Thursday, September 27, 2012

Writing out of order AKA scenes and bridges

I was recently over at RD, where a diva asked if other people also wrote out of order or in scenes because she felt odd. Which--as time went by and people started coming out of the closet--got me to thinking.  As writers we’re trained and expected to write from front to back. Maybe we do the end out of order, but mostly we go along in a linear fashion. Which is a good lead in to--ta-dah! Jodi's take on bridges, or how to find them, scenes and basic structure, lol.

A scene is a unit of story time that shows a unified action. Ie.
Boy takes his dog to the supermarket and buys dog food.

People who write in scenes tend to write “chunks” because “a boy and dog at the store buying dog food” is a unified action. There’s a clear line of action, and when it ends…it sort of peters out because it’s not connected to anything yet.

A scene is an event (in addition to other things) you’d like in your story. When you “visualize” your story, these are the bits that come in clearest. Maybe you get up, take a break—and when you get back you write:

The boy finds the dog roaming the neighborhood and since no one wants to claim him, adopts him.

Perhaps you have these particular scenes organized in your Word doc as:
The boy finds the dog roaming the neighborhood and since no one wants to claim him, adopts him.
Need a scene
Need a scene
Boy takes his dog to the supermarket and buys dog food.
NEED TO WRITE They are chased by strangers in a black SUV

--you’re slowly getting the impression this is a YA suspense. It’s about the boy and his dog. You have a handful of scenes and a good idea of where they’re going. In other words, you have two scenes

The boy finds the dog roaming the neighborhood and since no one wants to claim him, adopts him.
Boy takes his dog to the supermarket and buys dog food.

And you’re chugging along on the other scenes that go with it, because you’re writing a “sequence”. McKee says a sequence is a unit of time that shows a larger movement, so at this point you realize you’re writing the sequence:

Boy adopts a stray and “someone dangerous” wants him back.

This>
Boy adopts a stray and “someone dangerous” wants him back.
Encompasses a larger unit of unified time than this>
Boy takes his dog to the supermarket and buys dog food.

However this>>
The boy finds the dog roaming the neighborhood and since no one wants to claim him, adopts him.
Need a scene
Need a scene
Boy takes his dog to the supermarket and buys dog food.
NEED TO WRITE They are chased by strangers in a black SUV
Is all part of this>>
Boy adopts a stray and “someone dangerous” wants him back.

I originally put the boy finding the dog at the top of my Word doc because that’s how I see the story, but moving the scene also works although it changes timing and feel of the story.

A larger story (like a novella or novel) would contain a number of sequences (large actions) that make up an act.

ie beginning middle or end

This is the beginning>
The boy finds the dog roaming the neighborhood and since no one wants to claim him, adopts him.
Need a scene
Need a scene
Boy takes his dog to the supermarket and buys dog food.
NEED TO WRITE They are chased by strangers in a black SUV

In a short, a sequence might be all you have. A sequence is like a loaf pan. Events fit into it, but the order of the events don’t always matter. I make banana bread. I know I’m supposed to cream the butter and sugar, but I usually don’t. I like banana bread with a muffin like texture so I just dump the wet and dry in separately.

If I wanted a cake-like banana bread, I’d cream the fat and shortening. Creaming the fat and shortening creates a fine texture, unlike the big, porous holes in a muffin. This is where knowing what you want to get across and write comes in handy. Let’s say I’m writing horror.

So far, my sequence isn’t very scary. “But” each individual unit can be moved around because they have a unity of action. (like soap bubbles or m&m’s)
Let’s look at that sequence again. I want to make it scary and I think the last scene works for what I need. That means I need some kind of rising action to get to that point and finding a dog isn’t scary either. I “need a scene” so I move “need a scene” to the top of my doc and set up parameters (you don’t have to write them down, just be aware of them)

Needs to be scary, needs to set up the last scene (create some kind of menace for that black SUV) and needs to involve the dog.

So I write a scene where the boy sees the always locked cemetery gate open and is drawn to the opening (he’s always wanted to see inside), “but” before he can peak inside a dog runs out and knocks him down. By the time he gets up again the gate is closed, although he can hear a strange bloodcurdling noise he’s never heard before.

And I add the scene I already have:
The boy finds the dog roaming the neighborhood and since no one wants to claim him, adopts him.

These are two separate scenes. I have them in order in my Word doc, but there are words missing between them. I know the dog can’t simply jump in the boy’s lap so the rest of the story can happen so I need a “bridge”.

A bridge is usually a piece of narrative that gets you from one place to another. Maybe a time transition?

Two days later, the boy watched the dog sitting in front of his house. It just sat there and stared at him, like he was waiting for the boy to come outside.

This moves the action forward to (dog roaming the neighborhood)

Or an action transition to move the place.
He ran toward home as fast as he could, heart pounding. He could hear the racing of almost silent claws clickering after him, and he imagined a giant crab landing on his back, tearing his head off with those nasty orange pinchers everyone said were so delicious.

Whatever I chose, I can find the parameters by looking at the two scenes that bracket it.

The dog leaves the cemetery
The boy adopts him

Which means the boy has to notice the dog. That is a non-negotiable. And it needs to bridge the scenes in a way that connects to show whatever it is I’m trying to show. Because this is horror (and I’m not funny or ironic in any way) I know the scene transition isn’t going to work for me. I want the boy to freak out over the dog, and the dog to do a Damien. The more distant feel of “telling” also works for this story since I’m building toward my big climax where the guy in the black SUV is the undertaker for the pet cemetery and the dog is dead. I want to tell until I stop time and burst into showing when the boy realizes the dog has escaped the cemetery which will increase the emphasis on the last scene.

Summary:
Keep your scenes in a doc of some sort.
Scenes are moveable.
Remember what you’re writing and check to make sure the scenes that show it are utilized in the best possible way.
Set up the parameters for what you need to write by looking at the two scenes book-ending it.
Use bridges to reinforce the feel of your story, show character or set up for the end.
Bridges don’t have to be long. A time transition works great.

2 comments:

Hailey Edwards said...

I would be interested in someone polling writers to learn if those who write out of sequence are new to writing or more experienced.

I say that, because I used to write out of sequence. Really, really out of sequence. Usually middle, end, beginning with a few orphan chapters in between.

The more I write, the less I find that's the case. The last three books I've written have been front to back.

I think it's because my thoughts were so scattered when I first started. Now I have an idea of where a story is headed, and I know I can get there. So I do.

*shrugs* It does make me wonder when I read posts like that if it's a natural evolution for everyone or if out-of-sequence writing remains the process for most.

Jodi Henley said...

hmm...good point. Maybe I'll create a poll on it. I find I'm less linear than I used to be because my time is so chopped up that I can't always write straight through (even when I come back to it). Maybe it has to do with my mindset?

I've started just doing scenes and dropping them into a linear doc and writing all the big bits and when I have a few days off going back to fix all the connections. It seems to work for me. Much better than when I used to write back to front. "But" on the other hand you have a huge amount more of word count than I do so maybe I just haven't got to that point yet.

Damnit. You're making me think again. :)