Monday, April 16

Writing: The Starburst Method, Part 6: Developing Scenes

Welcome to Part 6 of the Starburst Method! It's hard to believe we're at Part 6 already. Today we're going to be developing scenes. This part of the Starburst Method builds on work done in the first 5 sections, so I've included links to those at the bottom of this article.

Okay, let's do this!

Working from the five page synopsis you developed last week determine what scenes you need in your story. I posted the first page of my five page summary last week so this week I'll use that as an example of what I'm talking about.

Story vs Plot
Before we start creating our scenes, though, let's say a word about the difference between story and plot. I know the distinction between the two is second nature for many of you, but sometimes people think about these things differently, so let's roll up our sleeves and talk terms.

Rather than have me ramble on about this, here's what other writers have to say. In Writing Fiction: A Guide to Narrative Craft, Janet Burroway writes:
A story is a series of events recorded in their chronological order.
A plot is a series of events deliberately arranged so as to reveal their dramatic, thematic, and emotional significance.
Jack Hodgins, in A Passion for Narrative, writes:
We can ... think of the traditional plot as a series of causally related events, involving some sort of conflict (or tension), leading (probably) to a climax and (possibly) to a resolution.
For instance, often a novel will open with a scene that occurs in the future, perhaps just before the finale of the book when the hero or heroine is in her darkest hour and all seems lost. This is an element of plot. If, on the other hand, I were telling the story, I would start at the beginning and continue till I reached the end, relating the events of the story as they occurred in time.

I find that one of the hardest things about writing a story is breaking it into scenes and overlaying it with the structure of plot. In fact, one of the reasons I developed the Starburst Method was to help me do this!

Scenes are the building blocks of plot. In every scene there should be a goal and something preventing the protagonist attaining the goal. Usually, also, there's a twist and the protagonist will neither completely succeed or fail to attain her goal but will come a bit closer -- or perhaps fall father away. Usually only in the Dark Night of the Soul, just before the Finale, does the goal appear completely unattainable.

I think of scenes as the atoms of plot. That is, they are the smallest parts/chunks that a plot can be broken into a still make sense. Please keep in mind, though, that this is NOT coming from a screenwriter. I think that screenwriters may think of scenes a bit differently. If you're interested in screenwriting, or in how screenwriters think of scenes, I recommend getting a good book on screenwriting such as Save The Cat! by Blake Snyder.

Okay, so, we've touched on the difference between story and plot and talked a bit about what scenes are. Why did we do this? Here's why: The summary I completed in Part 5 was a summary of my story, not my plot. Although I've made sure to end each section with a cliff-hanger, I haven't completely plotted out the story. That's what we're going to do right after we break everything up into scenes.

Breaking our story up into scenes
I don't know about you, but this is one of the more difficult things for me. It's at this point I often become discouraged and want to chuck the whole thing. But we're not going to do that! We're in this together.

The elements of a scene:
- Date/time of year
- Setting: inside or outside & time of day
- Which characters are in the scene

Clear as mud? Keep in mind this is my first draft of the Starburst Method, so if anyone would like something explained at greater depth, leave a comment or write to me (go to the contact tab at the top right of this page).

Here's my first scene:

Date: I don't know the exact date yet, but I think my story will happen sometime in June. I want the weather to be hot but not stifling.

Time of day: High noon. This is going to be a showdown of sorts. Mr. Henry Winthrop, skeptic, against the beliefs of the townspeople about a death curse. Or perhaps it's Winthrop versus the curse.

Setting: The action begins outside and then moves inside the Mohan Mansion. The town is somewhere in the state of New York.

Characters: Mr. Henry Winthrop, his friend and producer of the TV series, his daughter, the local herbalist/crackpot, the architectural historian and miscellaneous members of the crew. The best friend of the recently deceased owner of the house and her niece. A reporter from the town's only newspaper.

Scene Summary:
Mr. Winthrop and crew are outside the Mohan Mansion. There is a buzz of excitement in the air. Most of the town has come out to see the filming but is being kept at a distance by the crew. Winthrop's face is flushed with excitement, the man is no doubt having the time of his life. He learnt about the Mohan Mansion when he was a boy and ever since has wanted to explore its mysteries. Now, finally, his dream is becoming a reality.

Filming begins. Winthrop talks to the camera and slowly walks up the steps toward the house when a shout rings out, "No!". It is the last owner's best friend -- she is elderly and is accompanied by her niece. The niece looks mortified. The elderly woman warns Winthrop that he must not enter the house because as soon as he sets foot inside the curse will be triggered. If he doesn't care about his life, he should think of those the other people he is putting at risk.

Winthrop finds it impossible to take her seriously but is every inch the gentlemen and instructs members of the crew to help take her home but the elderly woman fixes him with a withering glare, turns her back on them all, and slowly shuffles away, followed by her red cheeked and profusely apologizing niece.

The cameras haven't stopped rolling and Winthrop turns around and heads up the steps followed closely by the financier, the financier's niece, the historian from the metropolitan museum of history and the local historian/herbalist.

The front door has been cleared of lumber but hasn't been opened. Winthrop pauses in front of it as though suddenly unsure but then reaches out and wrenches the huge oaken door open. It creaks, wails really, giving Mr. Winthrop the shivers, despite his strict disbelief in anything beyond the material world. He quickly shakes off whatever presentiments of doom he may have felt and enters the dusty cool of the lobby. Moments later he gasps and falls to the ground, clutching his chest.

Chaos reigns. Paramedics rush toward him and an ambulance is called but it is too late. Mr. Henry Winthrop is dead.

That was a rather long summary! I have a feeling that I'll be breaking that scene up into smaller scenes. For instance, the exchange between Winthrop and the elderly woman/spinster will probably be a scene all its own.

Good luck on breaking your story up into scenes! Next week we'll be writing our rough draft.

The Starburst Method, Part 1: Creating a one sentence summary
The Starburst Method, Part 2: Developing our one sentence summary
The Starburst Method, Part 3: Creating a five paragraph summary
The Starburst Method, Part 4: Developing characters
The Starburst Method, Part 5: Creating a five page summary
The Starburst Method, Part 6: Developing scenes
The Starburst Method, Part 7: The character grid
The Starburst Method, Part 8: The rough draft and narrative drive

Related articles:
Character Archetypes

Photo Credit: SoundProof

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