Sunday, December 10, 2006

Making a Scene

One of the first things I really learned that blew me away after I started writing I learned from Kristin Hannah (and it has nothing to do with commas -- which I know should be in that sentence somewhere). Kristin Hannah said a scene must do three things:

1. Forward Plot
2. Reveal Character
3. Foreshadow or disclose backstory

We call this the Holy Trinity. Well, maybe not we. Just me.

And lately I've been really obsessed with sharp scenes. I think sometimes it's hard in this genre either straight romance or even women's fiction to realize that there is a plot to forward. They are love stories - relationship books people meeting and talking and saying those small things that reveal character and backstory etc... but that is a PLOT. And just because scenes don't have explosions or kidnappings doesn't mean they don't need to be carefully crafted and plotted.

I am beginning to look at all my conversation scenes and decide what needs to be revealed, what small barriers breached and how much closer or further away from getting into the sack or reaching a happily ever after my characters are. Those idle conversations HAVE TO GO SOMEWHERE - I am beginning to think of them like fights almost, even when they don't fight. Who is giving away too much. Who is making the compromise, who has the most at stake?

So, what are scene killers? Well, only have one of the Holy Trinity is one way to kill a scene. (Sinead is a holy terror about this -- don't tell her but I have kept a few of my nice scenes that don't do anything but reveal character.) Having the same things that are at stake at the beginning of a scene at stake at the end. Killing off conflict, making your characters too kind, or too understanding. Another thing is repetition.

I read Anne Stuart's new book - Cold As Ice. I love Anne Stuart - she gets away with stuff with her hero's that most people couldn't DREAM of pulling off. Her black moments are absolutely heart wrenching each and every time I read them. Almost all her historicals are on my keeper shelf. I love her. And I liked this book but I think at the beginning of this book her scenes were not sharp. There was so much dialogue repeated.

"you're going to kill me."
"maybe I will, maybe I won't."

Next scene

"I guess it doesn't matter if you're going to kill me."
"I won't kill you."
"you just said you will."
"maybe I will, maybe I won't."

I am paraphrasing this - but that is the jist. This made the scenes so fuzzy. Killed character and tension -- which she's so so good at. That said of course I'm going to get the next book and go back and buy the first book because she's still one of the best romance writers around.

If you have a scene that doesn't work go back and see what you're missing in terms of the Holy Trinity. Where you are not being clear and where you are simply repeating yourself.

If the scene is working -- don't mess with it. Hear that Maureen? DON'T MESS WITH IT :)


Debutante Kristy said...

Wow, Molly, I think that considering your scenes fights is diabolically brilliant. I am seriously rethinking some conversations based on that. Very, very interesting!

Maureen McGowan said...

"I am beginning to think of them like fights almost, even when they don't fight. Who is giving away too much. Who is making the compromise, who has the most at stake?"

I picked out the same bit as Debutante Kristy (whose book I can't wait to read!)
I recently had a lightbulb moment that every scene, every part of a scene, has an antagonist. The real lightbulb was that I used to think of "antagonist" in the literal way, like villian, and my books don't really have villians (well, maybe the last one did) but now realize the antagonist is just whomever or whatever is keeping the protagonist of the scene from getting what he/she wants. And yes, this makes the interactions like fights. Exactly. That's what keeps a scene interesting, a reader reading...
Great post, Molly.

Maureen McGowan said...

And I do concede... I do mess with things too long (or obsess about whether or not they need more messing with.)

Thanks to both my fellow drunk writers for talking me off the ledge more times than I care to admit

Anonymous said...

Excellent post Molly. And very helpful for me right now as I'm plodding through my edits. I have a few scenes that need a bit of fixing and a few more that need to be pruned. :)

Sinead M said...

Great post, Molly.
It's the conversation reveal that plaugues me, something you are so good at. I confess, I have kept in some of the conversations that just forward the plot, but don't forward the romance..
The holy trinity is murder... so hard to do in every scene it hurts my head..

Maia Caron said...

Thanks for this post, Molly. I think I have too many convo's that reveal character and maybe only inch the plot forward. I've got to get over my attachment to them. I liked what you said re scene killers: having the same things that are at stake at the beginning of the scene at stake at the end. Must go perform another obsessive edit...

Molly O'Keefe said...

Ah to be diabolically brilliant -- if only that were true it wouldn't take me years to figure out these things.

Yesterday I watched Maureen "glance over" a chapter which somehow meant cutting, drawing arrows, rewriting scenes etc... I kid because I am awed. We should all take the time to be wordsmiths. You have a great end product and that's all that matters.

Jordanne Ford said...

Wow. Amazing. I think I always learn something from you ladies.

Although I'm shuddering to think just how much rewriting I'm going to have to do to 'baptise' my mss with the Holy Trinity.


Molly O'Keefe said...

Dexter last night!!!! Anyone see it!! Oh my God I haven't looked forward to a season finale like this one since Lost Season 1. Great television.

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