So much of writing is viewed this way. Beginning, middle, end. Action, reaction, result. Problem, conflict, resolution. Goal, obstacle, outcome. Mission, evil overlord, right makes might. And very occasionally, we have a story ending on a note more like the one enacted in my kitchen last night: fruitfly, a tiny spider about three times larger, small lump incorporated into the web.
All of these are ways of saying something changed.
Three part structure isn’t something the average reader thinks about. It’s a strategy writers use to make sure they don’t come to a fruit fly’s end, and we all have, as beginning writer’s, found ourselves battling the sticky tendrils of story that simply won’t be woven into place.
I taught myself how to use this strategy by writing scenes. Just single scenes inspired by a moment in the day. I don’t think it’s coincidental that editors tend to comment gratefully that a lot of my stories are delivered in scenes, placing the reader right in the midst of the action, as opposed to descriptions of what happened, which is more like listening to a friend tell us about a bad date. We get it, but it isn’t quite the same as being there.
There are necessary parts to a scene: 1) action, as in gesture and mannerism, some activity that ranges from making tea (we’re always warned against that) to jumping through a plate glass window like Bruce Willis (now see, I would thought that was what to avoid). 2) in most scenes, there’s dialogue, 3) there will be observations made and imparted to us, perhaps as thoughts that a character keeps to himself, and 4) there will be descriptions of the action, exposition. I like to think of that as dipping the teabag. Include setting details as needed. Do as little description as possible, but don’t leave it out.
Perhaps you don’t yet know what your scene will mean, you don’t know what point it will make. That’s okay. Actually it’s great if your starting point is one of those “what I should have said” humiliations, you’re full of energy. Just write the dialogue, fill in whatever else seems to arrive as a detail. Write fast. Ignore nothing, throw nothing away. Scribble it all down.
Then go back and add whatever parts you feel you skipped over in the rush of writing quickly.
Audrey Couloumbis is busily writing at this very moment, can’t come to the phone. Check out her website, audreycouloumbisbooks.com or look for her on youtube, being interviewed by the lovely Olivia.
And of course, you can find her here once a month, writing for you. Leave a message and she’ll get back to you.
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