Scene Weave

Yesterday, I talked to April, a poet friend of mine in Missouri; or Misery, as I like to call it.  I’m just kidding, Show Me State.  You know I love you.

April asked me about how I do a plot board, which I’ve previously written about, but one thing I forgot to touch on is the scene weave.  Scene weaves are exactly what you think they are.  Once you’ve got a list of scenes you want to write about, you organize them in a way that maximizes dramatic affect.  Most of the time, these are arranged in chronological order.

The key thing I want to point out in this post is that you should not do your weave one character at a time.  Take a look at those Lord of the Rings books.  Each volume has two parts, six parts for the entire trilogy.  Some of these parts deal only with Frodo and Sam, and that means you don’t know what’s going on with Viggo Mortensen, Sallah, or that guy who’s married to a Victoria’s Secret model.  This is probably the most extreme example of an unwoven narrative.  There is a weave, but it‘s in the broadest sense with just the six subsections.

Undead and Inhuman is more modest with only three viewpoint characters for us to follow.  Let’s work through the numbers.  Each of the three has maybe four scenes per chapter.  Let’s say that each scene is five pages long.  So that means, clumped together, each chapter runs at about sixty pages, and you have to wait every forty pages or so to see what a particular character is doing.

That’s better than Tolkien’s 200-page gap, but there’s a main dramatic difference.  Because tolkien’s characters split off in different directions over the course of the story, he can afford to follow them one thread at a time.  They impact on each other subtly.  Undead and Inhuman, however, has the three main characters in the same general battle space as they fight the aliens, so the actions of one can have a larger influence on the other two.  Again, it boils down to dramatic affect.

How do I weave my scenes?  Personally, I arrange them chronologically since that’s the flow of time that we live in.  One thing I try to do is avoid having any two adjacent scenes focus on one character, because I don’t want the reader to feel like momentum is lost on the other two.

Sometimes, this is unavoidable.  There’s one chapter I have coming up that focuses almost entirely on the Matt Durham character.  Another character, Austin Joyce, is absent for two chapters.  I don’t like doing this, but it’s better than having a character appear with nothing to do.  Then you’re just wasting pages.

If you at least keep that chronological flow going, you’ll be in the green.  It’s a basic tried-and-true way of structuring your narrative, and most audience pretty much expect it, though they don’t require it.

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