Making the scene

Week 13: Picture This

I got busy, or lazy, and neglected to chronicle the lucky thirteenth week of the novel writing program (Is Life Like This?) on Monday. Then this crazy Micharctica weather. Our intrawebs connection is scared of thunderstorms. But today we’re back to snow, so it’s all good.

Right. I’ll just chisel away these frozen tears before I continue…

Ahem. Working on scene– specifically, the opening scene– took me to the halfway point. I’m halfway there. A semi-novelist!

NighthawksDufresne contrasts scene with summary, but then as his example he uses the first lines of Hemingway’s “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place.” Which opens with… summary.

Ha! Just goes to show ya, you can show and tell if you’re a boss like Hemingway.

Scenes… do at least two of the following: advance the plot, reveal character, and express theme. And maybe they also establish a particular tone or amplify earlier images.
–John Dufresne

Writing scenes is tricky business for this journalista. A scene shows particular, emotion driven, dynamic, dramatic actions as they happen, in a focused, intimate present-tense (at least in feel) manner. Unlike what I do. Reporting is summary. Grabbing the gist of what happened in the past and summing it up in a distant, static, explanatory fashion.

As it happened, this week I had deadlines with the newspaper, and happily I find the novel is beginning to inform my journalism. I actually sneaked some dialogue into an article! Set the scene, gave each character a unique voice, the whole nine yards.

Back to the novel itself, I wrote the scene I felt defined the start of the story. But the Cat got me reconsidering. This scene drops the reader right into the action– what Blake Snyder would call the catalyst, which he reckons ought to come only after the “before” situation of the main character has been set up.

So I’m open to the idea that my scene will end up ten pages in, after another scene sets up my reader to know and hopefully care about the protagonist. Dufresne says “each of these scenes is a microcosm of the whole novel.” The opener must mirror the novel as a whole, in its own little story arc complete with beginning, middle, end; character conflict; and change. So as I continue to plot, I’m auditioning each scene as a potential Page 1 opener.

Like a boss.


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