The second phase of the Revision Cycle deals with Scenes. After having gone through the manuscript during Phase One—making brief notes about additions and changes needed, while adding color-coded flags for more detailed section work—I now move closer to the story’s action.
Scenes encompass all stories regardless of length, and I look at each Scene to make sure they accomplish three things:
- Character Development
- Growing Conflict
- Plot Movement
Since my protagonist and their changing emotions are paramount to the story, I want to show something of their personality within each scene; this can be as simple as describing an attitude (he does not like weak-minded people who won’t stand up for themselves or others), or something more dramatic such as a life-altering decision they are contemplating. Whatever the personality insight might be, the peek inside the character’s head gives the reader a deeper view into the character’s psyche, thus strengthening the bond between the two.
I want to show my character mostly through actions and dialogues with other characters (more on this below).
Scenes normally involve more than one character (your protagonist/viewpoint/main character) and an antagonist. The antagonist can certainly be the POV’s primary adversary, but does not have to be. The antagonist can be a loved one who disagrees with the main character’s current decision (or vice-versa), a trusted friend and ally, or any other character you choose with a differing view or attitude; the important aspect is the underlying conflict between the characters during a particular scene.
Note: A Scene can involve only the main character battling internal conflicts; such self-absorption can be tedious, so use this technique in small doses and sprinkled throughout the manuscript.
Each Scene should include a scene goal (often tied to the encompassing story goal), conflict, and resolution, which many times will be failure—the failures mount, adding urgency as the protagonist battles more obstacles to reach his goal.
Each and every scene must move the story forward. Although this seems obvious, many scenes tend toward writer self-indulgence where they tell the reader things thought to be important and necessary, when in fact they bog down the story and should be spread out, if added at all.
Paragraphs or pages of “information” relayed to the reader is often the problem of Back-Fill overuse. The writer has this great idea about the magic within the created world, and thinks the reader needs to know the nuances and steps to create a particular potion. No, not normally, and if you want to include such description, it better be important enough that if left out, confusion results. Otherwise, make a brief mention and move on.
Having a Scene Goal, coupled with conflict, will move the story forward. Often the scene’s resolution (as in failure) moves the characters from the present to future scene.
Moving from one Scene to another requires a transition, some indication that the situation has changed and time has moved on. There are many ways to have a naturally flowing transition:
On the third day of the journey, the travelers reached the town of Death Walk.
Two hours after leaving the banquet, Bob and Trudy sat alone in their car watching the fog roll over the lake.
The next day . . . you get the idea.
Even if you change chapters or add the # to separate one paragraph from another, a slight mention is required to move the reader from one time and place to another; an example may be that “the clock struck midnight” when the preceding section stopped just after dinner. Be brief, be clear, but let the reader know that something has changed.
Although this approach may seem antiseptic and formulaic, it follows the inspiration of the first draft and is intended to fix problems like a scene that seems forced or threatens to throw the reader out of the story. In many ways, scenes are intuitive and are fine the way originally written (with minor tweeks, of course), but some need work, and the examples are what I concentrate on if a scene does not work. After all, we are talking about revision.
For a more detailed view on creating scenes, see Jack M. Bickham’s book, Scene and Structure.
See you on the next page,
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