* scenes

Posted by Lew Weinstein on January 26, 2012

Scaramouche by Rafael Sabatini

  • Some of the most interesting scenes in Scaramouche are the ones that aren’t there … Sabatini often skips the scene you expect to see.
    • None of the duels, except that with the Marquis, are portrayed. Thus Sabatini avoids what would be repetition and holds the reader’s anticipation of a dueling scene until the last and most important.
    • Andre-Louis’s entrance into Paris in the midst of chaotic street fighting is also not shown. How did he get past the guards? Did anyone question him?
    • Likewise, the leaving of Paris, first by the Marquis, then by Andre-Louis with Aline and Mme. de Plougastel, become past events, never shown “live.” … Why?
    • One also looks in vain for a real love scene between Andre-Louis and Aline where either’s emotions are shown rather than merely stated or even hinted at.

Les Miserable by Victor Hugo

  • Robertson Davies … there can be a 90 page digression about something which happens to interest Hugo.
  • When is he ever going to get on with the story?
  • But the story is so good, and Hugo writes so fascinatingly about his odds and ends that you can’t stop.

The Bridge of San Luis Rey by Thornton Wilder

  • pages and pages of narrative scenes. Charming in 1924 when written, perhaps not so much now.
  • Very well written but no immediacy.

The Instrument by John O’Hara

  • Ch 3 begins with a long transitional narrative (over 2 pages) telling what has happened in the few months since Ch 2 ended.
  • This is lazy. It would have been more effective to work whatever was essential into the ensuing action.
  • O’Hara’s abrupt transitions to new immediate action work much better.
    • “They were in Boston.”
    • “The New York opening was an ordeal and a delight.”
    • “The house was at the edge of the village of East Hammond …”

The Club Dumas by Arturo Perez-Reverte

  • exposition … long, detailed descriptions and lists of old books, which the reader can’t possibly read and absorb. what is the purpose?
  • transitions … the reader is suddenly transported from Fargas’ home in Portugal to Paris, with no transition. The details of this change of scene are presented later (187-88). Does this work?
  • It’s a technique similar to what Tolstoy does repeatedly in Anna Karenina.

Write Away by Elizabeth George

  • Every scene MUST advance the plot, advance a subplot, develop character, or address theme. If not, toss it!
  • Every scene MUST contain some degree of conflict
  • Dramatic narration – omniscient narrator gives us the facts of what occurred. No dialogue.
  • Summary narration – quick, economical, not fully explored
  • Fully rendered scene – allow the reader to be a witness to the activities of the characters or an eavesdropper on their conversations
  • in PD James, A Taste for Death, two characters appear for only one scene, passing on valuable information. This adds verisimilitude, as opposed to simply reporting the information.
  • partial scene interrupting dramatic narration
  • Every scene must have conflict.  Begin at the low point, let thetension rise to a climax, then provide a resolution which propels the entire novel forward.
  • not every scene must be formed identically.
  • Alternative scene formulation: motion picture, sound vs sight, present-past-present, plunging in
  • motion picture: set the scene, move to a narration of action, hit the dialogue
  • sound vs sight: begin with dialogue (not explained first), back off to set the scene, then return to dialogue
  • present-past-present: start the scene in real time, stop the scene and go back to previous action to bring the reader up to date (summarizing that action instead of a fully rendered scene), then return to real time
  • plunging in. start with a character in thought or action and go with it.

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