Thursday, April 21, 2011

Crafting a scene

In my current work-in-progress, I'm making more of an effort to craft the structure of scenes before I write them. This is slowing me down a bit but I hope will minimize rewriting later. The main points: What do the characters want, how do their desires bring them into conflict with one another, what is the turning point (i.e. the big moment of change) and how is my viewpoint character affected by it.

Take a scene I worked on last night. My protagonist Annie needs to wrestle some information from a regiment of ghost cavalry soldiers who perform with Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show. Annie used to work on the show but has since gone her own way, and returning to stomping grounds both familiar and changed makes her apprehensive. After the turning point, she ends the scene in a more confident, determined place, which in turn sets the tone for her going into the climax.

In a novel, I might have the luxury of a few paragraphs to establish Annie's opening frame of mind. In a short story, not so much. The scene's first sentence has to do a lot of heavy lifting. The question I've been dealing with today: How do I show her frame of mind? I have to dig into my own experience. (Write what you know.) I've never been part of a traveling show, but I have left a place I belonged in, moved on with my life and returned for a visit later on: my old high school or a newsroom where I used to work. It's a weird and uncomfortable experience. There's a feeling of, "Hi, we're glad to see you, but what the hell are you doing here?" In Annie's case, that unease sets up an antagonistic reception from the ghosts whom she needs to get on her side.

I've written several openings using various metaphors, but I'm sorry to say I haven't nailed it yet. I'll know it the moment I do.

Bits and pieces:

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