Saturday, June 18, 2011

Giving Scenes More Meaning

I am on the downhill slide of revisions for Firedancer, fine-tuning the major stuff I added, looking for places to tighten and cut. With the whole book slightly different and characters having acquired new facets, I took an hour to do something I never used to think about. I looked at every major scene from the perspective of "yes, but" and "no, and" to see if each scene really was integral to the plot. And guess what? It unlocked some new depths I had not previously suspected.

Being an organic writer, letting the story flow as it will onto the page, has the advantage of maintaining excitement about the writing process itself, as I find out as I go along what the story's about and what the characters' adventures are, just as a reader would. But the huge drawback to this method is that you risk having an action-oriented plot with few layers and no great planning to discover the meaning in each scene. I admire people who can outline to that level in advance; I really do. I just can't do it up front, so the work now must come after. As I progress as a writer, I discover myself looking more and more to such methods to enrich my work.

So, what did I discover? I created a table with one question at the top: Did the protagonist accomplish what she set out to do? I listed each major scene down the left side, plotted against "yes, but" and "no, and" to see what fell out of each. Most fell into the "yes, but" category. A few showed up weak, with little to no "but" consequences arising from the accomplishment. Strong plots need strong and continuing tension, which means nothing along the way can be an unqualified success. The two "no, and" answers really were enlightening, leading directly to greater character development in secondary characters affected by the scene. That was exciting, and really satisfying. It lent depths to the plot I didn't know it had.

Overall, every scene got richer in some way because of this exercise, and I am so grateful for the panel I sat in on at Radcon where I learned it. Never stop learning! Never stop pushing yourself as a writer. Adding 84 layers of meaning just to do it is pointless, but hunting for the real richness in every scene is a worthwhile exercise I highly recommend. Try it!

No comments: