Friday, February 8, 2013

The Purpose of the Scene

Hey guys, today I'm going to talk about the purpose of a scene. Many authors (myself included) simply write down what they see in their heads, and that's the scene. This is a good basis for a scene, since the human brain is a fairly advanced organ, and I trust what it gives me. That said, there's always room for improvement. Once you've got the vision and the action all jotted down, it's time to look at what your scene actually does, if anything.

One rule I wish I could break here that I am going to give you: Don't write scenes just because they are cool.

We love cool scenes! Awesome fights and witty banter and epic magicks and such. But if the scene is just "coolness" like some Dragonball Z fight, and does nothing else, then you aren't doing very good storytelling. A scene needs to convey multiple kinds of information, on multiple levels.

From my perspective, there are three things you should look for your scene to do. I would say that for a scene to be wortwhile, it needs to have at least one of these purposes, but it is best to have two, and really, three.

Advancing the Plot: This is arguably the most important type of scene - one that advances the plot. Your book is nothing without a plot and a journey that your characters go on, discovering themselves and improving. Almost every scene in a novel should advance the plot at least in some way. You might feel tempted to write a weeks worth of farming scenes for your book where you intricately describe the species of insects that are scattered around the fields, just so the reader knows exactly how the character spends her day and what creatures there are in your world, but seriously that is boring. Unless you've just had a massive climactic point, you probably don't want to have too many scenes that don't advance the plot in at least some way.

Expanding a Character: This is the second-best purpose for a scene, and the one that occurs most naturally. Whenever something happens, your characters grow and become more real, but sometimes you really want to dig into one particular change and really expand a character, and you should feel free to do that. I find that the label of "expansion" can fit a lot of things: solidifying a newly acquired viewpoint, exploring a character's past mistakes, even just showcasing their skills so that the reader knows what to expect later.

Filling the World: Scenes like this include days out of your character's life, little experiences with the world around him that don't directly relate to the plot but help make your world more real. Meals are often a good example of this. They often don't push the plot forward in an epic fashion, but they allow a respite where your characters can learn about each other and in so talking and eating, showcase new things about your world.

Ideally, you want your scenes to do all three. You want to move the plot forward, expand on your characters, and fill your world. And you can, and should. But there's going to be one of these three that is a priority in your scene. And you shouldn't be afraid to have it be not moving the plot forward. If you've just had a ton of massive action, your readers need to relax a little bit, and some worldbuilding and character depth is a great way to do that. The plot wont move forwards as quickly, but your readers will be able to more fully appreciate the effects of the plot now that they've spent this time learning more about the world and your characters. Additionally, your plot scenes should always contain some extra bit of worldbuilding and character expansion. Your characters aren't unchanging statues, even if they are robots. There's always something new to learn about them, and your world. I mentioned this in an earlier post when I spoke about  Patrick Rothfuss wanting his dialogue to be "fractal." So that every line of his dialogue gave you an insight into his world, and how things in that world work. I think he did majestically, and if you haven't read Name of the Wind, go do it now.

So look through your scenes, and see what they do. Note where and how you're advancing the plot, deepening your characters and filling your world. Mix it up! Learn to use your author's tools! Write!

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