Tuesday, 12 August 2014

Back to Basics: What is a scene?

I presented my workshop on The Staircase of Turning Points at the Romance Writers' of Australia's 2014 conference in Sydney this past weekend.

I talked about creating lots of forward momentum by making sure each scene has turning points.

Afterwards, I was chatting to a writer who'd been in the workshop, and she admitted she wasn't entirely sure what a scene actually was.

It really got me thinking. What is a scene?
Not only that, but how much happens in one scene? How many people are in it? How many pages long should they be? How many scenes are in a chapter?

My definition of a scene at its most basic is 'something that happens'.

 Making a scene from Ondine 4,
The Spring Revolution 
A character discovers something, has a win or a loss, makes a compromise, becomes angry, becomes jubilant etc.

So something has to happen and there needs to be some kind of MOOD or EMOTIONAL change taking place.

Have the character happy at the start of the scene and miserable at the end, or vice versa. If they have the same emotion the whole way through, it will feel like nothing is happening.

A scene should have two or more characters. It might have only one character, but that's harder to pull off because this one character doesn't have anyone to talk with or react to. Or lie to.

Then there is the sage advice of "get into the scene as late as possible, get out as early as possible".

The above scene card is from a major turning point in the fourth Ondine novel, The Spring Revolution (out later this year folk). The O and V are my quick reference of who is in the scene. O is Ondine and V is Vincent. I also know Hamish is in the scene too. This scene is from Ondine's point of view.

Her emotion at the beginning of the scene is nervous excitement. She's nervous for her sisters, hoping they win a song contest. Hamish decides to take her home.
They run into Lord Vincent (of course they do) who asks them for their help.
This gives Ondine a new emotion, one of REVULSION. As if she'd ever want to be near Lord Vincent again, let alone help him.
BUT, as it states on the card, Vincent promises to help Margi and Cybelle win the contest if Ondine will help him. Now Ondine's feeling torn and conflicted. Vincent could destroy her sisters' dreams of making it big in the music world if she doesn't comply.
This in turn means Ondine ends up doing pretty much the one thing she never would have done. She's going to help Vincent.
Her emotion is now one of fear and apprehension. Will Vincent honour his word? What repercussions will arise from Ondine helping Vincent?

This particular scene is a crisis moment for Ondine. By helping Vincent, she's become embroiled, yet again, in royal intrigue.

After a few drafts of any book, I go back to the beginning and read through my manuscript. I write down what happens in each scene on a separate scene card (or sticky note, depending on what's to hand).

I write the sketchiest details on each card:
Characters + whose point of view (POV) I'm in.
What happens
I'll often jot down emotions and motivations as well

All the while I'm thinking about how each scene is vital to the overall plot.

Which ends up on the kitchen table looking like this:

These are the 'three acts' (although it's really four) of The Spring Revolution.

So in a nutshell, a scene is where something happens to keep the story moving forward.

Yes, it is time consuming, but writing scene cards is also one of the best visual ways I know of being able to 'see' the whole novel.

Scene by scene.

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