5 February 2010

Scenes, scenes, scenes

I'm right in the middle of revisions (or, more accurately, a third of the way through revisions) and I got stuck on a scene. I stopped, just stopped.

As I may have mentioned, it was pointless the way it was written. The two main characters were having dinner and that was it. I wanted to show them slowly taking their purely professional relationship into new territory, but that's not what was happening.

I either had to cut it, or re-write it from scratch. In the end I decided to re-write. Luckily I'd run across Writing the Perfect Scene on Advanced Fiction Writing just a day or two ago. The first part of the article is fine; it's the second bit I found really helpful, the small scale structure of the scene.

I started re-writing the scene in "Motivation-Reaction Units" or MRUs, and you know what? It really works.

The motivation is something that happens external to the "point-of-view" character, in this case, the Honourable Miss Xavia Lyon, the main character. This could be something she hears, feels, smells, see, senses, etc.

Then there is a reaction. This is broken up into a few parts. First, any reflex reactions that might happen, then what a character is thinking internally, then what they say or what they do.

Here's a motivation example:

There was a knock at the door.

OK, I admit it, this is a pretty simple motivation, but it comes straight from the scene I'm re-writing. So, what happens next?

Well, there's a reaction to the motivation. In this case:

She dropped the spoon, startled, and the hot sauce splashed up onto her hand. “Damn,” she said turning to put her hand under the cold water from the tap.

So, a few things happened here. Xavia dropped the spoon, cursed and then did something. The order here is important; it needs to reflect what might happen in real life. So we have reflex (dropping the spoon and cursing), followed by action. I've done exactly this a million times, and so have you probably.

Now we move onto the next MRU:

“Sorry Miss Lyon, did I surprise you?” Pryor pushed through the door, right on time for dinner. He had changed and was wearing a clean polo shirt and shorts.

So, this time the motivation is Pryor entering the room. Xavia hears him, sees him entering, and sees what he's wearing. Now she needs to react.

Xavia noted absently that Pryor had great calf muscles. Why hadn't she noticed that before? “I'm fine,” she said. “Just a little splash of sauce. And please, you're here for dinner. I think you can call me Xavia. Why don't you take a seat?” She served and put a full plate down in front of him at the table, then one for herself.

There's no reflex this time, so we move straight onto what she's thinking (great calf muscles) followed by talking (call me Xavia), and then a physical action (serving dinner).

And that's it. Rinse and repeat. Keep writing a motivation followed by a reaction for the rest of the scene.

I have to say, my writing is already feeling punchier. I'm going to use this going forward for the rest of the revision and we'll see how we go.


Lola Sharp said...

I have to tell you, I love your date milestones on your sidebar. I need to figure out how to do that. I can really see how that would be motivating, seeing a concrete date in writing and for the world to see. I never thought to do that.
Very inspiring.


Lola Sharp said...

Oh, and I'm linking you on my blog too.


Icy @ Individual Chic said...


Thanks for dropping by again.

The milestones are just a standard text gadget from blogger. You can add a similar one by going to Dashboard > Layout > Page Elements Tab > Add a gadget > Text gadget.


Lola Sharp said...

Thanks, I'll give it a whirl.
(i'm pitifully feeble with technology)

In fact, i tried to add you to my blogroll...I've done the others successfully, but yours wouldnt work. I cant figure out why.

Lasly, the term "killing your darlings" doesnt mean to kill any characters, it means ripping out favorite passages/sentences that we worked hard on and even love how they turned out (the darling), BUT they no longer move the story forward or for whatever reason, they must be cut. It used to pin me. I'm learning to let even a well written chapter that took me weeks to write and get perfect, go.

Perhaps you knew that, but just in case you didnt...

Icy @ Individual Chic said...

Heya Lola,

I don't know why the blog roll wouldn't have worked. It may have something to do with my feed. I'll look into it.

Now I see what you mean. Well, I've just killed a darling, a perfectly written scene that I churned out during NaNoWriMo to get my word count up. It's completely pointless. I've moved it to the end of the document in a special chapter for bits I liked but can't use.

Lola Sharp said...

You murderer! ;o)

It is painful sometimes, ripping them out by their hair.

Let me know what you figure out with the blog roll. I'd love to add you.


Icy @ Individual Chic said...

I added me to my own blog roll and it seemed to work. Not sure what's going on with your one, sorry. I'll just have to settle for commenting on your lovely blog ^_^