Saturday, February 10, 2007

Weekend 6: Key scenes

skeletonkeys.jpgSixth weekend with "Weekend Novelist Writes a Mystery".

This weekend is key scenes. Like last weekend, it's a bit of a challenge to interpret what the authors are trying to say. So this one isn't totally clear and might be better seen as a introduction to the material in the book.

The authors say "Key scenes give you a framework for your mystery."

You have a bunch of events and emotions you've been writing about over the past five weeks. What you need is to start seeing some order for the sleuth will uncover them in. It won't necessarily be a logical order. There are secrets that people will lie for and events they won't think important. You want to build up the tension, create drama, and, usually, paint of false picture of what's going on.

They suggest dividing the story into 3 acts like in a play, each of those will contain 2 key scenes. Written like that, it paints a false picture. The acts aren't equal in size. Act 2 will be much longer than Act 1 and Act 3.

Act One: The set up. This is where you, well, set everything up. Introduce characters "flashing their agendas." Agendas clash. Conflict ensues.
  • Opener - This is the initial meeting with the murder and many of the main players.
  • Plot point 1 - A mini climax. After this point in a play, the curtain falls. Some twist to the story takes place. It can be the arrest of the most likely suspect (who is, of course, the wrong suspect.) It can be another murder.

Act Two: The complication. More characters enter. More possibilities.
  • Midpoint - The middle of the book. Another climax. In the final book, this may be one scene or several scenes.
  • Plot point 2 - This can be where you resolve a couple of threads or subplots that have been building up. There can be another death. Or a disappearance.

Act 3: The resolution.
  • Climax - Where all that's been building up comes to a head, where good confronts evil.
  • Wrap-up - Where all the loose ends are tied up. The authors suggest that the best wrap ups are when the sleuth needs to sacrifice something. The sleuth may turn down money for solving the murder, for instance (if the resolution rubs against his ideals.) (This is probably easier to do in a one shot story rather than an ongoing series character.)

Sources for elements to build up the key scenes.
  1. Backstory - Mine your backstory for elements for each key scene. Gather the pieces together that will paint a different picture than what has really happened so after each scene it will feel like the story is headed in one direction.
  2. Plot diagram - This is a visual representation of the elements taken from the backstory. The authors have written the 6 key scenes across the page and a vertical list of elements from the backstory. Lines connect the scenes with elements reealed or effecting each scene. Sometimes elements affect more than one scene.
  3. Scene cards - You may have created cards for these particular scenes in the previous weeks. Just mark them as key scenes. Here's a breakdown the authors suggest for the main elements to put on the key scene cards:
    • Opener: focus on objects: snow, vans, frozen clothing, mud, wounds, sleuth in a parka, etc.
    • Plot point 1: focus on setting and emotion. Then on objects. Build a connection between the emotions you want raised and where the scene is set. In the author's mystery, the scene is a mansion decorated like the quarterdeck of Ahab's doomed ship in Moby Dick.
    • Midpoint: focus on action, motive and objects.
    • Plot point 2: setting, action, objects.
    • Climax: focus on the killer

Then summarize each key scene in a short paragraph. Focus on creating a logical sequence for the actions, eg, the sleuth does this because ...

Next week is Plot picture-diagram.

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