Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Sarah's Off --

to Portugal this morning. Knowing how much she loves to fly -- NOT! -- I'm sure Dan and the boys are dragging her kicking and screaming onto the jet. She's promised to do her best to keep us updated on how the trip is going and will try to post next week at her regular time. In the meantime, something she said yesterday started me thinking (quit snickering in the back. I do think at at times. Yes, I know, it can be dangerous. But I promise, this time it's okay -- I hope.)

In case you guys haven't figured it out yet, Sarah and her metal tipped, pointy-toed boots are responsible for dragging me kicking and screaming out from under the bed and actually admitting to the world that I'm a writer. She's pushed me into submitting -- and selling -- and writing things I never would have imagined myself writing. Short stories have always scared the heck out of me as a writer because -- duh -- I don't do short. But my first pro sale was a short story. A romance/mystery -- EEP! -- historical fantasy and now I've just started a steampunk novel set around the time of the Jubilee Plot in England.

As a result of her prodding and pushing and reminding me that I am not a hack -- although I'm still not convinced of it -- I've had to pay more attention to the actual structure of my stories. One of the best sites I've found for an explanation of what a makes a technical aspect of a story successful is http://aliendjinnromances.blogspot.com

Recently, Jacqueline Lichtenberg has written several posts on the 6 Tricks of Scene Structure. She analyzes the scene and then gives examples. I highly recommend both posts. You can find the first here and the second here.

Now here's my question for you: what makes a scene work for you? Tell me your favorite scene and why. If there is a scene that had you wanting to throw the book against the wall, tell me why. You don't have to tell me the name of the book. But tell me what it was about that particular scene that had you wanting to tear the author's hair out.

33 comments:

C Kelsey said...

Hmm, a scene that made me want to throw the book at the wall. This one might be a stretch. I'm not certain if it reall fits the topic but--

Haldeman's "The Forever War". pages 1 - 5 of the book. The training the characters are going through is essentially non-sensical. The only thing that comes across is that the author was in Vietnam and hated it. That's it. There was nothing further to engross me in the book. I made it to page 32 before I put the book down. I haven't looked back.

An author has to convince me that he or she just does not "get it" before I put a book down.

That's the only one that comes immediately to mind. I very rarely put a book down. I might skim it rather than do a detailed reading, but I usually don't just put it down. I can't remember another book that has turned me off quite that way.

Jason Cordova said...

Scene I really enjoyed... in Eric Flint's 1632 book, he has a scene where Gretchen and newlywed Jeff are enjoying their first night together. his description of Gretchen slaying her own demons while enjoying the love her new husband was showing her was simply breathtaking.

Of course, later in the book there's a scene where they're talking about politicking throughout the town and I wanted to burn the book...

Amanda Green said...

Chris, you hit one of my pet peeves. If you are putting something into a scene, it needs to make sense and be realistic within your world. Horses can't gallop for hours on end without rest and water. A 200 pound man who stands over 6 feet tall cannot "shift" into a standard sized house cat. Training has to have something to do with the situation at hand.

What seems to be happen when these scenes knock me out of the story is that they have failed to live up to #4 of Ms. Lichtenberg's steps -- it doesn't advance the story. It is there because, for whatever reason, the author liked that scene and couldn't bring himself to cut those wonderful words of prose from the manuscript. Sometimes, I can simply skim the offending scene and get back into the book. Sometimes I can't.

So, Chris, give me a scene that really works for you.

Amanda Green said...

Jason, I know the scene you're talking about between Gretchen and Jeff. It does work well. But what, specifically, about it the other scene didn't work well for you?

Is there another scene that works well for you and why?

Dave Freer said...

Love
The part in Lord of Light where Yama tells Tak in an ape-body to go peel bananas with his feet. :-)

Irritate - a book which had one long walk along the road angst of 70 pages with no action. No author's name provided ;-)

Amanda Green said...

Dave, only 70 pages of angst? [G]. I wouldn't have lasted long enough to know it was 70 pages. There has to be some sort of action, something that makes me feel all the angst and navel gazing have some purpose and are advancing the plot. If I want angst, I'll talk to my teen-aged son. There's plenty of angst there.

Dave Freer said...

I had to read it, Amanda. It was homework for a short I did. And if I recall right (I have done my best to expunge it from memory) it was a teen boy written by a childless woman. He was really accurate as you might guess...

I also in the course of homework read pages of boring techno-waffle (I know enough physics to have BS meter explode) and another where I had to take five tries to get through the soft furnishing decriptions. Pages of it. Shudder. But the walk-down-the road and angst at your companion for 70 pages was the worst.

Amanda Green said...

I guess I should post my favorite and least favorites, since I've asked everyone else to. One of my favorites falls toward the end of Field of Dishonor by David Weber. Pavel Young has just arrived at the field where he is to have his duel with Honor Harrington. You can feel his fear and consternation. He is better than she is. He doesn't understand why she has always managed to thwart him. Now he's been abandoned by even his own brother. None of it makes sense in his world. As a reader, you don't like Young. He deserves everything he's about to get and more. And yet you can also understand him and it's hard not to feel that but for the grace of God any one of us could be in his shoes, metaphorically if not actually.

Another of my favorite scenes is the opening scene in Dave's latest Dragon's Ring. In just a few short paragraphs, he sets a scene that tears at primal instincts -- the maternal instinct to protect a child -- and makes you want to know more. More about the infant, the creatures who saved it and, most of all, the dragon. Oh do I want to know more about the dragon.

Both of these meet all of Ms. Lichtenberg's 6 tricks of scene structure. Most of all, they do not jar you out of the story. In fact, they make you want to keep reading.

As for scenes that make me want to stop -- sex scenes that are there only because someone told the author he needed more sex in a book. There is no emotional connection for the reader, no forwarding of the plot, no reason for it to be there except to have yet another sex scene present. The navel-gazing, picking lint from between the toes scenes where the MC laments about how he has been put upon, or how he doesn't like the new wondrous powers he's been given or anything of that ilk. Such introspection can be put in throughout the book, interspersed with action so you, as the reader, don't lose interest.

Now, I'm not saying such scenes should always be tossed out. No, sometimes such a scene is necessary to help your character mature. However, it doesn't need to go on and on until, as Dave said, you have a 70 page walk of angst and no action.

C Kelsey said...

Amanda, there are so many scenes from so many books... where to start?

Dan Simmons is usually too wordy for me. However, in his latest book, "Drood", he captures Charles Dickens during his heroic acts at the train wreck in an astounding manner. It's a horror novel, so you have Dickens being self-centered, being heroic, and being partially terrified all at once.

P.C. Hodgell's "To Ride a Rathorn" ends with Jame trying to ride semi-triumpantly away, only to fall off the horse once she's out of sight. This was great because it was a perfect description of the character summed up in one small and expected incident. Jame is brave, heroic, totally directionless, accident prone... And it's all there in that one scene.

The basic training scenes in Heinlein's Starship Troopers. You not only got the characters experience while being trained, but you got the sense of *why* the training was that way. The Forever War ahd none of that.

I could go on and on...

Larry Correia's first chapter of MHI. Dave's prologue for Dragon's Ring... How Tom changes into a dragon in the bathroom, and the overall reactions and damage done in GTaC (and the naming of "Not Dinner").

Lots! :D

Amanda Green said...

Chris, Drood is in my TBR stack, so I may have to move it up some. Haven't read MHI yet -- in fact, I've been remiss and don't have it yet. Other than that, you hit a number of my "faves". The thing with each of them is that they tug some sort of emotional cord with me. Satisfaction to have a book end by keeping the character "in character" so to speak. Giving a feel for what the characters have to endure to become "citizens" and their determination to do so, no matter what the price. The emotional roller coaster of finding out your boyfriend has just shifted and wrecked the only bathroom in the house -- in the middle of a horrible snow storm and AFTER you decided to be domestic and bake cookies. The character's innate humor in giving the kitten a name that most directly expresses your latest order to another shifter. I don't know about you, but I felt connected to each of these characters and I wouldn't have if the scenes were not as well crafted as they were.

C Kelsey said...

Amanda, precisely (on all of what you just said).

Another example was Dave's down right wizardry in Dragon's Ring. Meb is a character who is thrown into uncertain circumstances. She looses her home. She makes the logical choice to go to the nearest large-ish town. She's afraid of the newness. She feels adrift, pulled along by currents she can't feel and doesn't understand. You feel blown around like a leaf just like she does. But as she gains confidence, so does the path (and the story). Everything tightens down. The *telling* of the story grows with the character.

The same with Gentleman Takes a Chance. Sarah wrote it so well that I could see the snow at times. I could *see* a dragon and a dire wolf fighting.

Two different methods of writing. One literally grows along with the story. The other paints what is in front of the characters superbly.

If I can see it, it's a good scene.

Jason Cordova said...

Amanda,

It's a throw-off line meant to be humorous but in the face of what had just happened fell flat.

Ringo and Kratman did the same thing in The Tuloriad. It was a very serious and intense scene and when an attempt to describe something in a humorous like came up it simply landed on its face.

C Kelsey said...

Okay,
Just to sound less insane, here's a link to a livescience article on how and why some people can actually "see" what they're reading. (If Speaker ever wants to explain this in more detail to us...)
http://www.livescience.com/culture/090728-reading-brain.html

Kate said...

That is an excellent link.

Scenes that worked vs scenes that didn't... um.

Good - Pratchett, Thud!, climactic scene with Vimes going postal on dwarves and trolls while reading his son his bedtime story, at the same time as ancient forces inside his head are having what my place of employment euphemistically describes as an animated discussion.

OMG No! My eyes! My eyes! (Yes, I am one of these people who see - and often feel and echo what I read) - A certain Very Well Known Urban Fantasy Author and a sex scene that was just... I can not imagine any person in that situation wanting sex. A hot shower and a tub of brain bleach, yes. Sex, no.

Amanda Green said...

Gee, Kate, how did I know you'd come up with a PTerry scene? ;-p Frankly, I couldn't name just one from him. Hence, not naming him at all.

As for the author that shall not be named, I won't guess -- at least not here. Of course, at first I thought you might have been talking about that certain book Sarah and I came across at last year's RWA convention.

For those who don't know what I'm referring to, this book opened with one of those impossible scenes that left you going "What?" and went down from there.

C Kelsey said...

A) I haven't a clue what you're talking about Amanda. B) Kate, does this author go by "LKH"? I don't relate to her writing... but I'm weird in that I really enjoy the overall style.

Kate said...

Amanda,

I just picked the first Pterry that came to mind. It's not that there aren't a whole lot more of them.

That world's worst book does indeed have some remarkable scenes. The remark is usually "What the f***?!" We won't mention the self mobile genitalia in the first page.

What? Of course it's self-mobile. Why else would it be chained down?

Kate said...

Chris,

The LKH style actually has a name. "First person smartass". It seems to be the default for urban fantasy, for some reason.

And trust me, you really do not want to know what Amanda is talking about. That book is bad

C Kelsey said...

Oh geez Kate... Now you've just gone and made me so curious that I'm *certain* that I'll regret it!

Amanda Green said...

Chris, now you see why we never, ever dare Kate to do her worst. She will. Of course, in this case, it would be to read the book to you. Or worse, make you read it to yourself. Seriously, when I read a couple of passages to Sarah, she didn't believe they were real. When I showed her the book -- and no, I won't name it -- she all but stole it from me. We had to go find her her own copy. Suffice it to say, it's one of those books that breaks all the rules and doesn't work on any level -- at least not for me.

C Kelsey said...

I. I... Stop it all of you! Now I'm so curious that my downfall is certain! Argh! I don't want to know! But I want to know!

Rowena Cory Daniells said...

A scene that didn't work for me was in fantasy writer X's book. An orphaned beggar boy (10) had the castle's worst job of cleaning out the privies. (Different perspective on fantasy and I appreciated this).

But, while he was cleaning out the privies, he went through some internal introspection that sounded like the thoughts of a college professor. (The boy had not been serving the castle wizard or scholar, so there was no reason for him to have this vocabulary and there was no attempt to make him 10 years old).

I just shut down. The character lost all credibility for me.

KylieQ said...

Rowena - damn, I know I know that book. In fact, I'm sure I have it in my bookcase somewhere...

Amanda Green said...

Rowena, I've read books like that. I especially "love" the ones where the character in one paragraph talks like a bad Shakespearean actor, the next a college professor and the next a Valley girl. I'm pretty sure when Ms. Lichtenberg talked about a scene showing a character arcing, this isn't what she was talking about.

Da Curly Wolf said...

Chris, take it from me. You really don't want to dare Kate to do her worst. I did once....*holds up a finger*..Once. *shudder*

C Kelsey said...

I'm not daring Kate, honest (that'd be stupid). But I'm curious as to what the title of this worst book ever written is. I don't actually intend to read it. :)

Teddy said...

We were going to have a reading of the "World's Worst Book at LibertyCon, but mercifully didn't. We really didn't give Sarah enough time. Something about Speaker and scotch monopolizing her time.

Amanda Green said...

No naming the book, guys. If Chris is really, really good, I'll let him know what it is. Of course, I get to decide if he's been good enough [VBEG]

C Kelsey said...

Well, I'll never find out then I guess. Considering what I've *already* done in the Diner...

Kate said...

Chris, I'm sure if you grovel enough Amanda will relent. Eventually.

C Kelsey said...

I don't grovel! I conduct covert operations! On my knees. Pleading. With a whiny voice. And puppy dog eyes. You can't resist the puppy dog eyes Amanda. You can't!

Amanda Green said...

True, but the whining is another matter altogether.

C Kelsey said...

Did I whine? I meant "wine". As in this bottle of Jeppeson Syrah (2001 vintage, sadly the vintner is now defunct). A nice prize indeed if I say so myself. :D