There are two great resources for scenes:
Bickham, Jack M. Scene and Structure. Cincinnati: Writer’s Digest Books, 1999
A very structured approach to plotting that is interesting to read once, but not necessarily to practice because it is SO structured. However, he has a fascinating “Scenic Master Plot” in the appendix that helped me understand the flow of events across a novel, and what considerations you need to keep in mind. Great for getting a grasp on the Big Picture.
Scofield, Sandra. The Scene Book: A Primer for the Fiction Writer. New York: Penguin, 2007.
Scofield grabbed me when she described a story is simply a “rosary of scenes.” This book is just fun to read. Great suggestions on exercises and self-study. Scofield says that you can make the most improvement in your stories if you just learn to write with scenes. While she includes mostly adult novels and short stories as example, she does recommend the Newbery Honor book by Gary D. Schmidt, Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy and the Newbery book by Karen Cushman, Catherine, Called Birdy.
Of the two, Bickham might actually have more information. But. I read Bickham and told people about this book for years, but I never really “got” it until I read Scofield. Maybe I wasn’t ready? I think, though, that Scofield just presents the material in a different way, one that makes me understand and put it into practice better. Now, I go back to Bickham and understand his material in a different way.
In the Hawaii workshops, we spent a lot of time talking about scenes.
First what is a scene?
Well, writers kinda stumble around on definitions like this. We sorta know what it is when we see it. But how do we put it into words?
(An aside: I find it frustrating that we don’t have the vocabulary to talk about our craft. Even for a basic thing like a scene, writers find it hard to put into words–irony intended–what we are doing. And when you get to something like voice, it’s even harder. We need to work harder to find vocabulary for our craft.)
A scene is a connected series of actions that lead up to something. Notice, is is actions. It’s not just dialogue or narrative, but actions. Implied is a beginning, middle and an end. Certainly, the scene should make a difference in the story by changing something, introducing tension, developing relationships, etc.
Ok. Take the Box Test.
The Scene Box Test
Pull out a chapter of your current WIP and draw boxes around the scenes.
1. Does each scene have a series of actions?
2, Is there a beginning, middle and end?
3. Does the outcome of the scene make a difference in the story?
4. Why did you choose THIS scene? At this point in the story, why did you slow down and zoom in on details to SHOW-DON’T-TELL this particular section of the story?
5. Is there an engine, a question, a pulse, a tension, an anticipation, a something that runs through the scene and makes you want to turn the page?
I’ll tell you what I found. Unfocused scenes. Half scenes with either no beginning or no end. Too much narrative. Hey, I’m revising!
What did you find?
On November 2-3, I taught a novel workshop and a picturebook workshop for the Hawaii SCBWI, where I met some great writers. It was an exciting two days of nouns, verbs, sensory details, thumbnails, plot, pacing and fun.
Then, my husband joined me for a week holiday. We stayed on the lovely Moloa’a Beach, which turned out to be the beach where the pilot for the old TV show “Gilligan’s Island” was filmed. We hiked the Grand Canyon of the Pacific, snorkeled, laid in the sun, and ate too much.
Writing? Nah. I didn’t get much done. Some, but not a lot.
But I came home ready to work again and that’s great. I’ve had some questions here on the blog that I’ll answer, and the Hawaii group raised good questions and made good points. So, I have lots to tell you about this week.
Thursday, the 32nd SW Regional International Reading Association Conference is here in Little Rock and I’ll be speaking at that. Otherwise, I’m back at work!