What a great day! An enthusiastic band of writers gathered at Cardinal Cafe in Stillman Valley where we began the meeting with a discussion about creating scene arcs that use emotion to resonate with the reader. From this month’s pre-meeting reading, KM Weiland’s article:
You may be surprised to learn this secret is not scene structure (in the classic sense of goal / conflict / disaster / reaction / dilemma / decision), although it’s closely related. Like the integers of structure, this secret is all about creating a scene arc. But this particular arc isn’t the physical one of plot, which we find in the shift from positive scene goal to negative scene disaster. Rather, this an emotional arc.
Of course one cannot discuss emotion in a scene without noting that those emotional moments are all about the characters. As Peter Selgin says in By Cunning & Craft:
What readers of fiction most want to learn about is people. Not ideas, or philosophy…. Novels and short stories fascinate us because, as Flannery O’Connor put it, they show us, “how some folks would do.” That’s what fiction does best, why it gets written and read. Call it an enlightened form of gossip.
People are not fiction’s main subject: they are its only subject. Ahab, Don Quixote, Leopold Bloom, Holden Caulfield, Scarlett O’Hara, Miss Jean Brodie, Hamlet–we remember the characters in fiction like real people we’ve grown to love, fear, or despise. They fascinate us.
Through our meeting discussion we explored examples of emotional arcs from classic and contemporary literature, including how a character’s starting and ending emotions in a scene can reveal strengths, weaknesses, determination, or collapse, and in the process set the tone for the next scene or even one several chapters on. The discussion was full of examples, questions, and observations. I think we all learned something we can use in our works in progress. There was a clear consensus that unless you’re writing in a distant, objective point of view, emotional arc and using it wisely gives scenes and characters much more purpose.
Back to KM Weiland:
Q: What is a Scene Arc? A: Emotional Shift
I pondered quite a few titles for this post, trying to get down to the heart of the concept. Originally, I just wanted to call it the “principle of opposites.” After all, isn’t that what a shift is all about? It’s about moving from one thing (in this instance, an emotion) to another. If there is no movement–if there is no contrast–then there is no shift, and certainly no arc.
The whole article is worth reading if you haven’t already. As she says at the end: “If you can create powerful scene arcs, one after the other, throughout your book, you can be 100% certain of giving readers a compelling reason to keep turning page after page. Try it out!”
After we thoroughly explored the technique topic, including how it could apply to poetry, we went round the table and introduced ourselves, giving everyone a chance to talk about what they like to write and/or their current projects. We had a few new faces at the meeting and were very pleased to welcome a couple new members.
I hope you’ll join us at the April meeting in Rockford at Meg’s Daily Grind at Alpine and Guilford.
Of special note is a change of location for the May 21 meeting. We’ll be joining the Writing Gals at Lake Summerset (in the lodge by the lake) for a retreat that day. Tentative plans are to come early and write in the morning, then break for lunch and have the OWLS meeting in the afternoon. More details to follow!