1. Mallory
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    Mallory Mallegory. Contributor

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    Scenes in books that you remember and learn from re. writing quality

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by Mallory, Aug 16, 2011.

    What are your favorite scenes in the favorite books you've read? What stands out in terms of being gripping, or simply being the product of excellent writing? And WHY - what made it so?

    On the flip side, do any scenes from books you've read stand out as being extremely poorly-done -- and, if so, why?

    (If you can say what you mean in a way that doesn't give away any crucial plot secrets from that particular book, that's best, lol.)

    One that stands out for me is the "Mines of Moria" scene in LOTR, because the tension was paced perfectly. I also thought the portrayal in Alice Sebold's memoir "Lucky," where the two friends drift apart, was really impactful. Sebold created vivid imagery of how important the friends were to each other, so when one of them got cold and distant, it actually hurt a lot for me as the reader. And Sebold conveyed the MC's feelings about it without being too sappy or infodumpey, which added to the effect more (she's very good at using rhetorical devices to create the tone).

    "The Grapes of Wrath" by Steinbeck was like that too, with using rhetorical devices (active/passive voice, sentence structure, etc) and syntax to create tones, but this was throughout the entire book.

    Can't think of any bad ones at the moment, but I guess they wouldn't stand out as much.

    So yeah...what scenes in books stand out as being either really good or really bad, and WHY were they that way? What techniques did the author use that made that particular scene stand out?
     
  2. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    In "To Kill A Mockingbird", when Atticus shoots the rabid dog. It was one of the scenes in which the film didn't come close to the book in impact. When I first read it, I was as stunned as the children were. But somehow, seeing it on the screen robbed it of some of the surprise. I also appreciated the quiet dignity of the scene at the end of the trial, when the reverend says to Scout, "Stand up, Jean Louise; your father's passin'." In our desire to write memorably, we often forget that simplest is best. That scene is a powerful reminder.

    CP Snow's "The Masters" is a brilliant depiction of political interaction in a closed society, and is by far my favorite in an excellent series of works. But the best is his description of the defection of one of the members of the group supporting a particular candidate, as he shows the sense of empowerment felt by the defector.

    Hemingway's "The Old Man and the Sea", while Santiago is fighting to subdue the fish. His descriptions are simple, and yet we understand the quiet determination of the man. And, of course, there is the immortal line, "You may destroy me, fish, but you cannot defeat me. Man is not made for defeat; he can be destroyed, but never defeated."

    I've never thought very much of Ayn Rand's "Atlas Shrugged". She seemed far too intent on her polemic goals and she neglected what it needed to be a quality work of fiction. I felt that by the time I was 2/3 of the way through it, she had said everything she had to say, and I disliked the ending as thoroughly unrealistic.
     
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  3. DBock
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    DBock Member

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    The Cowabunga scene in About a Boy by Nick Hornby. :)

    Loved the internal monologue of the boy in this and how he reacted to the grown up conversation. Very inspiring stuff. :)
     
  4. Gallowglass
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    Gallowglass Contributing Member Contributor

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    The scene in Ghosts of Glencoe by Mollie Hunter where the Macdonald is shot in the head.
     
  5. Mallory
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    Mallory Mallegory. Contributor

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    Remember to talk about why. What made the scenes good (or bad)? This way the thread can offer insights on what techniques create memorable scenes and why. (very thoughtful answer Ed.)
     
  6. NateSean
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    NateSean Active Member

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    I actually thought the movie pulled that off very well. Even though the ending was so cheap compared to what was in the book. (Nicholas Hoult plays Beast in the new X-men movie, btw)

    I too think of About a Boy, but it's the final scenes when Ellie meets the other Nirvanna fan after trashing her shop.

    The reason I like that scene is for two reasons:

    1. It's how Will sees the two of them and his viewpoint. "If these two aren't related, scientists are going to want to know why"

    2: The fact that it tied in something topical, IE Kurt Cobain's death, with the story and made it impact the story.
     
  7. theweatherman
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    theweatherman Member

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    The ending of "Nineteen Eighty-Four". I won't give it away, but it's chilling to say the least.
     
  8. Mallory
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    Mallory Mallegory. Contributor

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    I liked the ending in 1984, as well. However, the part that really stands out to me is the part where he's at work eating lunch with his blabbermouth friend, and thinking about how he won't make it for long because the Party doesn't like people like him. I do'nt have the book with me right now or I'd quote it, but it was just written in a very blunt, raw way that had a lot of impact.
     
  9. Chivalrous Tart
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    The final scene from the Dead Zone by Stephen King. In it, Johnny Smith the protagonist is attempting to assassinate Stillson, a congress member who will start a nuclear holocaust. Stillson snatches a baby from its mother and uses it as a mini shield against Johnny Smith's bullets.

    It sounds ridiculous, but King builds up the story well enough that the scene is horrifying because he shows a man who is inheritantly evil (Stillson) versus a good man committing an evil act (Smith). The pacing shows adrenaline rush in Johnny Smith's mind. You can literally feel time slow down, as Smith concentrates to land the killing bullet, as he is getting peppered with shots by Stillson's body guards.

    Also, the ending scene with Sarah standing by the grave is one of the saddest moments in any books I've read. The character's wants and needs are so clear that a reader has to identify. Also, when King denies these needs, it hits emotions hard.
     
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  10. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    Thank you, Mal.
     
  11. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    Cormac McCarthy has some great descriptions in Blood Meridian. I'd say about 70% of the book is just him describing the landscape. He uses neo-Biblical prose and it works like a charm. One of the scenes I remember liking was the one where he describes a desert storm. It's been a while since I've read the book, but I remember really envying the way he describes everything.
     
  12. joanna
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    joanna Active Member

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    One of my all time favorite scenes is in one of Joyce Carol Oate's short stories, Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?

    Colleen is standing in her doorway and this shady guy is telling her to get in his car. He seems more and more sketchy and you can feel the tension and fear through every detail. The way the guy is described sounds progressively more like someone you'd find driving around a Free Candy van. And Colleen's fear is palpable. It's in the details, the way she curls her toes around the edge of the threshold, the way the man doesn't look like his legs are where they should be. It's a chilling story.

    I like scenes that make me feel what the character is feeling.
     
  13. Gigi_GNR
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    Gigi_GNR Guys, come on. WAFFLE-O. Contributor

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    In The Perks of Being a Wallflower, when Charlie is riding with Sam and Patrick, and they're listening to music, and he says, "I feel infinite," and they understand. Because it reminds me of how I feel when I'm with my friends -- infinite, and they understand me, and I them. I like scenes you can relate to like that.
     
  14. Quezacotl
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    Quezacotl Contributing Member

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    The climax of Ender's Game as well as the end of Life, the Universe, and Everything. Each of them were delicously vauge in detail. It gave you what you needed to know and let you envision the rest by yourself.
     
  15. Marranda
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    Marranda Senior Member

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    Hmm.. This is such a good question Mal.

    Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card: There are too many scenes I enjoyed for me to break them down and explain why, but... I'd have to go with the scene where Ender is in the Battle Room for the first time. He's with his platoon, and they're set to compete against another platoon, and it's their first time being in zero gravity. Ender's platoon is being trained on battle tactics, and formation structure and execution. The way Orson described how Ender felt as he floated around, trying not to ricochet off the walls or the other boys all while asking himself why they had to stay in formation, why they 'had' to fight with structure... It just stood out to me. The thought processes of Ender, and his progress from the 2nd smallest kid to a platoon leader (because of his ingenuitive methods in the Battle Room) always had me in Awe. If you haven't read anything by OSC, you need to. The man is a literary genius!

    One book/series that I both loved and hated was the Clan of the Cave Bear book and series by Jean Auel. I liked the 'on a permanent camping trip' feel after Ayla leaves the clan, and Ayla's travels with Jondolar and her experiences with other tribes and cultures. BUT, I did not enjoy the inbetween times for Ayla. I felt as if I were reading a guide or manual on making arrowheads, weaving baskets, and catching wild game. There was just too much process description, and it made my brain lag. Aside from that, those books stand out to me because the tone was even, the stories flowed, and Ayla's character was consistent and likeable.

    I like a story that is... not so much simple... maybe, direct, in it's approach. I love multiple characters, the more the better, and plot complexity, but I draw the line at wordiness. And as EdFromNY said about To Kill A Mockingbird, that sometimes the simplest is best, I both love that book and agree with that statement. Although sometimes simplest is not best, and can create a book that leaves the reader with an exhausted imagination from supplementing where the book lacked- this brings to mind Sharp Teeth by Tody Barlow, a book written in verse about a dogcatcher who falls in love with a werewolf/dog (whose pack leader plans to take over the city as a weredog/wolf). After about three pages of minimal verse, and having to back track several times to make sense of what the author wasn't saying, I gave up. (As a book review- if you like books in verse with twisty plots but not enough description or emotive impact, this is the book for you!)
     
  16. Mallory
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    Mallory Mallegory. Contributor

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    Joanna - I remember "Where are you going, where have you been." I wrote a paper analyzing the crap out of it for a college workshop class (during the first two weeks, we critted already-existing stories rather than each other's because some people needed to learn how to do a thorough and helpful critique first.)It was really good. Reading about Connie made me a nervous wreck. Poor girl, yeesh, but she really did lack common sense.

    Marranda, I read Clan of the Cave Bear, and I totally agree with everything you said. :)
     

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