Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Day 14: Shortcut to Scene

This is the post I've eagerly anticipated writing since I started the 30 day challenge.  Why?  Because the "Shortcut to Scene" strategy by Laura Whitcomb is such simple advice (so much so that you question why you never thought of it yourself), but still so brilliant.  In Whitcomb's own words,
"When I started using this method I found I was not only writing better first drafts of scenes, but I was doing it about three times faster."
Three times faster.  That might be useful when trying to write a novel in 30 days, no?  So let's do it!

Step 1:  The Scene Outline
In order to outline your scene you need to understand a few things about the purpose of a scene.  First, that each one is a little story in which there is a beginning, a middle, and an end.  The beginning will present some sort of goal (either for the character or for the plot), the middle will ratchet up the conflict, and the end ought to leave readers hanging, dangling on your untied strings and eager for the next portion of the story.  Second, your scene must simultaneously have an objective and move the action along at a steady pace.  The objective may be as simple as "introduce character," but knowing the scene's purpose should help you focus on where you intend to take it.

When writing your scene outline you do not need to go into much detail.  A paragraph summary should be enough to cover the essential points of your scene: goal, conflict, and what is left unresolved.  Your summary can (and probably should) include the emotional events of the scene as well as the physical ones.  For example "John rips up the love note" would be physical, but equally worth mentioning would be Sarah's emotional response, "Sarah's heart is broken."  To see some more specific examples of scene outlining as well as the following principles I highly suggest getting a copy of Whitcomb's book Novel Shortcuts.

Step Two:  The Dialogue
In this portion of the exercise you will be typing out what type of conversation you think your characters will have in the scene.  The dialogue does not need to be perfect, (the perfection will come in step four when we work on "distillation"), but it should convey all that generally needs to be communicated in the scene.  To move through this quickly use only the character's initials to specify who is talking.  Avoid using quotation marks and "he said, she said" as well, as those will only serve to slow down your creative flow.

Step Three:  The Heartstorm
I'm going to be honest, I'm not a big fan of the term "heartstorm," but since I didn't come up with it I don't get to name it.  So, what is a "heartstorm"?  Much like a brainstorm you will be using ten minutes to ponder over the scene and spew out everything (literally everything, no censoring) that comes to mind.  Unlike a brainstorm these ten minutes should be focused on the imagery and poetry of the scene.  This little baby right here is the reason I LOVE the "Shortcut to Scene" method.  I'm a very straightforward writer, often eschewing the beauty of prose for the utility of it, but the heartstorm opened up a new avenue of creativity for me.  For ten minutes I envisioned my scene in colors and moods and symbols instead of actions and dialogue and when I used the heartstorm in my first draft it was much more brilliant and alive than any scenes before it.

Step Four:  Putting it all Together
To more easily differentiate the three sections of the exercise Whitcomb suggests using different font for each: for section one regular font, section two bolded font, and section three italicized font.  Review each section adding ideas or making small edits where necessary.  In section two focus on taking the lines of dialogue and "distilling" them to be more concise.  To give a wonderful example from Novel Shortcuts, the before:
"Boss:  I have a job for you.  Take this package to Stephano's.
Henchman:  What is it?
Boss:  Why?  You getting particular?  Did you grow a conscience all of a sudden?
Henchman:  I didn't say I wouldn't do it.
Boss:  You make a thousand a week for a couple hours' work.  You got a problem with that?
Henchman:  I'm not complaining.
Boss:  You didn't used to care what you were delivering.
Henchman:  Gimme the package.  I'll do it.  Gotta pay my wife's credit card bills."
The After:
"Boss:  Take this package to Stephano's.  What?  You got a problem making money now?
Henchman:  Baby always needs a new pair of shoes."
In this example Whitcomb has taken a long, wordy passage and made it tighter and more interesting to read.  Instead of getting lost in the endless back and forth of dialogue we see a quick exchange that conveys the same message and with just as much character.

Now review section three, bolding any specific phrases or descriptions that particularly stand out to you.  Once you've finished, print off the page and set it beside you as you type out your first draft.  Refer to it much as you would a menu, selecting segments from each section to create a delectible scene.

MY DAY 14:  Having divided out my days and scenes I knew how many scenes I had to accomplish per day in order to complete the manuscript on time.  Unfortunately I only completed one scene on this day with high hopes to do more in the next week and make up for lost scenes on the weekends.  

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