Remember the story process posts (combined post here)? Well, that was just the start!
What happens next?
The next level down for a story plan (yes, it’s a real plan, but not a synopsis or outline — this is a process, my process):
What is a scene outline? This is a bit like the cards screenwriters use to indicate the who’s there, when it is, where it is, why it’s there, and what happens, and all in a few words (no more than fits on the card).
An example from a real story:
Part One, Scene One: Friday evening, just home from work, POV: Pella
Goal: Celebrate (with foster-sister) reaching their savings goal. Next step is looking for a house. Their dream.
Conflict: Sister arrives home in state of panic. She’s done it again. And it’s bad. She stole from the head-honcho bad guy.
Disaster: The goons surround the house. No way out.
That goal-conflict-disaster can also be labelled Objective, Obstacles, Outcome, but I’m sticking to G-C-D. This opening scene is influenced by the OPEN part of the beat-sheet for this character. (A beat sheet has the major beats in the story, but not much more. It’s purpose is to highlight the big moments for each part, and to lead toward the CLOSE of the story — lots of examples out there, so find a few and adapt to suit the way you work.)
That’s the basics of the G-C-D scene outline. The next ‘scene’ could be a sequel (which is the Reaction, Dilemma, Decision process that’s almost the same structure as the scene, but a scene is the Event, and the sequel is the process for making a decision that leads to the next Goal of a scene, creating the need for an Active Event that moves the story forward).
Part One, Scene One, Sequel: no change to location, POV: Pella
Reaction: Anger. All their plans — ruined for a shiny trinket.
Dilemma: No time for emo outbursts. Tell sister to give it back, but she doesn’t have it with her and the guys outside are closing in. Can Pella negotiate? Can she call in a negotiator? Is that a knife in goon’s hands?
Decision: Hide. Stay alive long enough to beat the barley out of sister.
Etc. Most often these things go in the format of Scene followed by Sequel followed by Scene. There are exceptions, and for a faster paced story there are more Scenes than Sequels.
The big difference between the two is in the internal machinery.
A scene is the active part, the action, the event, the things that happen. Whether running or fighting or digging into the archives, it’s the forward momentum of the story.
A sequel is the reaction part (see the pattern? Action-reaction). It’s the thinking, planning, responding with emo or intellect or providing time for world-building or backstory. This is not the place for active events, but the preparation for active events. The sequel provides the decision on what the next step (toward the story goal) is going to be. The previous scene may not have had the story goal as the Scene Goal, but it would have been a step toward it (the path is signposted, one point to the next). That scene goal is the first step toward the story goal, so the purpose of the decision in the sequel is to provide one of the smaller steps toward the story goal, always keeping in mind the main reason for doing the active stuff.
In this story, the story goal is the purchase of their own house, their own piece of the world. The dream is security, belonging, growing roots. Stability in place and mind.
It’s damaged by an event that kicks the story into movement. The story goal is in danger and action must happen.
Too many sequels and the story slows down to a knee-deep mud-track that’s hard to get through. That’s the danger. Introversion is best in small doses, and always with a purpose of getting back on the main track (the story goal).
The G-C-D & R-D-D process is only the start …
It’s good to do the whole story in the scene outlines (yes, I know; it’s going to change, it always does in the writing — but that’s not the point of writing them).
But next is the real work of the story. The engine.
It’s the MRU stuff.
What? Is that a swear word? I hear those words.
It’s the Motivation Reaction Unit.
Still doesn’t make sense.
How about Action-Reaction-More Action?
It’s the external happening that causes a reaction.
Something happens that is external. I throw a rock at you.
There’s a reaction that’s external. You leap up the tree (I don’t know why you leap up the tree, so I’m not going to say/write ‘to get out of the way’ because that would be mind-reading).
There’s a point between these two external moments of action that a thought process might happen. Therein lies the danger of going too far with the thought process.
Action must be followed by the Reaction as soon as it can. Immediately, if possible.
Remember the process of Fight or Flight? Well, there’s a third one (everything in threes). When in a position of danger, there’s the Freeze moment, the thought process that considers the options. Sometimes, that process is so fast because there’s danger in not responding fast enough. Touch a hot stove, and the thought process is miniscule. Hear a knock on the door, the thought process has time to consider what to do about it, even to the point of peeking through the curtain.
Does that make sense?
That’s why stories that seem to flow have a pattern that follows closely the processes of Scene Outlines which have MRUs between the lines of the scene events.
It’s the next stage, deeper into the immediate events, that are the action-reaction moments. (Ingermanson calls them clips: external/internal, Public/Private. I like the way he explains this (it’s in one of his books with Peter Economy).
And it’s not because that’s the way we’re told to write a story. It’s because that’s the way life happens. If we read a story that has too much one way or the other, we don’t believe it as we read it.
Whatever happened, bonus or gig, the celebration could wait until tomorrow. Except tomorrow Pella had the electrics at the shopping mall display to finalise. And the lighting for the theatre on Sunday.From a current WIP.
Monday. They’d celebrate on Monday, whatever the news was. Pella hoped for money. The bonus and a paying gig would put them ahead of their goals this month. A few more months, and they could start looking for a house. A home.
She grabbed a packet of shortbread biscuits and popped two into her mouth, chewing and swallowing while one hand turned the kettle on and the other dropped a tea bag into a cup.
The front door burst open, followed by sharp staccato steps up the stairs.
Pella swallowed the last of the biscuits, ducked her head into the hallway. “I’m in here!” she yelled.
The shoes pounded down two steps at a time, accompanied by sobs and incoherent words.
“Slow down, Deni. Make a cuppa, breathe, then tell me what’s going on.” Pella popped two more biscuits into her mouth while she prepped another mug. The kettle whistled, she filled both cups, swirled the spoon around, added milk and plonked the cups on the battered old kitchen table.
That may be why some stories stay in our minds, and some fade to grey fog, never to be recalled. We have to see the reality behind the actions and events, even if they are fantastical. Things happen in order. There’s a pattern underlying everything.
Having a good idea isn’t the end-stage of a story, it’s only the starter’s block. There are no runners, no lined track, no spectators. To turn an idea into a story takes several processes. The first one (the story process posts) I do is to find who ‘owns’ the story and why, the basic beats for every character who has a role to play in the story, and only when that’s done, I go into the scene details, followed by the Clips (MRUs).
Then comes the writing of the first draft.
And then the editing.
And then the publishing process.
Writing the story may be the easy part …
* * *
End of Year Sale
It’s the Smashwords end of year (norther winter, southern summer) sale, and I put some books on at special prices. One is free, one short is perma-free, so if you need some reading over the holidays, take a peek. Lots of books on special, lots of writers take part to ensure readers have options.
Come on over, take a look.
Oh, did I mention the Novitiate story is free on Amazon over these dates: Wednesday, December 23, 2020, 12:00 AM PST through to Sunday, December 27, 2020, 11:59 PM PST.
4 thoughts on “What comes after?”
I can see that structure is necessary for a good story, but honestly, the thought of working through all that for every scene would paralyze me before I ever got started. On the other hand, I do spend months writing down ideas in a notebook and thinking about where the story has to end up. Once I’ve accumulated enough stuff, I start writing the first draft. And yes, it does go scene by scene, but I work out all the details in subsequent drafts. You have to do the work, but not always at the beginning.
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Everyone finds their special way to get the ideas into a solid shape. I like to do it all at the beginning, and do a fast first draft (if I don’t count the pre-writing stages), and then I spend twice as long (as it took to write the first draft) doing the editing — again, in stages.
It took me ages to find a way that helped me keep moving forward, and to have little ‘bitty’ moves to break through the moments when I can’t seem to find a way through the messy bits.
To have at the end a shape that a reader enjoys is worth it all.
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