Thursday, April 20, 2017

Quick Scene Structuring

Get out a scene you're working on, and let's see about drafting and then revising.

A  lot of writers bore themselves by planning a scene too much in advance. This scene, how about just sketching the very basic events? Try choosing a big scene, like The Reversal, or The Point of No Return, a scene where something important happens.

 In a turning point scenes like those, something changes the direction—that's why it's a "turning point". Think about what big revelation or event could reverse the flow of events (like the heroine goes on the interview for the job she wants, and gets "ambushed") and see if you can write around that big event.  Here's a quick scene design, with the big event at the center:

The setup of the event
The buildup to it
The event
Her reaction
The beginnings of the consequences
The ending
.... which leads to the next scene.

Let's get started brainstorming:

 Scene Goal: (Heroine wants to impress in the interview because she wants the job)- How do you show this?

 Setup: Keep this to a minimum if you can, maybe a paragraph at most before things really get started, so no long walk from the parking lot through the hallway to the interviewer's office. Maybe start with her knocking on the door or telling the receptionist she's here.

 Central event: The interview where the interviewer keeps asking "ambush questions" like-- "You majored in history? Why did you do something stupid like that?"  Or ... "Hmm. Your hobby is knitting. Are you one of those women who knits during business meetings?"

 Conflict: (She loses her temper at a very personal question about what happens if she gets pregnant or married, and when she calms down, she thinks she's messed up interview )

 Result: This doesn't have to be the ultimate result of her finding out if she got the job or not. This is the result of the immediate scene conflict. Like as she walks out of the interview, someone congratulates her, and she says, Oh, I blew it, and he winks and says, "That's not what I hear."

 Or end on the cliffhanger-- the phone rings, she can't get to it, the machine picks it up, she hears the boss's voice, she dives for the receiver and...

In other words, have an actual ENDING. Make sure you end with something that closes the scene but propels into the next scene, when she's maybe on her first day at the new job. Just a quick scene design to help you build to the event and then to show the beginnings of the consequences. But notice, the "big event" isn't just her getting her goal (the job), but rather the conflict event that puts the goal into doubt.

 Now let's bring in INTERNAL.  That is, let's see how this basic scene schematic can be individualized and deepened by adding in the internal component, what the character subconsciously desires and fears.

So as you write the scene, consider how the overall character goal and motivation are going to be advanced in this scene. Of course the scene itself has a goal and conflict and all that, but it also advances the book plot (for example, the quest to solve the murder mystery).  So consider that there is a booklength external conflict and a booklength internal conflict. And there are major internal and external motivations that guide the character through every event in the story. Even if every scene has a goal, you don't need separate motivations and conflicts for each scene; rather the goal is likely to be pieces or aspects of the larger one, a step toward achieving the goal. And the conflict is the event that gets in the way of the goal, or the piece of the overall "big' conflict that arises because of this situation.

 Let me come up with an example. Hmm. I have a character, Theresa, who was adopted when she was 7 by a wealthy family. She's in her 30s now and has had no contact with her birth family since the adoption. So she comes back to her hometown and decides to find her parents. That's her overall goal for the whole book time.


Whole Book Arc
Goal: locating birth parents

Now what's her motivation? Her -external- motivation is the one she can state out loud to anyone who asks.
External motivation: I remember I had siblings, and want to see them again.

What's her -internal- motivation, what is driving her from within but she can't at this point quite acknowledge?
Internal motivation: I've always felt like the outsider in my adoptive family, and maybe my birth family will make me feel like I belong.

 Now external conflict is often what's between her and the goal, or the problems and issues pursuing the goal bring up in her. (There are other genesises of conflict, but those are good ones.) So what's her external conflict?
External conflict: Her adoptive mother doesn't want her to find her parents, and is making it hard.

What internal problem/issue is also hampering her or making trouble?
Internal conflict: She unconsciously thinks that the reason she was given up for adoption and the reason her new family never really "fit" is because there's something wrong with her.

Okay! That's all the BOOK stuff. Now how does that apply to a scene?

Individual Scene Arc
I think what I need to do is to look at the scene and decide what piece or aspect of the book-long goal, etc., it pursues. Where are we in the story?  It's still early. She's formulated the goal, but she hasn't encountered the conflict yet (her adoptive mother).  Right away, I think—it's time! This scene she's going to start trying to achieve her goal, but then encounter the conflict that tells her it's going to be harder than she imagined, because Mom is going to get in the way.

So let's say this is the scene where she goes to the courthouse to find the birth records.

Her goal for the scene: Get my birth certificate. Notice this is only a piece or step of the book-length goal. But in order to track down her birth-parents, she first has to find out who they are, and that's the "step" for this scene—her scene goal.

Her external motivation for the scene: My birth parents' names will be on the birth certificate, and I want to know that. I need the birth certificate to get other records. Again, this isn't the "big motivation" of reuniting with her siblings, but a very scene-focused motivation—why she wants the scene goal.

Her internal motivation for the scene: If I find the birth certificate, I'll know I really did exist before the Wakefields adopted me. Be careful not to reveal too much about the book-arc internal motivation. The entire story, probably, goes to reveal what internal factors are at work here, so in the beginning scenes, we probably just want a piece of it. How would this be shown? Well, she might mutter something, or have a flash of thought, something involuntary, that hints at this. (LIke maybe she's holding the birth certificate and thinks, Oh. I really did exist, didn't I?)

Now comes the all-important scene conflict. Remember, this isn't the whole external conflict, but just the piece of it that is getting in the way of this particular scene goal.
External conflict: The clerk who finds it, and then says, "Does your mother know you're doing this?" and keeps her waiting while he makes a phone call.... to her mom, probably.

Internal conflict: She's afraid of what she'll find if she does get the birth certificate... maybe mom is trying to protect her from finding out that her parents were famous serial murderers. Again, this is only a piece of the big internal conflict. But notice that there's a hint here that "there's something wrong with me" that connects to her overall internal (unrecognized) conflict.

NOW... how does this all affect her SCENE ACTIONS?

Action in pursuit of goal in scene: She goes to the courthouse and demands the birth certificate.

External conflict:
Clerk starts to call adoptive Mom.

Internal conflict: But when she encounters interference, she wavers. Not sure she wants to pursue it this bad-- what if the clerk tells his friends and everyone in town hears about it...

IOW, her internal conflict of being afraid of what she might find makes her ambivalent about achieving the goal. BUT… it's not ACTION unless she DOES something, right? So she how can she show that she's ambivalent?  She can say, "Never mind then," and start towards the door, but then turn back and point at the receiver in the clerk's hand. She can wait with her hand on the door until the clerk hangs up without making the call. Then she can say "Thank  you" and leave.  See how that expresses her internal conflict (maybe Mom is right and I don't want to know) and external conflict (all I know is, I really don't want Mom to know) through action, not just her thoughts.

But remember the effects or consequences of the conflict?  That's how you move from this conflict into the next scene, how you make the step deeper into the story.

So- consequences!

When the clerk picks up the phone again (forcing the conflict again) to call her mom, however, the larger conflict between her and mom fires her anger and forces her into real action (she steals the birth certificate off his desk, maybe).

This sort of action, the action at the end of the scene, is more interesting when in some way it's irrevocable. After all, once she's stolen something, she can't really turn back. She's committed a crime! She's tipped her hand and now the clerk knows she really wants that birth certificate!  And she's actually proved to herself how much she wants it, enough to go against a lifetime of morality to commit a theft.   (Plus the clerk is SO going to tell her mother!)

Think of the motivation and conflict as pullers and pushers. The motivation pulls her towards the goal, but the conflict is shoving her from behind or shoving her back or shoving her in another direction. How is that going to play out in this scene?

Consider that every scene has "Goal Motivation and Conflict," but not the larger GMC. Rather they're all going to be aspects or pieces of the larger GMC. And what's important is-- how do they impel this character to act and react at this moment?

 ACTION is the ultimate purpose of motivation and conflict-- to cause the character to do something she has to do to be in this story, to move one more step towards her goal or away from the relative comfort she enjoyed before this story got started, before she started going after the goal, before she confronted the conflict.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Inconvenient Research Information= Opportunity!

Inconvenient Research Information= Opportunity!

For some reason I decided I had to have a story where my sleuthing couple are at a cricket match and the batter gets "beaned" by the ball. Only it's not a ball, it's a meteorite.

No prob! Of course, I know nothing about cricket or meteors either! But that's what Google is for. And when Google fails, someone within my husband's wide acquaintance can always step up. (He knows all sorts of interesting people because he's been the program chair of Scientech, a lifelong-education organization composed muchly of retired engineers and physicians.

Okay, I'll be honest here. It wasn't that Google FAILED, precisely, but it gave me information that seemed to make my scene impossible. To wit: Many meteorites fall to earth every year, but almost none (like two in the history of the world, as far as we know) have hit humans. Also, a meteorite falling on someone's head would pretty much obliterate him, because it's fallen a very long way and very fast. Shoot! I can't kill off a kid in a cricket game with his parents watching! And anyway, this is supposed to be a romantic novella, and Natasha and Matt are unlikely to be feeling much like cuddling if they just saw a death. 

But I persevere. It's not a problem, it's an opportunity! I realized I needed to write around these inconvenient research facts. First, of course, I turned to the higher source, Jeff's buddy the astronomer. He gave more inconvenient information, but the facts were more nuanced, a lot of "it depends." And I could work around by manipulating the options "it depends" gave me.
So while it will cause some adjustments in the sequence, it's still all feasible. Of course, plausibility is still an issue, but really, this would be a one-in-a-billion event in the best of situations. People really don't get hit by meteors very often! But they COULD be-- if it's ever happened, it can happen again, right? And fiction is about the unusual, right? That's why we get to make it up. So my cricket-playing youth turns out to be the THIRD person ever to be hit by a meteorite. Talk about wrong place/wrong time.

So anyway, Kurt said that they are usually 2-3 inches in diameter (which is fine), would come down almost perpendicular to the ground (a bit of a problem, given that kid-obliteration issue), and would probably be 800 degrees hot or so (but could be much hotter). However, my meteorite (yes, it's MINE! :) could be touchable in an hour depending on the material. (I love "depending on" because that means I have some leeway and it's still legal.)

What's fun is to work the scene around those requirements. I don't want the meteorite to hit the kid on the top of the head (perpendicular descent), but I could have it hit something else first and ricochet. So I can have that something be a tree, which it splits or breaks. That impact would diminish the velocity to a less lethal level and could also change the trajectory, so it's now moving horizontally and could just glance off the youth's temple rather than, you know, obliterating him.

As for the super-heatedness, also a obstacle/opportunity! I'd planned to have Natasha send the children to look for the object that hit the tree and kid, and her niece was going to bring it back. But now I'm going to have Dorie try to pick it up and cry out because it's still hot (I can make it be about 20 minutes after the impact), and Natasha will then have to join her and pick it up with her glove and maybe some leaves from the broken tree. That makes for more character interaction with each other and the object, and also that little minor bit of conflict that makes a scene more fun to read.
Research Obstacle = Plot Opportunity.
Anyway, I wanted to report back on this momentous issue! And seriously, everyone, watch out. 18,000 to 84,000 meteorites hit Earth every year, and your head could be in the way! (Source is here.) One more thing we have to worry about! (NOT.)
Hey, sign up here and you can get instant access to my new e-book, 13 Prime Principles of Plot.

Get free book here!