AJ Reads ‘Plot & Structure’: Chapter 7

I must have read this particular chapter before, because there’s highlighter marks all over it. And I’ve also done some examination of scenes (among other elements) in Retyping the Speckled Band, especially the somewhat complicated action-reaction in the first client story-telling scene. Also, I remember during NaNoWriMo thinking, “This scene must have conflict of some type, any type. It must start in medias res, and stop at an interesting point, because characters walking into and out of rooms are boring unless there’s a grand entrance of some kind.”

This thrills me, to be doing something right, even if I am in the process of deconstructing every single scene that I remember from my NaNoWriMo manuscript.

However, there were things I got wrong (as per the usual):

Beats

I’m still not sure how they work, or how a scene is divided into them. I think this will need further analysis of other works.

Chords

There’s not just the major chords of action (characters doing something) and reaction (characters reacting emotionally to something), but also the minor ones of setup (guess) and deepening (developing character relationships or the setting, for instance).

This is probably the reason why I do better at first-person than third-person; for me, first-person is familiar enough that I can embed reaction beats inside action scenes. Third-person is unfamiliar and feels remote, so I’m far less successful there.

HIP

That is, Hook, Intensity, and Prompt. This is an acronymn as useful as LOCK, and much more commonly used to boot. Adhering to this means, basically, you won’t have boring scenes—and, as I’m planning once the revision is finished and the final draft is developing, they can be useful as single units to be distributed every few days. If you think about a web comic, every memorable page does HIP.

Hook: get the reader interested. Treat this like you would the beginning of a book—don’t be boring. Start with dialogue, start with motion, do anything other than a character opening a door and walking into a room. Bell has other tips as well.

Intensity: this should rise as the book progresses, more or less. Measuring scene intensity is something I’ve yet to get the hang of—Bell uses a scale of 0 to 10, with 0 being scenes that you want to delete from your draft—plus intensity at the start of a scene can differ from the end of it. (Man, writing stories is like writing music.)

Excuse me, I’m going to add intensity as a meta-data field to Scrivener. (Then it’ll show up in outline view, just as my current meta-data fields of Story Progress, Themes, and Notes.)

Prompt: get the reader to be interested enough to move on. Characters should not open doors and exit rooms without incident (there were times when I was tempted during NaNoWriMo just to add to word count, but that’s still not a good idea when there’s so much more exciting stuff to write). You should stop at an early enough place to end any important stuff going on, and leave the reader wanting more. I think a general guide is if you want more, so does the reader.

Bell, as usual, is full of tips (all highlighted by past me) and examples. This is one chapter I’ll be going over repeatedly, and thus is great value for the money.

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