Saturday, July 04, 2009

Turning Points in a Scene

The Fire in Fiction: Passion, Purpose and Techniques to Make Your Novel Great I have a fairly extensive library of writing how-to books, and some of them are ones I recommend, some are not (one or two I actively de-recommend!). I always say to students that they should have a good look at a writing book before they buy it. Each book speaks differently to us. One that is perfect for me may leave you cold. Sometimes it's the style, but often it happens that I come across a book that tells me what I want to know at just the right time.

Last semester I co-taught a great subject we call Story Structure. I teach it with a scriptwriter who has a huge amount of experience in both scriptwriting and script editing (and as a dramaturg). We'll each talk about something to do with structure, such as scenes, and I approach it from a fiction writer's perspective, and she does the same from a scriptwriter's perspective. No matter how many times we tell students to listen to everything, that the principles apply to both, there are still those that declare themselves confused. "What does that script stuff have to do with my novel?"

So it was with a cry of "Aha!" that I read a chapter last night in The Fire in Fiction: Passion, Purpose and Techniques to Make Your Novel Great by Donald Maass. This is the guy who wrote Writing the Breakout Novel and the workbook that goes with it. In the bit I was reading, he talks about turning points in scenes, something that we covered in class. We'd talked about the two turning points in Syd Field's classic movie structure, and then later we'd moved on to the beats and turning points in a scene.

Still, there were those in the class who couldn't make the connection. A scene is just a scene, isn't it? Stuff happens? Er no, not unless that stuff is interesting and involving and moves the story forward. Maass is talking about scenes in the middle of the novel - the sagging point - and how the turning points should be both external and internal for the viewpoint character. I wish I'd had his book in class - but there's plenty more in there for me to read and think about.

1 comment:

Donna McDine said...


Thanks for such an insightful post. I can't agree with you more, what is good for one may not be for another. Thanks for bringing this book to my attention.

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