duplicity does not increase her comfort level or build trust.
Finally, our POV receives permission to hunt bad guys. However, her sponsor won’t sanction her activities, or acknowledge ordering her to do it if she runs into trouble. She also explains added dangers, and raises the stakes beyond simply searching for bad guys. She is now also charged with keeping super weapons out of the hands of her bad guys.
This makes me want to read on, to see if our POV and her friends escape unhampered, and begin their hunt. Knowing so little, how can they ever complete their mission, and safeguard their friends?
EXERCISE TWO – Now find an action scene and chart its intensity using the blank intensity scale that is provided above.
Since my scene was action oriented, I went ahead and used it again. Then I hit my first snag. How do I know when tension goes up, or down. So, I invented my way. I read each paragraph. When I read tension words, I marked it as increasing tension. When I read words which were calming, I marked it as lowering tension. When I found nothing, I left it alone. I’m sure geeks have better ways of doing this. I might ask on Scribophile what they suggest.
EXERCISE THREE: Look at one of your chapters and analyze the hook, intensity level, and prompt at the end. Can you strengthen each aspect?
Now, it was time for me to look at my work. If I’d had to start with my scene, I would have freaked out. But, now that I had already looked at Robert Jordan’s scene, I was ready for my own. My random pick was Part Two, Scene Nineteen. I wrote it from my MC’s POV.
But, before I start, some background, which will help explain problems I found. My MC learned, just before this scene, that her husband and father had both been assassinated. When I wrote her character arc, I decided to fold in five stages of grief. And, when we see her here, she is still numb and in denial. She is just starting to break into anger. So I wrote her as nonreactive, while everything goes on around her. I succeeded. And I’m sure readers would feel pretty uninvolved, too.
So, let’s see how well I did.
I didn’t set my hook for some time. Readers would have to wade through four paragraphs of description or POV introspection before anything starts to happen. I think paragraphs five, six and eight could become my hook, with work. Paragraph seven weakens everything, so it needs to move.
I should move or drop paragraphs one through four, and paragraph seven.
I buried, somewhere early on, my MC’s goal. But I’m having trouble finding it. I think I wanted to emphasize her hope for unity between her People and her adopted country. If that is so, it isn’t very clear. When I rewrite, I must slip this in, whether my MC says it, or someone else does.
My best chance for my prompt comes five paragraphs before my scene ends, when she bemoans her lack of power, and being other people’s pawn to manipulate.
I should reconsider how much value my last paragraphs add, if any.
I confess to having trouble defining when tension increases or decreases. I finally decided that, if I put tension words in paragraphs, tension goes up. If calming words show up, tension goes down.
I numbered my paragraphs. Using Excel, I marked tension increases and decreases. When I built my graph, I got numbers from -1 to 12. And, since I didn’t think my scene was more tense than five, or lower than zero, I squeeze my numbers down until they fit.
And this feels right. We come in on my MC and her escort creeping through heavy forest, trying to avoid their enemy. Tempers flair among her men, and escalates into brawls. Officers restore order, and explain how desperate their situation is. My MC can’t take it any more, and vents her grief and anger, only making things worse.
So, what does this mean?
I loved this exercise. Having written 83 scenes for my WIP, I knew I didn’t know very much about. Over time, I forgot about setting hooks, and making my prompts compelling. I can fix those things. And, having glimpsed tension, I can work on making my scenes rise and fall as I need to, I hope.