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Welcome To SORMAG's Blog

Sunday, October 23, 2005

WORKSHOP: Scene & Structure


Yolonda J. Greggs is the presenter.

She will post the workshop in the comments section.


Linda said...

Good morning,

I am a first time novelist with many questions. Regarding scenes, is there an industry standard as to how many can be contained within a chapter?

Linda! Badge #141

Linda said...

My next question is regarding structure. What type of structure would be considered totally unacceptable to an editor?

What would be considered as classic structure?

Linda! Badge #141

Yolonda Greggs said...

Badge 35

Hi, Linda. I apologize for the delay. I just posted the first part of my workshop but it didn't come through. Maybe it was too long.

To answer your questions, everything varies depending on what you write. For example, when I joined RWA I was told category has 3 scenes per chapter. The best way to know what a house is looking for is to read many of their books, break them down--how many chapters, how many scenes, etc.

My workshop on Structure should answer your second question.

Yolonda Greggs said...

Badge 35

I think I know what I did wrong. Okay, again I apologize for the delay. I'm in Japan and the time difference makes like difficult at times. The last time I did this workshop I used Honor's Destiny as an example but since some of you may have begun Sweetest Taboo, I'll use that story.

Let’s begin with structure. Structure is a way of looking at your story material so that it’s organized in a way that’s both logical and dramatic. Structure is a process, not a rigid format, so please don’t think I’m about to lay out a bunch of rules that must be followed or you’ll never ever get published. We need structure in our fiction so our stories make sense. If the reader can’t understand it, the reader can’t feel anything—but frustration if they continue to read—and what have we gained?

So where do we begin? At the beginning.

How to start our story….
You’ve probably heard people say start with action. People say you have three pages—maybe less—to hook the editor/reader, so you need to grab them quick. Action is a good way but there must be substance to this action. The best way to start your story is at the time of change that threatens your major character’s concept.

Who is your major character? This must be determined. In romance, you have a hero and a heroine. Both have issues but one will carry the story. Choose the character that has the most to lose; choose the character whose ending will close the story. Begin in that person’s viewpoint. Devise an event that threatens to change him, make him feel miserable, out of sync with his environment and ready to struggle to make himself right again. After 9 long years, when Cai is just about ready to accept she'll never see her kidnapped daughter, she gets a lead. Show your character coming up with a vital intention or story goal designed to fix thing (Cai deciding to follow the lead). The moment your character thinks or states the goal, the reader will subconsciously follow this thread through the book.

So a story starts with change, not just action for action sake, which leads to a story question in the reader’s mind (Will Cai find her daughter?)

Next we’ll discuss how to end the story….

Yolonda Greggs said...

Badge 35

I'm going to go ahead and post everything because it's so late. It's 6pm there, right? Feel free to post any questions and I'll answer them ASAP.

Now that we’ve figured out how to start our story, what’s next? Learning how to end our story. How do we end our story? By answering the story question.

In the last lesson we talked about how to start our story. One way to know if we began our story with the correct viewpoint character (the one who has the most to lose and whose story will close the book) is by how we end our story.

Do we answer the story question? Check your latest WIP (work in progress) and see. :-)

Yolonda Greggs said...

Cause & Effect

Cause and effect, stimulus and response have everything to do with structure in fiction. In life, accidents, coincidence and fate often play a major role in determining “how things work out” in a person’s life. We often say, life happens. But fiction must make more sense than real life if readers are going to find it believable. People get sick every day with no apparent cause. In fiction, these characters must be seen “becoming ill.” (In Taboo, Cai has amnesia. Part of the mystery is how she got hurt but we do see her hurt, bleeding, etc., before we realize she has amnesia).

In other words, effects (plot development) must have causes (background) and vice versa. Much of plotting from chapter to chapter works this way. So it’s up to you to build your story in such a way that every cause you put in has an effect as soon as possible in your story and for every effect you plot out, you have to figure out a cause that would make it happen.

You can’t have any characters, even secondary characters, running around just doing stuff to keep your story going. It’s extremely easy for the reader to stop believing in our story.

Stimulus/response must be external—something that could be seen or heard as if you were watching it on a stage.

It’s also important that we use stimulus/response in the correct order (Joe turned after hearing the gunshot—we have the response (Joe turned) before the stimulus (hearing)

Never use summary in a scene unless the argument gets repetitive and the needed development has already been done. Have you ever read a story where in the middle of the scene, the vp character begins to tell us what’s happening? When we’re in the head of a vp character we should experience everything they do, hear everything they do, see everything they do.

Yolonda Greggs said...

The Scene

What is a scene? A segment of story action written moment-by-moment without summary presented onstage in the story “now.” It is not something that goes on inside the character’s head. It is physical. It could be put on the theatre stage and acted out.

What is the pattern of a scene?
Statement of a goal (In the opening scene, Cai tells herself to get in and out of where she's going fast--sorry I have to be vague. :-))
Introduction and development of conflict (Seeing something that touches her heart)
Failure of the character to reach her goal, a tactical disaster (Staying when she had every opportunity to leave).

So the scene begins with a stated, clear cut goal. It can’t be a vague, philosophical question and it should be answered by a simple yes or no.

Then comes conflict. The give and take between two characters will make up most of your scene. Build scenes as big as possible, make them believable by making it as life-like as possible by presenting the scene moment-by-moment, the way we experience life.

Ending the scene

End the scene with a twist that prevents the attainment of the immediate scene goal and is a setback in the quest for the story goal. If the character enters a scene, has a big struggle and comes out with exactly what he wanted, he’s happy and there’s no tension. The scene answer must always be no or yes, but. However, this method can be taken to the extreme, so be careful.

It must be logical. It’s an unanticipated but logical development that answers the scene question, relates to the conflict that has been presented and sets the character back.

Scene length--which answers Linda's question—however long it takes to answer the question and only you can determine that.

Yolonda Greggs said...

To recap:

1. The goal of each scene must clearly relate to the story question in some way.
2. The conflict must be about the goal
3. The conflict must be with another person or persons, not internally, within oneself.

4. Once a vp character has been established and that viewpoint character’s problem and goal have been stated, it’s wise to remain with that single vp through the disaster.
--Viewpoint is the technique by which the author picks a character—the one with the strongest, clearest goal motivation going in—then tells the story from that person’s view, so that the reader sees, hears, feels, and knows only what the viewpoint character experiences. It’s wise to stay with the character through the scene ending because your reader will tend to strongly identify with and sympathize with this character. Anytime you change vp in a scene you risk confusing the reader about the goal, losing reader sympathy. It’s just jarring.--

5. Disaster works (moving story forward) by seeming to move the central figure further back from his goal, leaving him in worse trouble than he was before the scene started.
6. Readers will put up with a lot if your scenes will only keep making things worse!
7. You can seldom, if ever plan, write, or revise a scene in isolation of your other plans for your story because the end of each scene dictates a lot about what can happen later.

Every scene must have an impact on later events.

Every disaster signifies new change, which is ever threatening.


In any long story there must be some structural component besides the scene: transition—a direct statement to the reader that a change of time, place or viewpoint has happened since the last scene (three hours later…, etc)

To deal in any depth with a character’s emotional state or show his thought processes as he analyzes his plight and make future plans or use his thinking process to give the reader information about things that happened before the story started or between chapters then you need a sequel. The sequel holds scenes together and gets you from one to the next. You can use a scene-sequel-scene pattern (this is the cleanest and easiest way for the beginner to start).

Yolonda Greggs said...

This is the final section. I know it's a lot but hopefully you can print it. I used material from Jack Bickham’s book, Scene & Structure.

The ideal structure
A sequel begins for your viewpoint character the moment a scene ends. Just struck by a new unanticipated but logical disaster, he’s plunged into a period of sheer emotion, followed by a period of thought which results in the formation of a new goal-oriented decision which results in some action toward the new goal. And what follows? Add another character who will oppose the new action and you have conflict—you are into the next scene. How quickly a character goes through the pattern depend on the kind of person she is, the nature and depth of the shock, etc.
Because it often delves deeply into the head and heart of a viewpoint character, sequel is not stage-able like the scene. Sequel is internal, is not told moment by moment b/c it could require hours, days, or even weeks to get through. You must have summary.

Common Scene Errors
Unwanted interruptions—fateful telephone calls or sudden knocks on the door. Unless such interruptions are to play some direct dramatic role in the development of conflict, avoid them.

Inadvertent summary—later, after a few minutes, having thought it over, when they finally got back to the subject, etc. All such construction imply some time has been skipped over.

Loss of viewpoint—A thought occurred is not in a viewpoint. Emphasize viewpoint—A thought occurred to her.

Unmotivated antagonist—these characters can’t be mean for mean sake, give good background motivation.

Unnatural Exposition

Hope this helps. Sorry it's late and rushed but I'll still answer any questions. Happy writing!


April 131 said...

Thanks so much! You did a great job of outlining and explaining things.

Shelia said...

This part really helped:
"Unwanted interruptions—fateful telephone calls or sudden knocks on the door. Unless such interruptions are to play some direct dramatic role in the development of conflict, avoid them."
I will have to be careful with that.

Shelia (Badge#16)

Linda said...

Thank you for the thorough information. I will study this closely.

Linda! Badge #141

Yolonda Greggs said...

Hi, Sheila and Linda. Thanks for stopping by and I hope I've been of some help. :-)


Tray said...

This was extremely helpful for me as a new writer. I especially needed the advice on how to structure the scenes. Thank you so much!

Yolonda Greggs said...

You're welcome, Tray! :-)


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