My post on Friday drew quite a few comments. I’m going to answer some of the questions that arose from that post:
Thanks for all your help! Would you be able to give an example of this type of scene writing. I think I’m doing it right, but I’m not sure. Can you name a few authors that write in this style?
Another question if you have time to consider it:
Alive Communications will not assign you an agent unless you have been published commercially or unless you have a referral by a published author. I haven’t had a novel published yet. This means I need a referral. And how do you do that? Any secrets?
Virtually all modern writers write in Scenes and Sequels. Some of them don’t know they are doing so. Most of them are somewhat aware of the structure of scenes. So, I’ll choose a book at random from my shelf . . .
Very good, PATRIOT GAMES, by Tom Clancy. An oldie but a goodie. Let’s analyze the first scene:
Our hero Jack Ryan is walking through the streets of London to meet his wife and daughter. (That’s the Goal.)
Just after he finds them, there’s an explosion not fifty feet away. Jack turns and sees three terrorists shooting up a Rolls-Royce which has been crippled by an RPG. No cops are in sight, so Jack races into the firefight, chop-tackles one terrorist from behind, grabs his pistol, shoots the terrorist in the hip to disable him, then gets into a gunfight with another. Jack gets shot in the shoulder, but he kills his opponent. The third terrorist speeds away from the scene. About that time, the London cops arrive and are none too sure whether Jack is a good guy or a bad guy. Jack persuades them that he’s a right fine Yank. (All of the above is the Conflict. Notice that the Conflict takes up most of the Scene. It’s supposed to.)
As the Scene closes, Jack suddenly realizes that he’s been shot in the shoulder and he’s bleeding like a pig. His wife, a doctor, takes charge and an ambulance arrives. About then, Jack passes out from the pain, but he is vaguely aware that his body is Seriously Damaged and May Not Survive. (That’s the Disaster.)
Folks, when Tom Clancy is on, he’s really on. This is a very strong scene, and PATRIOT GAMES is one of my faves by Clancy.
Homework: Study the following scene (which is a Sequel) and see how Clancy handles the Reaction, Dilemma, and Decision, if any.
Hmmm, Pam asked a bonus question on how to get an agent. With a top-level agency like Alive Communications, your best bet, if you have no books published, is to take a really, really good proposal with strong sample chapters to a writing conference and make some appointments with good agents. You should do your homework in advance to be sure the agency fits your needs.
Does it work to meet an agent at a writing conference? Of course it does! There is only one reason why major agencies allow their busy agents to take 4 or 5 days out of their life to travel across country to go to a writing conference. It’s not for their health. Good agencies are always looking for good clients, but they can’t ethically go trolling for clients of other agenices. So their #1 option is to meet unagented writers at conferences. If they find a good writer, they typically make decisions very quickly.
How important is the S&S alternating pattern in the first couple chapters if you’re introducing people and cleverly disguised background info?
I have 2 characters who don’t meet for a while, and the chapters leading up to it ALTERNATE.
Maybe I’ve errantly assumed that a scene or sequel comprise a full chapter, and what I should be asking is: are scenes or sequels bound by chapter, are they combined in a chapter, or are they spread across chapters?
Randy sez: It is not so important to be alternating Scenes and Sequels. It is very important that any scene that you write should be EITHER a Scene OR a Sequel. It is very rare for me to see any scene in a book that isn’t one of those two. It is rarer still to see such a beast that actually works. Scenes work. Sequels work. Hardly anything else does.
I am a little concerned about your mention of “cleverly disguised background info.” This can work, but it needs to be quite subtle. Most writers (including me) believe that we just have to tell all that backstory or our reader won’t understand what’s going on. Well, what’s wrong with the reader not knowing everything? He or she will survive. The only truly fatal mistake you can make is to bore your reader so they set down the book and never pick it up again. When it comes time to edit your story, ask yourself just how much backstory is truly necessary in the early chapters. You may find that it’s a lot less than you imagine.
As for Scenes and Sequels, you can lay them out however you like in a chapter. I typically include 2 or 3 scenes (a “scene” here means either a Scene or a Sequel) per chapter, depending on how long they are. Each one averages 4 or 5 pages. I feel no obligation to put the Sequel in the same chapter with its preceding Scene. I feel no obligation to show all the Sequels. (I do know what they are, but I may choose to not show them.)
The only obligation I feel is to give the reader a Powerful Emotional Experience. That’s the only goal. Whatever choice of Scenes and Sequels I make is designed to do that as well as I can. If I omit Sequels, that’s the reason. If I switch POV characters, that’s the reason. That’s the only criterion.
We’ll talk more about all this tomorrow . . .