Sharon’s article on writing scenes is the sort of thing that gives writers tiny heart attacks. So bursting with hard core writing tips that as we read the air around us thins of oxygen and thickens with smothering questions: Did I follow the method of scene writing? Have I used too much narrative? Too little narrative? What is narrative?
I recommend printing Sharon’s article and referencing it often as you create your novel.
It’s an interesting time in the development of novel structure. We’ve fully embraced the postmodern subjective structure and have made it our own. It’s easy to lose sight of the foundational basics in the midst of all the sexy structural changes.
If you don’t know the basics of scene, narrative, cut away transition (now a given in modern writing), and partial resolve of tension (scenes that ease tension on certain plot issues while ramping it up on other plot issues), now is the time to apply yourself to studying them.
It’s these skills that will help you make the leap in novel structure you need to stay competitive in today’s market.
Modern readers aren’t the TV generation anymore. We aren’t interested in the three-act novel. Think Internet. Mixing medias as easily as metaphors.
Today’s novel is all about mixed media. Folding a collection of short stories onto themselves and into each other to form an overarching narrative about hate and the power of love (Let the Great World Spin). Using photography as an intrinsic aspect of plot (Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children). Incorporating research as part of the novel experience including footnotes (The Kingdom of Ohio). A novel that is so filled with visual reference the story takes a back seat (The Night Circus).
These are a few examples of where the novel is headed. And while it looks fancy (and it is), no matter the structure, each of these novels has, at its core, the mastery of scene and narrative weaving that holds the whole thing together.
Scene is action: movement, dialogue, interaction of characters, action, and reaction. It’s the actors moving on the stage, talking to each other, planting evidence, arguing about how to cook rice, making love in a hammock, reading the ransom note.
Narrative is personality: cohesive voice, POV, tense, tone, voice, and narration. It’s the stream of consciousness, the storyteller grabbing your arm (figuratively) and saying, Did you see THAT? It’s the frank self-disclosure, the murmur of warning that lets you know the story is about to get tense, very tense indeed. It’s the personal aspect of the novel and it matters deeply.
I’ve read manuscripts that were scene after scene grinding along until the book's final—you guessed it—scene. I didn’t enjoy these experiences.
I have read manuscripts that were 99% narrative, streams of consciousness so heady you could lose yourself in the long sentences up to fifty words long. I didn’t enjoy these experiences.
When time comes for me to pick up your novel and turn to page one, what would you like me to see? How will you enfold me with your narrative and scene? Draw me in. Please, please, draw me in.