Saturday, August 15, 2009

SceneTheory 101

When I started writing I knew nothing of the basic writer's tool set save that there was a continuous narrative thread that ran from beginning to end. In the beginning I followed that principle, opening the story somewhere close to the main action and then following events until the great revelation at the end. [No, before you ask, I never did an Adam and Eve story!]

For the first couple of dozen stories that I managed to complete I wrote from an omniscient point of view, telling what was going on with the characters and action. This gave my stories a detached viewpoint designed not to engage the reader's senses. Over time this technique evolved to telling stories from a single POV, which had the reader more engaged but still used that single thread of story telling that connected beginning to end.

Nothing sold for the first few years I was writing as I submitted thirty-five stories to all of the magazines of that era. Then, one weekend, I decided that instead of composing my own story I'd strip away the words from a movie (Snow White) I'd just taken my kids to see. I thought the story's skeleton could be rewritten as an SF piece with a few changes here and there and maybe a spaceship, some orbital mechanics, and some humanform modifications, but pretty much the same story line. Surprisingly the thing sold to Analog. This indicated that there was something I'd done to make a good story, quite apart from mastering compositional skills. I used the the same technique later to use ("steal") plots from PG Wodehouse, Shakespeare, and Hans Christian Anderson, all of which sold immediately. Clearly, there was something in what they did that was lacking in my original stories.

When I was working on a father's day story for my son it occurred to me to intersperse the narrative line with back story, throwing in some words that led to the story being told and bringing both into a common ending. When this piece was finished I fleshed out the back story parts into little stories. When I looked at the finished product I realized that although it followed a single narrative thread, the events were strung like pearls on that thread, each distinct scene somewhat independent but connected to form the whole.

That was the point I started writing in terms of scenes.