Seeming To Scene
Chapter Three – Added Thoughts
Last week, I did exercises from Chapter Three of The Scene Book – A Primer For The Fiction Writer by Sandra Scofield. When I got to the sixth question, I deconstructed one of my original scenes. The results dismayed me. That ate at me to the point that I decided to go back and repair my scene, and revised it.
6. Cleaning Up Mud – Study one of your scenes. List the beats. Repairing the beats will give you a revision outline. If you see that the action is not clear, make it so. Sometimes the fuzziness comes from failure to put the scene firmly into place. Then you can make the beats escalate in tension to build emotion. Look to see what the responses of the characters are.
So, I sat about deconstructing Scene Seventeen. First, my scene had been part of a larger scene. But, on closer examination, it felt more natural to break it into three parts. After doing that, I set about analyzing it.
The original version contained 1002 words. I broke them down: dialog = 417, physical beats = 262, grounding description = 56, and internal thoughts = 267. Looking at the percentages, I spent 42% on dialog, about 26% on physical beats and internals each, and only 6% on description.
My scene felt flat and muddy. The scene’s focal point didn’t jump out at me. Considering that my main character is waking up after a horrible night in which she lost her two-year old son, this scene should have been fraught with tension. Nor did I have any clear sense of where she was.
What Did I Do to “Repair” My Scene?
I looked at my scene layout, and identified two emotional peaks I wanted to create. I wanted her to try to get away at paragraph eleven of the revised version. And I wanted her to try one more time, with less energy, at paragraph thirty-three.
I also decided that trying to force my main character to eat added nothing to my scene. So, I removed those words, beats, internalities, and description.
Then I set about laying in the physical beats again. I tried to keep what I already had. But I needed to move them around. As well, I needed to add more, and change some that I had. I wound up adding 99 physical beat words.
Then I laid in grounding details, describing her surroundings and what she and her companions looked like. Since I had so few to begin with, I added 118 words.
Then I looked at her internalities, her thoughts, her emotions. Following Scofield’s advice, I tried to match early internalities to physical beats and dialog, aiming to create tension. I capped that, at paragraph 11, with her attempt to get up and leave her companions to go look for her son.
Then I allowed her companions to subdue her, and she calmed down. But, she still wasn’t willing to let her son go. Over the next paragraphs, her internal tension grows, and she tries to convince her friend to let her go. Blocked, she makes one more physical effort to leave, at paragraph 33. After that, she decides to wait for someone in more authority.
The last thing I added was dialog. I took out 99 words. At least some of the words removed dealt with trying to force Deheya to eat.
The revised version contained 1236 words. I broke them down: dialog = 318 (-99), physical beats = 400 (+138), grounding description = 174 (+118), and internal thoughts = 344 (+77). Looking at the percentages, I spent 26 (-16)% on dialog, 32 (+6)% on physical beats, 14 (+8)% on grounding, and 28 (+1)% on internalities.
My revised version still doesn’t seem tight enough. Perhaps I will learn more tricks to help me. But, it does seem more focused. I tried for two emotional peaks, but I’m not sure if that is wise or not.
Starting with physical beats and waiting until the end to put in dialog changed my scene, improving it I think. After adding grounding details to my physical beats, I could clearly aim toward each of my emotional peaks. Dialog became more of a filler.
What Does It Mean?
When I wrote my WIP, I badly exceeded my word count goal, 170,000 instead of 110,000. As I’ve waited to do The First Read, I’ve nursed the hope that I can cut fluff out of my scenes and get closer. Judging by my scene analysis and rewrite, I shouldn’t expect shorter scenes.
I will need to go back and analyze every one of my 84 scenes, using Scofield’s approach. That means I will be extensively editing all of them.