Monday, February 25, 2013

One Scene Short of a Hoarders Episode

I’m one paragraph away from being a word hoarder. Okay, that’s a slight exaggeration, but bibliophiles know what I mean; we love books it’s only with great regret that I give them up. At one point in my life I lived in a one bedroom apartment and I had so many books and so little shelf space I filled the kitchen cabinets with them. Barely scraping by working two jobs, if I had to choose between books or food, guess which won? After I started working in libraries, my tendency to squirrel away books abated somewhat; I was surrounded by books all day. I donated some of the books I had outgrown to the school library, since I could still see them and knew they had a good home.

I also hold onto writing magazines. ( Escribus Periodophilus?). I never know when a good exercise will jump out and inspire me. For example, as I was cleaning out a stack of magazines in my office, I found a copy of The Writer from January, 2009. Page 29 is loaded with “Tantalizing Warm-Ups,” which come from the book Naming the World, edited by Bret Anthony Johnston.

Here are a few of my favorites:

Spend 5 minutes describing….speeding along the freeway in the trunk of a car, a strange experience in a restaurant (I’ve had several of these.

Spend 10 minutes describing:…your first crush, a terrible party, the last time you said something you instantly regretted, a secret from your childhood.

Spend 5 minutes listing….50 interesting settings for stories, everything that comes to mind when you think of stained glass, everything that comes to mind when you think of a park bench, everything that comes to mind when you think of what made you happiest as a child, adolescent or adult.

Spend 15 minutes finishing the paragraph that begins with:
“No one could blame her for trying. The ring was just sitting on the counter, begging to be stolen.”

Spend 20 minutes describing a scene where:
An adult tries to convince his/her 50 something patent not to adopt a baby, a computer disk, a motel key.

What is the common element here? They all involve scenes. Successful stories and novel, and creative nonfiction are scenes strung together. As Les Edgerton writes in his book Hooked.
 ‘ a scene is simply a unit of dramatic action…it means conflict, always conflict.”

Conflict can be internal, such as a character can’t decide between two pathways, or it can involve adventure, such as the protagonist is being chased by a mob of angry bees. In any case, conflict involves a quest, and the story imperils your protagonist out of his /her comfort zone.

As Edgerton says, “…a basic scene requires conflict, a protagonist and an antagonist…the protagonist enters a scene with a goal.”

To create enough detail for a good scene, think cinematic-ally. Your scene may open with a wide shot through the protagonist’s point of view. He sits on his white horse, surveying his ranch, when suddenly, the lens closes in on another man riding up on a black horse in the distance. The music changes timbre and tone, and the lens moves in on his ragged, sneering face. The cinematic details let the audience know this is the antagonist, and we have conflict.

Make a scene. Then another. And another. Eventually you will have a story, or a book.
 Happy Writing!