Scene Orientation

From Writer Unboxed, this: The Three W’s of Scene Orientation

That’s a very intriguing title for a post. I think this is a place where workshop entries tend to fail — they begin the book and at once the reader is seriously confused, because of a lack of orientation to the scene.

I think that’s probably what this article has in mind. Let me see …

I suspect we all know people who will walk in a room and say something like, “I still can’t believe she’d quit on me.” … It’s obvious there is conflict, so this might end up being a good story, but right now the comment is floating in space. I’ll need more words to understand it. Who is this woman? Where did he see her? When did this happen—ten minutes ago? Is he still chewing on something from his youth? Or is this a future action that worries him? …

…. But judging from the manuscripts I see, it can also be what happens when you are on your umpteenth draft of a novel and can no longer remember which version of which facts are on the page. 


That is so true! I’m laughing here, because this isn’t exactly what I had in mind, but it absolutely happens and it’s difficult to spot. If you’ve done a beta read for me, you may well have spotted this exact problem. Wow, it is just so easy to delete one line of dialogue or one paragraph of backstory and suddenly some thread is left dangling somewhere else.

Anyway, it’s a fine article, with good development of this problem of lacking or losing context from scenes and how to make sure that doesn’t happen.

Here’s another topic of this post:

If you’re relying upon tags at the top of the chapter to do this work for you, I can vouch for the fact that this alone can backfire.

Let’s say Chapter Five is tagged “November, 1985.” Thus begins a parlor game that I rarely win. What month/year was it in the last chapter, and why didn’t I memorize it? 

Yes, yes! And it’s not just time tags! If you title the chapter with the name of the pov protagonist, for some reason I have trouble noticing that, and three paragraphs down I’m thinking, Wait, who is this and flipping back to see what pov we’re supposed to be in. I know, that’s just me. Except it’s probably not JUST me. It’s really handy to do something to clarify the pov in the first paragraph of each chapter, EVEN IF you tag the chapter in a heading.

Good article overall, well worth a look.

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5 thoughts on “Scene Orientation”

  1. YES! on the tagging by chapter tags, or titles. I miss them. I only notice chapter titles at all if
    1) I’ve looked at a table of contents and noticed they actually use words and are amusing, as in “In Which Sophie Expresses Her Feelings with Weed Killer”. or 2) I’m trying to go back and find something and chapter headings are a clue. Otherwise stuff like that doesn’t register, and I doubt I’m the only one.

    As for which POV I’m in, well, differentiation of character voice helps but if they all have the same class and backgrounds that’s harder to write.

    When TPV linked to that yesterday I particularly appreciated the examples from Patchett, they were so small but effective.

  2. Yes on the changing POV!
    I’ve definitely had the “Wait! Who’s talking?” moment.

  3. When re-reading, it helps to have some distance so you have some hope of reading what you wrote rather than what you thought you wrote.

  4. Those date tags are genuinely useful in some books, say a World War historical (military or not).

  5. And I’m off and revising a story where one chapter takes us about 16 years. Orientation gets very strange.

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