There were a number of very perceptive comments in response to my last blog posting. I’d like to respond to Cherie’s question:
Something I’ve been pondering as I read through the recent blogs: do you feel that the type of novel being written would or should affect the use of Reaction Scenes? I was thinking that in a romance novel, for example, it would make sense to go a little heavier on Reaction Scenes because a romance focuses more on emotion, and the thought processes and reasoning of the characters would be of more interest. Whereas in an action story, long and frequent Reaction Scenes would slow down the pace too much and only detract from the action. Would you agree with this, or do you feel that the books genre shouldn’t really influence the use of Reaction Scenes?
Yes, absolutely it makes a lot of sense in romance novels and women’s fiction to put in more word count on Reaction Scenes. In a typical thriller or action-adventure novel, on the other hand, you’d minimize the Reaction Scene length and put your word count in Action Scenes.
In chapter 10 of WRITING FICTION FOR DUMMIES, which I just turned in to my editor yesterday, I analyzed one Action Scene and one Reaction Scene from the following two novels: GONE WITH THE WIND, by Margaret Mitchell, and PATRIOT GAMES, by Tom Clancy.
In GONE WITH THE WIND, the Action Scene and the Reaction Scene were about the same lengths. In the Action Scene, Scarlett confronts Ashley in the library and basically throws herself at him. In the Reaction Scene, she tries to figure out how to deal with her disaster, and after quite a lot of pages, she decides to marry Charlie Hamilton. Lots of emotive stuff and interpersonal stuff for Scarlett to work through.
In PATRIOT GAMES, the Action Scene is much longer than the Reaction Scene. The Action Scene shows hero Jack Ryan breaking up a terrorist attack on the Prince of Wales and his family (setting–early 1980s, when Diana was still in the picture). It’s a good exciting scene and ends with Ryan taking out one terrorist with his bare hands, then shooting the other one and getting shot simultaneously. (That’s a disaster–taking a 9 mm bullet in the shoulder!) The Reaction Scene is just a few paragraphs. Ryan sees the Palace Guards coming with rifles and realizes that he looks a mite suspicious–he’s the lone man standing at the scene of a terrorist attack, and he’s holding a loaded gun. No long dilemma here. Ryan just pops the clip out of the gun, then drops them both on the ground, and then collapses on the ground as his wound starts to put him into shock.
It would be instructive to go through a few published novels and mark the Action and Reaction Scenes and compare their relative lengths.