1. Gholin
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    Gholin Member

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    A question of Scenes and Subplots

    Discussion in 'Plot Development' started by Gholin, Feb 12, 2012.

    Hi guys.

    I just got back from a Writer's Conference and was talking with Brandon Mull about some of the problems I'm having with outlining and he told me that he outlines by scenes.

    Thing is, I've never really been able to define what makes a scene. I've written them, but not really been able to tell where they begin or end. I've always worked on the chapter level, so scenes always seemed to just blend in. Anyone have any insight on this or have the same issue?

    Also, I have always written a story linearly, so subplots just seem like part of a plot to me. How do you know what part of a plot is the main plot, and what is subplot when you are writing? Thanks to everyone for any answers. I think it's so easy just to get wrapped up in structure and ideas, and sometimes I wonder if I just overthing what things really are. It'd be nice to have some insight :)
     
  2. jazzabel
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    jazzabel Contributing Member Contributor

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    The scene is what happens, in one go, in one setting, at one time. For example, you are writing about a character taking a tube ride from A to B. The scene starts with them going into the train, looking around, choosing a place to sit down. You can show her internal monologue as she does that. But then, you might have a baby crying, of a bunch of skinheads walking in from another carriage. They might be bothering some passenger on the other side, but they might walk over and start bothering your character instead. Or they might be having a fight, draw knives, one of them gets stabbed, the rest of them flee the scene, and your character is the one who rushes over to give first aid. Etc, etc, but what happens in that one sitting, like it would happen in a movie scene, is a literary scene.
    But it also depends on the overall story. If the overall story is set over many days or months, in many different locations, then the "train scene" is only one scene. But if the whole story is that train ride, then her walking in would be one scene, skinheads bothering someone the other, then the fight the third, the injury the fourth, the arrival of the ambulance - the resolution.

    That's how I think about the scenes. If this was a movie, when would the camera zoom out, that's the end of the scene, and whatever happens next is the beginning of the following scene.
     
  3. Kallithrix
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    Kallithrix Banned

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    Gholin, I love your avatar ;)

    Jazzabel makes a good point about scenes being dependent on the overall focus and structure of the story. If your story is very condensed then scenes will probably be shorter and focus on one event or location, but if it's a sprawling epic that takes place over many years and geographical locations, a single scene might encompass a much broader timeline and several actions.

    It really is up to you to decide when your scene is 'done' and you need to switch scenes. No one can teach you that.
     
  4. polorules
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    polorules New Member

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    I always write outlines by scenes. They are usually like smaller stories/plots in the main chapter. Then these scenes are part of a bigger story, which is the chapter, which is part of the book, etc.

    For example: my main character talks to one character, then sometime later stabs another character, and then at some point hijacks an airplane. Then I put them together in a way that makes the most sense for the story. Then I divide them up into chapters, and usually the chapters are like an extended scene with many of the little scenes in them. Eg: chapter 3: he hijacks a plane and stabs the pilot

    I think subplots are other stories with other characters or small tangents that can reinforce or explain (or add) a theme in your story or make it more interesting.

    And I also love your avatar, by the way. :D:D:D
     
  5. Gholin
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    Gholin Member

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    Cool. Thanks for the tips guys. I think I get scenes a little better. I'm still a bit iffy on subplots, and how to plan them, but I guess I am doing it without thinking of it because other things happen aside from the main story.

    Yeah! I love my own avatar too he he he.
     
  6. jazzabel
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    jazzabel Contributing Member Contributor

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    My rule of thumb is that every important character in a novel needs a subplot. Some subplots will be long some quite short, but whatever it is, it needs to be relevant to the overall plot somehow.

    For example, in the movie "Surrogates" you have the main plot of main characters dealing with a problem that arises with the development of human surrogates, who one can activate and lie in their bed, while they experience the life through the surrogate's body. But one of the main characters, in a a subplot, also has to deal with his wife's depression following a death of their child. She uses her surrogate to hide from life, and at one point in the film, after we see "her" many times, we find out that she uses her surrogate for everything, even the time she spends with her husband, because she is too depressed to live her life directly.
    So the issue of surrogates is explored on a society as well as a personal level, through the main plot and a subplot.

    In novels with lots of characters, there will be more than one subplot. Just treat it as a separate story, and interrupt the main plot with subplot chapters, here and there, in different character's point of view, to spice it all up and address the issues in your story in different ways.
     
  7. Mallory
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    Mallory Mallegory. Contributor

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    If someone asked you, in casual terms, what your book was about, and you could only give a 2-3 sentence answer, what would you say? That's the overall plot. Subplots usually involve some personal issue, like a love triangle, that the main character deals with alongside the main plot. Subplots can also involve struggles of secondary or supporting characters.

    It's not always black and white, though. Often two or three plots are equally important, or it's unclear how "sub" a subplot is. They vary in size and importance.

    I've never really thought about the definition of a scene. To me, it's just like saying a "part." The part where a major conversation takes place, where they get chased, etc. I guess you could make theoretical debates about exactly where a scene starts and ends: for example, if two characters have a serious conversation in an office, does it start when the dialogue starts, or when the visitor shows up? But I don't think dwelling on that too much will help your writing.

    For what it's worth, avoid boring filler. For example, in said office scene, you might want a paragraph or two to establish atmosphere (through body language, characterization, even weather), but don't spend 2 pages describing someone's unvacuumed carpet.

    Also, once you know the main focus of a given scene --- wherever you decide that scene starts and ends -- keep the narrative relevant to that focus.
     

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