Helen (heleninwales) wrote,

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This is an expanded version of a post I made to rasfc this morning, put here for ease of reference.

green_knight had asked about my scene planning sheets, which had led to a discussion of scenes in general. Regular poster RL said a lot of sensible stuff about scenes and locations and relating scenes in play and films to scenes in books. She finished up with:

So (in some books) the curtain that on stage was REQUIRED by a change of
location -- got REPLACED by a change of location! Now often to show when
the important part of the event or conversation is over, that kind of book
moves to the next day or the next room or whatever.

That makes a lot of sense. Also it's fun to move to another location and show off a different part of the world and that doesn't cause any problems in a book. A playwright, on the other hand, has to think of the cost and labour involved in lots of scene changes (or think of minimalist stylised ways of indicating new locations on a more or less blank stage) and hence may reuse locations as much a possible. On the play writing course, we were made to think about location and keep these to a minimum, but the fiction writer can take the reader on a grand tour of as many locations as they like.

[RL then mentioned a couple of examples of very short "scenes" in published fiction.]

I have never read the Mossflower books, but Pratchett does use small "scenes" and I've done much smaller snippets in the novel I'm revising at the moment. It seems to suit comedy to nip in, show a piece of action or a conversation and nip out again without dwelling too much.

However, what I see these as are not complete Scenes, but fragments of the larger "Bickham Scene" or "Bickham Sequel" intercut with fragments of scenes and sequels from other POVs.

I think this might be a case where an example might be permitted. (I don't want a crit, this is still a raw, unrevised bit, but it demonstrates what I'm trying to say.)

To put the extract in context, Chapter 4 has just ended with the shocking news that the mountain is not only to be sold, but it is to be moved right away from Longleton to the city of Whisper.

Chapter 5 as I see it, analysed in Bickham terms, consists of the following...

Wil: first part of his sequel as he reacts to the news.

Ceri: first part of her sequel as she reacts likewise.

Wil: next bit of his sequel as he begins to think, plus small additional Incident[*] involving nuggles.

Ceri: Her sequel begins to "masquerade as a scene" (as Bickham puts it) because her thinking takes the form of dialogue with a character ('Stin) who I wanted to introduce because he will become more important later.

Gladdis and Edmund: Their sequel in which they react to the news and decide what to do about it.

Ceri: Beginning of a new scene dealing with an earlier problem, namely to stop the ghost of the previous warden appearing in the bedroom at embarrassing moments.

Gladdis and Edmund: Beginning of the scene in which they try to find out more about the disquieting rumour that the mountain is to move.

Flip back and forth between scenes.

End of Gladdis and Edmund's scene.

End of Ceri's scene with the Earth mage.

Sequel in which Gladdis and Edmund decide what to do next.

Just to digress and go back to Goals for a moment, I think I tend to always have two for each Scene. I try to keep the overall story goal at the back of my mind (and there's a line for it at the top of the planning sheet) so the scene is working on two levels. Falling for the Earth Mage is potentially a mega-disaster in the overall story, but there is also Ceri's immediate Scene Goal (to find the herb), which she does successfully.

The people who misunderstand Bickham and try to apply his principles over-enthusiastically think everything has to be a disaster all the time, which just does not work. If Ceri doesn't find the herb, she'll go haring off after other solutions to her problem and the main storyline will be derailed while the characters get bogged down in what is essentially minor stuff.

Anyway, here is the extract (NB: Pip is Ceri's six-month-old baby.):

There was just one more herb that Ceri needed for the charm. Mistress Shanna had explained carefully where it grew, had described its colour and form and had even drawn her a sketch. She remembered the instructions clearly: "Normally," Mistress Shanna had said, "Herbs have more potency when gathered in the dew of dawn, but for this charm, where we want to banish the uncanny not call on it, it is best to gather the herb in the bright light of day."

"So," Ceri said. "What we need is some spinwort, also known as midgeweed. Now, Mistress Shanna said it preferred to grow in the shade."


Cowering in the shadow behind a tumble of boulders, Edmund the warrior king and Gladdis the hag shrank closer to one another. "Keep your head down," Gladdis whispered.

"I am keeping my head down," Edmund hissed back. Then, after a moment, he added. "But why are we hiding from a human?"

"We mustn't be discovered. I don't feel in the mood for polite conversation."

"Who said anything about polite conversation?" Edmund growled softly. "We can interrogate her. She might know more about the plan to move the mountain."

"We know enough," Gladdis said, easing herself forward on her hands and knees to peer round the rock that hid them. She saw Ceri walking slowly about the grass, staring down at her feet. Pip was sitting waving her hands in the air, then, with a look of astonishment, she wobbled over. After a bit of struggling, she got herself up onto her knees and began to crawl across the grass towards the hiding place. Gladdis flattened herself back into the shadows. Her wrinkled face crinkled up even more, her brow furrowing, apparently in consternation as Pip, an expression of great determination on her face, trundled closer.


"I say, madam! What a splendid baby! She can't half move."

"What?" Ceri looked up, startled. Simultaneously she saw Pip heading towards a heap of huge, tumbled boulders and between her and her baby, a tall chestnut-haired young man dressed in long, loose white robes that hung becomingly from his lean muscular frame. Uttering a wordless squeak of panic, Ceri flung herself after her errant child and scooped her up into her arms just before she reached the rocks.


Behind the boulder, Gladdis and Edmund let out a long sigh.

"You're sure I can't question her?" Edmund asked.

"I'm sure."

"I could question him," he said, menace rumbling deep in his voice. "He's one of the cursed Earth Mages. See the white robe and the gold torc round his neck? That's his badge of office." Edmund sniffed. "It's a narrow and simple torc. He's still an acolyte, but he's obviously up to no good here."

"Shush!" Gladdis hissed. "I want to hear what they're saying."


"You know, you're not supposed to be here," the young man said. "This is private land."

"Oh..." Ceri felt hot blood rise to her cheeks. "I'm sorry. I must have strayed from the path. I thought it was all right to walk here." There was an awkward pause.

"You're not going up to the summit, are you?" The young man seemed concerned, his brows knitted together over his dark eyes. "I mean, it's getting a bit late. It's not really safe for a young woman to be out here at dusk, let alone after dark."

"No, no I wasn't climbing the mountain. I... I was just looking for a flower."

The scene continues as Ceri converses with the Earth Mage and as he tells her more about the huge undertaking he's involved in, she feels the first stirrings of attraction. The chapter ends with the sequel as Gladdis and Edmund realise they have to do something about the disaster that is facing them.

I look on this nesting of bits of Scenes like opening brackets. You have to remember to close as many as you open, so you bring them all to closure and not leave ends hanging.

Most chapters don't jump about as much as that, by the way. I picked that chapter because it was the one with the most rapid switches from Scene to Scene and thus seemed suitable for an example.

[*] Scene and sequel works for me most of the time, but sometimes there are little bits of story that need to be included that don't fit the pattern of either, but which add to scene setting, character development or world building. I call these Incidents and actually have a separate planning sheet for them.
Tags: bickham, scenes, writing reflection

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