1. HorusEye
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    HorusEye Contributing Member Contributor

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    Scene ending in disaster.

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by HorusEye, Dec 13, 2010.

    Jack M. Bickham (Scene & Structure) claims that every scene must end in "tactical disaster" for the POV character -- that whatever was their goal in the scene must not be achieved, in order to maintain suspense.

    I never considered that point of view consciously myself, before hearing it from him.

    Do you agree with what he says?
     
  2. Mallory
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    Mallory Mallegory. Contributor

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    Yes. I wouldn't say it has to be a matter of strictly failing to achieve his/her beginning goal,but there does have to be some challenge or danger at the end of the chapter, or something to give suspense.

    A couple options:

    1. Character has goal in mind at beginning of chapter 5, but doesn't acheive it til midway through chapters 6, 7, or further on.

    2. Character has goal in mind, achieves it in the same chapter, but then discovers a horrible consequence that getting the goal will mean; or, we get evidence that the protag is about to be thwarted; etc.
     
  3. Elgaisma
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    Elgaisma Contributing Member Contributor

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    When I first read it I thought Nah - so went and checked my books lol My answer has changed to it depends on the story.

    I have one where the central tension a young boy thrust into a position beyond his abilities does not change and it doesn't need the same frustrations to continue it has so much action and flows quickly.

    However my current WIP is needing that level of tension to keep moving forward.
     
  4. popsicledeath
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    popsicledeath Banned

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    It's a bit of advice that is often taken the wrong way and employed poorly.

    What it means: all scenes must be dramatic and increase tension. If tension is not increased, the story either just ended, or the scene wasn't necessary.

    What we can see: all scenes end in some contrived calamity that has us rolling our eyes, because we know the main characters are going to get out of the hole they just fell into, and would rather some characterization and internal conflict be present not just the old Lassie technique of 'oh now, will little Timmy make it out of the well' before the scene ends or we cut to a commercial.

    It's kind of like when writers hear the advice to 'start a story with action' so start exploding things in their first scene. lol.


    And it's tricky anyhow. It depends what the story is about. Some very good stories have a somewhat reversal of 'drama' in that the character isn't moving toward something they want and finding obstacles, but the character IS an obstacle in what seems inevitable. Often, this kind of story is harder to point to a 'tactical disaster' because instead of throwing obstacles into the path of the character, one has to still create drama by having the path seem clear but the character being the obstacle.

    Also, I've read great stories where the drama is in the inevitable happening. At every stage the tension doesn't get more complex, but in some ways less, as the reader moves through starting at 'no way this will work out good' to moving a step between each step of the way. The final scene may seem an impossible trek when one looks at the opening scene, but the drama is in getting there despite the odds of the situation, not despite the odds of obstacles.

    I dunno, it's too complex to boil down to simply not letting the character have what they want every scene.

    What if the story is about a character wanting something that they can't have to begin with? Then the drama is often created by giving them exactly what they want, as the reader understands it's not what they SHOULD want. Equally dramatic, but has nothing to do with stopping a character from getting what they want, quite the opposite.
     
  5. VM80
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    VM80 Contributing Member Contributor

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    Good post.

    I think chapters should always end on an interesting note, in one form or another.
    It's what makes the reader want to carry on reading.

    However I don't really like it when it gets too ridiculous, or too much happens too fast.
    James Patterson springs to mind for some reason...
     
  6. Show
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    I personally think it's crap and have little interest in reading a story that follows such a formula. Often what the character wants in the short term is a goal that is okay to achieve without resolving the overall conflict. (ie The police get little Tommy out of the burning building but the arsonist remains at large) Besides, disaster and the protagonist not getting what he wants yet are hardly synonymous.

    Is this the same guy who said that any character who wants something is automatically an interesting character or was that somebody else?

    Either way, I think that advice is horrible, from a reader's perspective anyway. It sounds like the perfect recipe to make me put down the book. And as a reader, that is really the only way I can judge the technique.
     
  7. arron89
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    arron89 Banned

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    I don't necessarily think all books have to correspond to this crescendo structure. Obviously it depends on what you're writing, but that structure is just one of the infinite number available, and the one that is most popular in mainstream fiction. In cases where the author is interested primarily in writing an engaging and entertaining story, then it is usually a good idea to assume that building tension and increasing action towards the end are necessary to satisfy your readers, but there are plenty of mainstream and literary novels that eschew this position in favour of a more idiosyncratic form which better serves either the story or the concerns of the author.

    So, in short, I don't think that advice should be followed all the time, and especially not to the letter, unless you're writing some nihilistic Beckettian farce...
     
  8. FrankABlissett
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    FrankABlissett Active Member

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    The comment seems more a tautology than anything - "in order to maintain tension, there must remain something to be tense over."

    -Frank
     
  9. erik martin
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    erik martin Contributing Member

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    Generally, no matter what I am writing I want there to be something at the end of the chapter that would make a reader turn the next page and see what happens next. However, I have not always been successful doing this--on reviewing one rough draft of a novel I realized that I had ended something like five chapters with the MC going to bed. As a reader, I want a book that moves well and keeps me up past my bedtime.
     
  10. HorusEye
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    HorusEye Contributing Member Contributor

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    Thanks for all the input.

    I've always thought that if just the main obstacle, the one that leads to the climax of the story, remained unresolved and intensifying, scenes along the way could end in whatever way.

    Some even ending in relative harmony, if the objective of the scene was to throw characters closer together. But having worked on just such a scene and not being very satisfied with its outcome, I'm thinking I was wrong. Maybe harmony sucks, even in small doses.
     
  11. Show
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    I would read a book that ends chapters with the MC going to bed if it's done right. I can think of ways it could work. :D I think if the action and intensity is really strong enough, it'll make the reader want to turn to the next page regardless of how harmonious the ending to a chapter appears on the surface.

    But I also like breathers in books. :p

    I like harmony. It can make tragic climaxes even more tragic. Seeing how happy a family is and how strong they can be makes Big Dave's sacrifice to stop the serial killer all the more meaningful.

    I think writing is a gray field. You can't apply silly rules like "disaster" to it cause some stories will benefit from such a technique, other stories won't. It's all about seeing what it is that your story needs to be better.
     
  12. popsicledeath
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    popsicledeath Banned

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    Was thinking about this, and how the concept plagues [American] TV.

    The show Kitchen Nightmares is a prime example. The British version is subtle, more about the people involved and their situation than the drama. Oddly enough (actually not odd at all if one understands the art of story telling) the show is absolutely riveting.

    In contrast, the American version adds in shaking cameras and dramatic zooms and every single segment leads up to a commercial break where a narrator swears that after the break we'll see something we've never seen before (and then show clips of acting that ruin the only thing the show has going for it, which is baseless action). The American version is terrible. Utterly unwatchable.

    The American version is doing the 'everything leads to disaster and conflict and drama' approach, and fails. Why? Because we don't care. The people don't feel real, but like actors or silly caricatures of people. Their only purpose is to provide drama, and it gets old (to anyone with any level of refinement... I'm sorry, I don't usually get all judgy, but as a group of writers we should have finer taste and a better critical eye for storytelling and not simply baseless drama). If you've seen the show once, you've seen it a million times, because how many kitchen or restaurant related dramatic events can they [conveniently to the point of suspicion] supply?

    Then, meanwhile, every show of the British version feels new and different, because the PEOPLE are new and different and the way the show is designed, we're made to care about them and their plight. It's drama--people dealing with real-feeling issues in a way we can empathize--as opposed to the melodrama of the American version.

    Then again, it all comes down to what audience you're catering too. There's a reason the American version is how it is (no offense, America). If you're wanting to write stories akin to the American version of Kitchen Nightmares, go for it, you'll probably be far more popular than those of us trying to tell compelling, engaging, real-feeling stories about people, not plot points.

    There's a happy medium, btw. Not everything plot-driven needs to be baseless, shameful melodrama. Subtlety and moderation may be the key, and the opposite of those things seems to me to follow some mantra about how ever scene need end in calamity.
     

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