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Scenes is an edited version, using as its starting point the transcript of a version presented at the Arkansas Book Festival in While keeping the core of the Arkansas version, I have added in material from the other versions and also expanded some sections based on participant questions.
The sometimes informal wording of the original lectures has been retained where possible to reflect the source. Writers often argue about the difference between the art of writing and the craft of writing.
Writers argue about almost everything — as well they should, since there are a thousand and one ways to reach the same point…and a thousand different points, besides. My position is probably close to that of Vladimir Nabokov, in the way he would combine complex organic discussions of literature with what seemed like a mechanical, rote adherence to the physicality of, for example, settings such as houses in Jane Austen, because this too is very important to the effects a writer can achieve.
I am indebted to Victor LaValle, who raised the issue of how one would map the actions of the Gormenghast scene below to a different context, like a dinner party. All images below are from Wonderbookcopyright to me and the artist, Jeremy Zerfoss.
Thanks to Kari Wolfe for cleaning up the original transcript. The first thing I wanted to show you is this image, which is about how you decide what the story is in the first place.
Basically, I thought it would be useful to take some very dramatic job that a character has — in this case, a dragon slayer— and demonstrate how it is that the average day of a dragon slayer is no different than the average day of an insurance salesman, in terms of not necessarily being of any interest to a reader.
A lot of beginning writers will think that the continuum of a day, a week, or whatever else in the life of someone is a story.
The first part of this is reminding you that all of these things do not need to be in your story. Maybe some of them are dismissed in a sentence or two. The lie is that, yes, you can do a day in the life of a character as a story.
Where you end or begin your scenes is not only a question of pacing. To a certain extent, this is also a diagram of a scene. You can literally make a huge change of emphasis just by ending with a different line of dialogue.
Stopping a scene with what the person speaking says, rather than how the other person responds, can be a crucial change in emphasis.
I have to have a character in a situation in my head, and then I have to more or less know where the ending is. When you finish a rough draft, there are a lot of things you have to think about — how your decisions about scenes and summary and everything else have supported what you want the story to be.
I wanted to write this kind of story with these kinds of things in it. What scenes are missing?
Is emphasis wrong in the scenes? Do I need all the scenes I wrote? Have I thought I created one kind of story, and I actually created another kind of story? It was something put in there as a joke for the illustrator. I left it in. Now, the idea of a target in fiction may seem silly, because fiction is multidimensional.
It has many targets, many things going on. All the arrows going all of the places they go, and whomever they hit. How is it expressing its own integrity?
Then how does that scene fit into a larger picture? Another way of looking at those questions is through character arcs. Every writer is different.
Do they work through structure? Do they think of structure as purely through character, or do they see it as a separate construct? Do they think of plot as separate from structure?
These are words that serve as approximations of concepts about which we all think of a little differently. That creates a different sense of scene, as well.In my How to Structure Scenes in Your Story series (which is the basis for the second half of my award-winning book Structuring Your Novel: Essential Keys for Writing an Essential Story and its companion Structuring Your Novel Workbook), you’ll learn: The two parts of the Scene: action (scene) and reaction (sequel).The three active parts of the scene.
Action scenes are a staple in fiction, from small fights to end-of-the-world disasters. Make it about more than just a blow-by-blow of what happens, and you can create gripping and breathtaking scenes readers won't be able to put down.
An Illustrated Guide to Writing Scenes and Stories Jeff VanderMeer explains the ins and outs of using scenes in imaginative fiction The writing workshop/lecture Wonderbook: Scenes is an edited version, using as its starting point the transcript of a version presented at the Arkansas Book Festival in Scene-Creation Workshop — Writing Scenes that Move Your Story Forward As the atom is the smallest discrete unit of matter, so the scene is the smallest discrete unit in fiction; it is the smallest bit of fiction that contains the essential elements of story.
Fight scenes are dangerous territory for writers. On the surface, they seem as if they’re guaranteed to keep the reader glued to the action in the same way as they often do at the movies.
In reality, though, readers tend to skip over fight scenes – skimming the long, tedious, blow-by-blow. The art of in-scene writing in fiction is critical for allowing a reader to enter the fictional story and vicariously participate in the story to discover meaning and pleasure.
It is one on the main skills in creating great fiction, as opposed to memoir and creative nonfiction.