Scene and Structure Redux

I haven’t posted in a while because I haven’t written in a while. I’ve blown my December 2011 date; my 1000 days of writing will conclude somewhere in 2012. The majority of my thinking makes this a good thing more than a bad thing. The quality and volume of what I’d been writing prior to my semi-purposeful hiatus was both low and low. I put the blame for that and the hiatus on my day job.

Instead of diving in, I’ll be sitting on the edge with my feet getting used to the temperature of the water first.

I’m re-reading that Scene and Structure book by Jack M. Bickham. Once again the specificity of his writing instruction resonates with my desires for knowledge. The most concrete analogy I can make involves lumber. If I think about my skills as a writer, I feel comfortable sanding the plank of a story to a glossy sheen. So comfortable, I’m sure I wear the thing to a sliver in places. Bickham’s instructions provide me with guidelines for placing the cut marks to break the plank into appealing lengths, suggestions for when to use a dovetail and when to do a mitre, and some third woody thing I can’t think of right now since I’ve not completed the re-read.

Some would find the thrust of his book too prescriptive, possibly to formulaic. The programmer in me finds it tangible and usable. And I know enough about writing code to know that there are several ways to accomplish the same outcome. I know that guides and rules and restrictions can be a harness which helps the horse pull the cart not a hobble which leaves her prey to wolves.

The last book and a half I read got me to thinking about scenes and how many one needs to include in a novel length book. Yesterday evening Bickham made an aside about the number of scenes needed in a book and how this high number often confounded new writers. He said that in his experience students had far too few scenes necessary for a novel and as a result those students padded their scenes to reach novel word counts. By doing so, they killed the pace of an otherwise engaging plot. I know I’ve not given enough thought to how much stuff goes into a novel. I wouldn’t have guessed the real risk of having too few scenes was bloat over brevity.

407 words on day 781

Comma On My Mind

  • I think today I’ll do some exercises, and I may seek new ones.
  • Hovering over the keyboard, his fingers contemplated their next move.
  • Clouds drenched us overnight and gray hangs overhead this morning, so I feel like writing about water.
  • Last night I told my wife I think writing well would mean writing full time, but I don’t think I will take on that challenge soon.
  • As it turns out, knowing where to put the commas isn’t all that hard.
  • My grammar for fiction writers book is in my desk drawer, yet I resist opening either util I can nail all the conjunctions.
  • I don’t think I will get them all from memory, plus I haven’t figured out how to use ‘nor’ at all.
  • I’m still shaky on the introductory phrase, for I often find I write longer ones than I think are allowed to be called introductory.
  • I’m not sure if questions constitute a full sentence, nor am I sure why I would think that were true.
  • Eesh, that nor one kills me.
  • I shouldn’t forget the comma before names. Right, Scott?

What other exercise can I dream up?

I read about SVO order, and I thought I might work on that more. I also read one author who recommended back loading sentences with your core thought. Either of those might make good exercises.

I’ll explore those later.

xxx words on day 586

Death Hugging an Idea

As a programmer I work with what my Mom would call parameters but what I call requirements—parameters are different to us. Requirements define for me what task I need to accomplish but not necessarily how to accomplish that task. Sometimes these requirements handcuff me to a bench and order me to “Stay there.” Other times the just encourage me to stay put, but they don’t mean I can’t get up to get a drink of water and sit back down.

If you’ve stuck with me through that strained cop metaphor then I applaud you.

I read a post this morning concerning First Ideas. This post asserted that newbie writers latch on to their initial inspiration, but they forget that the inspiration belongs to them and that they are allowed to manipulate, change or discard that idea. Death hugging this idea almost always leads to bad stories. When I read this, at first I felt a little bit baptized—hey, it all seems so clear now…wait, wait, maybe not—but then I brushed the holy water from my brow and went back to my sinning ways.


I like an absolute. I like gravity pulling me down. I like hearing I can do anything I want, but I can’t ignore this one parameter. This one requirement.

Maybe my first idea and their first idea are different things. Or maybe I’m a naive new writer and can’t tell the difference. I think of it this way: some ideas—maybe not the first ones, maybe not the inspired ones—anchor a story. These anchors provide the writer and the reader an immutable structure they adhere to during the course of the story. Down is down.

I’m doing this right now with the Benhá story. I’ve slipped Brother Gane in from the Shanty thread, and I’ve locked him down. This means I bring along some worldbuilt baggage destined to effect Charming’s story in ways I may not have expected at first. However, that baggage—mostly industrial magic and maybe spaceships—works as a backboard to Benhá story development. It helps me, not hurts me.

Requirements like these keep me from speculating crap up.

362 words on day 544