Wednesday, July 11, 2012

How do you write a scene? #3

It's been a crazy week so far. I've written over 20,000 words on my WIP called PRIDE RULES. DH started a new job and is traveling out of town the whole week. He is in Omaha, Nebraska! Which means I'm at home alone with my 2-yr-old darling daughter - for five days. He doesn't get home till late this Friday evening. But we have been keeping busy and the more we do during the day, the better she sleeps at night so I can spend time online and writing :-) Honestly, I just feel so lucky that I get to spend so much time with her this summer. When school starts back, she goes back to daycare and I only see her in the evenings. I know I will cry when I don't get to spend 8 hours a day with her. She is an amazing little girl.
Thanks for joining me again this week for more tips and tidbits as I read and study Jack Bickham's SCENE AND STRUCTURE.

~Cause and Effect~

"Writers over the years have probably sweated enough to fill Lake Erie as they tried to figure out how to motivate Priscilla to open the locked door (cause), or what next might happen after she did so (effect)."

Love that bit from Bickham. He goes on to say that even though in real life we deal with stuff that happens randomly, in fiction, readers are unable to latch on to the unexplained. There must always be a cause for the effect.

Now, that doesn't mean that every tiny detail has to have cause and effect... but, it could! Remember in fiction we want life to make sense. As authors we a chance to create order out of chaos and show a story where the reader gets to root for the characters or against them, lol.

~Stimulus and Response~

Here are a few simple rules to remember:

  • Stimulus must be external -that is, action or dialogue, something that could be witnessed if the transaction were on a stage.
  • Response must also be external in the same way.
  • For every stimulus, you must show a response. (You can't say Larry threw the ball and not tell us what happened to the ball :-)
  • For every desired response, you must provide a stimulus.
  • Response usually must follow stimulus at once.
  • When response to stimulus is not logical on the surface, you must ordinarily explain it.
Here is a response without evidence of stimulus.

Mary walked into the party.
"Oh, no!"Julie groaned and ran for the exit.

To make the scene credible in the eyes of the reader, here is one way Bickham offers a solution.

Mary walked into the party, wearing a strapless blue gown.
"Oh, no!" Julie -wearing an identical dress -groaned, and ran for the exit.

Voila! Evidence of stimulus!
Don't try to explain Julie's response later in the scene. It is very important that it directly follows the stimulus OR the response is unwarranted.

Another mistake he points out is one I am guilty of finding in my own writing and have to watch for. Putting reaction, before event. i.e.

Joe turned after hearing the gunshot. (response before stimulus) vs. Hearing the shot, Joe turned. (stimulus then response)

Watch out for those pesky afters.

Also another point to remember is that characters often internalize before reacting and that is perfectly normal, just make sure you don't ramble on forever, or drop huge amounts of backstory, making the reader wonder if the character is ever going to get around to responding.

Here's the recap for today....
"Try to think of cause as background or previously decided motivation; effect as the possible complicated results of such background or motivation; stimulus as something much more immediate, in terms of time, and always in the outside world; response as also immediate and physical, and internalization as the process that goes on inside the receiver of a stimulus after that stimulus and before whatever response is to follow."


  1. OMG is that your little one? She's so cute! Thanks for sharing more tips this week. Always useful information to know. :)

  2. Yes, she is mine :-) Thanks!

    So glad you enjoy the tips.