Tuesday, June 27, 2006

One scene at a time

Well, I went to Austin Mystery Writers tonight (it's a critique group I started three years ago when I decided to get serious about the whole mystery-writing thing, and it's still going strong), and as is our wont, when we were done slicing and dicing everyone's chapters, we started talking about craft. (And no, I don't mean the kind that involves newts' tails and cauldrons.)

We were talking, specifically, about scenes. And what made a good one. And I was reminded of something a very talented and prolific writer (who shall remain nameless in this post) said when I met her at Malice Domestic. She was telling me about a 15-week novel-writing class she taught recently. The first week, she said, she told everyone that novels are made up of scenes, and that every scene should either move the plot forward or deepen character development.

And then she didn't know what to do for the next 14 weeks. (I'm sure she did just fine, but I totally understand where she's coming from.)

It seems simple, but it can be hard to put into practice. When you're revising -- or before you sit down to write -- it's important ask yourself what the goal of the scene is. Action is almost always interesting. But if the plot doesn't move too much, do you reveal something intriguing about the character? Enough to get us to turn the page? Description is nice. Backstory is nice. But the scene must move to keep the reader interested.

Just what you needed, right? Something to think about when you're pounding away at the keyboard. And speaking of scenes, I'd better go revise one now... more soon!


At 7:37 PM, June 30, 2006, Anonymous jeff said...

What struck me most about this is blending of two very different types of writing. At least, in my slightly bleary-eyed understanding of what you were saying...That you write a chapter, or scene, and are perhaps a bit impetuous or tending to let thoughts flow onto the paper, then, enter a second phase of writing where you are looking at what you created, but from a larger perspective in the context of the novel and making sure that your larger goals are being met by each step. A bit like life...

At 8:32 PM, June 30, 2006, Blogger Karen MacInerney said...

Exactly, Jeff.

And sometimes I cut a scene when it doesn't fit. Sometimes I use it later... sometimes not.

A bit like life... only in life, it's harder to cut scenes. ;)



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