Thursday, April 12, 2007


On the light side, we need language symbols for tongue in cheek, saracasm, irony, just kidding, metaphore, simili, and such. It could help greatly when we are in a mood of whimsy and no one gets it. Recently on a chat line the question of why chapter and scene breaks are necessary, and as a traditional stylist, I do need and want breaks both as a reader and a writer.

Breaks do one or two things for the reader --
1) they signal a "break" in time, a "break" in space-geography-setting, or a "break" in point of view. Some vital thingies to keep us clear as to when, where, and why we are where we are in the story or novel.

Historically speaking, the novel was called an episodic tale...each episode in Moll Flanders was a chapter with scenes set. Each scene brings down a curtain and then when the curtain rises again you are (HERE) staring at a new set.

Shakespeare was good for this as was Mark Twain's Huckleberry Finn, an episodic novel. This is the historic shape of a major form. Nowadays many an experimental novel has played games with the shape of the novel, but traditional novels are often still episodic and most
mysteries are episodic. Often the last episode is displayed first and the shape is turned on its head, but the basic shape of beginning, middle, end is embedded, and episode as one clue leads to the next and the next.

What's most important to me is whenever I choose to stop one scene and begin another that I am careful as can be to extend my hand to the reader so's he or she will not be lost or at all confused when going from one set to another, from one point of view to another, or from one time period or another. A flashback may be useful and warranted, for instance, but if the reader is totally flummoxed or discombobulated(*sp?)and unable to "follow" the author or catch the curve ball he just threw because he didn't provide the signs, then there's a problem in clarity.

Episodes work for us in TV drama and even sitcoms...the episodic nature of most movies still works for us. As readers we are more sophisticated than ever and understand that a "spacer" on the page means something major is about to change--time period, setting, point of view. I've read some of the experimental authors who throw out all the traditions and "rules" and some are extremely successful but I personally regard chapter and scene breaks as sacred to my storytelling, and it is at these breaks that I am most aware that I must extend my hand out to my reader; most in tune with my reader's need to take my hand and follow me next to this point of view, to this time and place, this “switched on” new setting, and to make this happen I rely heavily on words that signal time shifts (there are quite a few such time words), or words that signal setting\geography shifts, or words that signal pov shifts, and sometimes to open a new scene or chapter it requires all three.

These opening and endings of scenes and chapters are like parking lots where most accidents happen; the author must take extreme care here if he uses say 3 scenes per chapter with a cap of twenty pages per chapter in an attempt to create a pleasing and clear episodic novel as I believe most mysteries are. In my own work, it's comfortably organic to have chapter two naturally flow from the source of the river, chapter one. Still, there are as many rivers to the
ocean as minds to create and recreate, and I respect anyone who can smartly and intelligently turn the form on its ear and do so well and with panache.

City for Ransom, Shadows in the White City, Psi Blue, FleshWar

1 comment:

Norm Cowie said...

I like breaks so that I can go to the bathroom, grab some munchies ...