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  1. BayView

    BayView Contributing Member Contributor

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    Under the "Insights" Heading...

    Discussion in 'Insights & Inspiration' started by BayView, Nov 20, 2016.

    In the past week or two I've responded to several threads about whether certain scenes are necessary or should be cut, and of course there's no way for anyone to really answer those questions without having read the book, but in my answers I've discovered something that I think I already knew subconsciously but had never really realized consciously.

    That is:

    Scenes should do more than one thing. Just characterization, just setting, just plot - that's not enough. A scene, to be effective, should contribute to at least two of those things, and preferably all three.

    Has anyone else had any realizations about writing lately? Or does anyone want to disagree with or add to my realization?
     
  2. SethLoki

    SethLoki Unemployed Autodidact Contributor

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    Yes. That I'm more blind to my writing faults than I believed I was and some hard habits need to be broken. Recently had something proofread (by someone who does that sort of thing for serious). 100 errors picked up in 7000 words. :meh: I should workshop my stuff more.

    With your idea @BayView I agree for making a scene dense and watertight but, save for being super experienced/talented, it'd hard to implement whilst 'drafting' : carrying all three of those variables along with you whilst inventing a scenario and deliberating over word choice. I'd say it's doable with planning and a few passes (not one for the pansters). Also, like I mentioned above, if the story becomes more dense, isn't there a chance some of the readers will miss things?
     
  3. BayView

    BayView Contributing Member Contributor

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    I don't think readers will miss things - I mean, characterization should just get slipped in through the story in little bits, as long as the character stays true to his/her own behaviour. And scene setting can be done with a few words as well (if the character talks about opulent, cinnamon-scented avenues in one scene and in the next is walking through a crowded, smelling alley, we know there's income inequality in the society, etc.).

    And for me, I think this stuff is more likely to be done on the first draft - I generally worry about word choice (as much as I worry at all) later. But I doubt it matters when or in what order these things are added, as long as they're there by the final draft.

    ETA: Although as I said, I haven't consciously been doing this at all, and the realization that it's important came at least as much from my reading as from my writing. So I'm far from an authority on the best way or the best time to make this happen!
     
    Last edited: Nov 21, 2016
  4. Lifeline

    Lifeline The Dark - not in Wonderland Contributor

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    Okay here come my five cents:
    As @SethLoki said, if they are written this way than the story becomes dense - wayyyy dense. I only write scenes like that, in double, triple or more layers, and it's a different type of story which comes out. I don't think that there is anything wrong with writing a story which is 'lighter' in terms of density, it's a question of what the story demands - some genres are better suited for telling a dense story.

    Yep, that's my experience too :rolleyes:. I've reverted to a planner lately, it was the only way to get my head around all my different layers in each given scene and I go back and amend layers in previous scenes if I discover them later. But I do think that it's necessary to add all layers in first draft, because I can't imagine how I'd go about telling the story another way. Should I break each of the layers down into a single scene? Then the story would come out completely different. As far as word choice, SPaGs or awkward sentences are concerned, I don't worry so much about them. That's a kettle of fish for second draft.

    That's a question of goals of writing. My previously preferred author (and I still respect her work immensely) also has several layers in her stories, and I love it when I go back, reread, and discover another small undercurrent. It adds spice and engages me as a whole, not only superficially. Yes, if I were one who'd look for lighthearted reading then I'd be prone to miss things - but again: that's a question of target market. Who do you want to read your story? You won't ever please everyone.
     
  5. SethLoki

    SethLoki Unemployed Autodidact Contributor

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    I don't think I'm there with the drafting @BayView. I use my thought streams for pace in bare-bonesing out. The result at that point though is invariably too presumptuous, on my part, of the reader picking up what I'm trying to say and feeling it in the manner intended (once won a noble WTFYOA (what the f**k you on about) award :meh:). I deffo inject (or elaborate on) setting and characterisation afterwards—it's beyond my ken presently to bang stuff out with that holy trinity you've coined—of which I'd still be cautious of attempting for fear of the 'too much too soon' factor. Like you say though; if it's done in little bits it'd be more digestible, the betas may pick up on any overkill too, and it's the final draft that counts.

    @Lifeline Who was the author you mention? I think there are two types of reader I'm after: I try and load up any shorts I do with he layers you mention + loose allusions that can be picked out with a second read (* unashamedly—cough 'look aren't I clever'*). But with the longer works I aim for them to be lighter, not necessarily with padding but with a feed rate of info that'll allow a reader to breathe.
     
  6. BayView

    BayView Contributing Member Contributor

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    I don't think I agree with the "density" interpretation of having scenes that do a lot of things. I'm in the middle of reading a lot of Georgette Heyer (early 20th C romance and mystery writer) and the stories I've read so far have been pure fluff, but they've been fluff with a lot of great scene-setting (generally Regency England, with all the details including slang and dress and proper behaviour from servants), characterization (real three-dimensional characters with wit and strengths and weaknesses and depth) and plot (not necessary complex, but adequate) all in the same scenes. Often all in the same lines.

    I'll agree with you that it's probably more difficult to write all three aspects in the same scene, but I'm really not convinced it's more difficult (or dense) to read all three at once.
     
  7. Tenderiser

    Tenderiser Not a man Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    What does it mean to 'contribute to setting'? Do you just mean that in every scene the reader should know where it's taking place?
     
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  8. BayView

    BayView Contributing Member Contributor

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    I think I'd hope for a bit more than that, but maybe not too much more...

    It's harder in contemporary, I think, or less necessary, but something as simple as a drunk character coming home and ordering a curry instead of pizza would go toward setting (UK). I've written quite a few small-town stories where the editors think "the town itself should be a character" and to some extent this is achieved via inserting secondary (or even tertiary) characters and giving them a tiny bit of depth, but I've also made up a festival for the town that's advertised throughout the book, local landmarks that the characters can visit, etc. I don't think I spend more than half a sentence on them at any given time, but they crop up in lots of scenes. I wrote a series with an equestrian background that got good reviews for things like "catching the rhythm of the early morning routine in a show barn" or something like that. I would never write an entire scene just to convey that rhythm, but I worked it into the other scenes.

    I'm not claiming to be an expert on this. But I've been reading with more of an eye to it over the last few days and I've noticed it in a lot of what I'm reading.
     
  9. ChickenFreak

    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    I totally agree. Except for BIG suspense/action/strong active conflict scenes, I think that a scene that does only one thing is likely to feel like fluff, to inspire a "why are you wasting my time with this?" reaction in the reader. And even those "big"scenes can benefit from having an extra job or two.
     
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  10. Denegroth

    Denegroth Banned Supporter

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    With a background in visual art - journalism, too, my rule of thumb is always; If it advances the story (not the plot, not develops the character, enhances the back story) keep it. If it doesn't, don't put it in. If it is in, take it out. Another term for a good book is "a page turner." In fact, that's a better term for an author to use as a goal or target. The idea is the story is so good, so compelling, and the readers get so caught up in it, all they can do is turn the next page till they run out of pages. That is a successful work.

    Readers will not put up with elaboration of useless appendages. "He developed that useless character so well!" The author may have, but I've never heard a reader say that. "Why'd he put him in there?" I've heard that one before, usually in a list of reasons why not to read a book. It's even worse for scenes or events. Those take more time to go through, and you have the added pitfall the reader expects that the more time you've spent elaborating, the more significant it is to the story. When they discover something isn't significant to it, they feel robbed - of their time, if nothing else.

    As a former editor (once an editor always an editor) I can't say enough; know your story before you start. Don't sit at the keyboard expecting a story to appear as you type. Don't expect the fact you've created what you think is this terribly dynamic character that the story will just reveal itself if you just stare at your computer screen long enough. No. There's no law saying you have to do this, but as an editor I can tell you it is obvious to us if someone didn't have a clear idea where they were going with something, but plowed through anyway.

    If you're writing for yourself, fine. Do what floats your boat. If you're writing for publication, be advised this is a heavily competitive avocation. Publishers only read roughly 2 to 4 percent of manuscript submissions. If your submission manages to beat those odds, usually with a well-crafted cover letter you used to snag an agent, you don't want structural problems with your work. Pride of authorship is the writer's nemesis. Being able to say "no" to themselves is quite difficult for some. Knowing when to say "no" is easier when you're clear in your mind what exactly it is you're trying to do with your work. Then, you can see if something gets you there, or not.

    I try to include more than I'll need in the early drafts, and make refinement a subtractive process. It's easier to eliminate excess than it is to try to stretch scanty content. In taking this approach, I've learned not to be married to everything I type. Some things may have merit somewhere else, so I do keep some passages I've written for notes on future work. You may elegantly turn that phrase here, but it just might not fit here, and may need to go despite how elegant it is.

    Something that helped me with this was journalism. You write a story to fit a space. "Give me four inches on this car wreck." If you give the editor four and a half, the half inch is lopped off with a razor blade at paste up and winds up on the floor. The first time I saw that happen to something I wrote, it was like losing a puppy. I can still recall the sense of loss. I wound up editing the same publication, and using the same razor blade on my staff's work. I even trod on their fallen paragraphs as I walked back and forth pasting-up the publication.

    This taught me "economy of phrase," and not to be enamored with the work of my own hands, as it were. Ultimately, you're laboring to fill a requirement. You set that requirement when you decided to write the story. So, know your story, and use that rule - if it gets you there keep it. If it doesn't, lose it.
     
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  11. BayView

    BayView Contributing Member Contributor

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    We've had a discussion about this before, somewhere on this board...

    How are you defining "story" in your first paragraph? Obviously it's something beyond plot, but... what is it, exactly?

    In terms of "page turners" - I think that's definitely an asset in writing genre fiction. I'm not sure it's as important when writing literary. I think readers of literary fiction tend to be more accepting not of authors who include unnecessary writing but more of writers who take their time getting to their destination.
     
  12. Mumble Bee

    Mumble Bee In my defense, words are my weapons. Contributor

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    Scenes need to have multiple layers for different readers.

    Emotional layer- how is this making the reader feel? The drama or humor needs to be strong enough to stand on its own.
    Plot- does the scene fit in with the story and make sense chronologically?
    Theme - the scene needs to explore an idea about society or whatnot.

    Some readers only need one of these to be content, i.e. Some of the more popular, yet not critically acclaimed novels. Chances are, as a writer we naturally focus and lean one one of these, I know personally I focus too much on the first.
     
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  13. Raven484

    Raven484 Contributing Member Contributor

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    I just want to state that what I am stating for the rest of this post is my opinion only.
    I believe a solid story has a good beginning(Character intro, plot intro), a solid build up in the middle, and a fitting ending. I also believe chapters should be also like this. Almost like a story within a story as long as it moves and is relevant to the plot.
    When you are writing a chapter, each scene should be looked at as being vital to the story of said chapter. If planned right, you should be able to look at it yourself and see the scene definitely doesn't need to be there.
    I am an outliner by nature. I will start with chapter one and maybe outline 6 scenes, then go to chapter 2, then 3, so on. The more involved I get with the outline, the more I go back and make changes where I think it is needed. Chapter one might make more sense with eight scenes instead of 6, or 3 scenes instead of six, depending on how it effects the story flow when everything is outlined. It is easier for me to see when its all planned out.
    I have received good and bad critiques, but never one where I was asked to remove an entire scene because it doesn't make sense or was felt that it did not belong.
    This has its drawbacks. Sometimes I will stew over an outline for weeks without writing anything.
    I can definitely understand how some would have problems without outlining. Sometimes they go where the story takes them not knowing they have lost track.
    I would go insane if I didn't outline. I have a hard enough time writing a story with good flow to it. If I started to rant, or go off course, I would beat myself to death for months.
    It does amaze me when people who don't outline never have this problem sometimes. I really envy their focus and commitment to their stories.
     

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