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Rewriting 101: Week Two – Structure

© 2011 Robert Ray.  Course Description: Rewriting 101.  All Rights Reserved.

Structure is an arrangement of parts. Acts are made up of scenes. A scene is made up of setting, character, dialogue, action, intruder, ending. Two of the most helpful structures for rewriting are the Sexual Triad and the Closed Circle and Intruder. You can read more about the Sexual Triad in The Weekend Novelist Rewrites the Novel. To grasp the importance of the Intruder penetrating the Closed Circle, we’ll do some writing.

  • Scene performance.
  • Homework that links to Week Three.

Office Hour at Café Argento:

Day Two starts at Café Argento with the Urns playwright, the Korean War suspense writer, and the writer of Walkers in Water-World. Advice to the playwright: lock down the house as your resource base.

Advice to the suspense novelist: check out the ping-pong structure used by most suspense novelists. Check the analysis of the ping-pong structure from Eye of the Needle in section 4 of The Weekend Novelist Rewrites the Novel.

Advice to the Water-Worlder: create a portal between your two worlds (Walker World vs. Water World.)

The Workshop

The writing on Day Two introduces two powerful rewrite tools: Scene Profile and Scene Template. The scene profile (there’s an example below from Leaving Las Vegas) loads your unconscious with scene-parts: setting, description, dialogue, action, intruder and closed circle, and climax. The example below – the Biker Bar scene from Leaving Las Vegas – comes from the work Jack and I did with Elements of Dramatic Writing, part of the screenwriting program at University of Washington Extension.

Scene Profile – Leaving Las Vegas.

  • Name: Biker Bar
  • Position: scene 93 Act 2 pt2.
  • Ritual: Love Quest, Negotiation, Combat
  • Purpose: Indexes Protag’s death wish and his romantic character.
  • Character and Setting: The place is a Rough English Bar in Las Vegas. A dark, dirty place. It is early morning. Protag enters for a drink when he discovers that the grocery store is closed.
  • Characters onstage: Protag Ben, Biker Girl, Aging Blonde in leather hot pants, a young Biker Girl, Biker Boy in black leather, Bartender. The aging blonde doesn’t have a speaking part. Ben wears the new clothes Sera has given him. Ben’s core story is Grail Quest. Sera’s core story is King Replacement – she replaces her pimp with Ben.
  • Objects on-stage: paper napkin, jukebox, slot machines, beer can, stools, Ben’s clothing, towel.
  • Dialogue-Monologue: Biker Girl propositions Ben who checks with the Biker who gives him permission to buy the BG a drink. BG offers to move in with Ben, to suck him off, to spend the day in the sack. Ben tests words, “I’m deeply in love with Sera.” The Biker pulls Ben and the BG apart and offers Ben a way out, but Ben makes the grand gesture of holding his position as knight protector.
  • Action and Climax: The scene climaxes when the Biker smashes Ben in the face. Action chain: Ben enters the bar, orders a drink. BG approaches to make her move on Ben while the Biker slugs quarters into a one armed bandit. BG deepens negotiations, Ben backs away, the Biker calls Ben out then head butts him and drops him. Biker and BG split. The Bartender gives Ben a towel to wipe up his blood, then expels Ben from the bar for fighting.
  • Closed Circles: The closed circles are the Bar; Ben’s space.
  • Intruder: Ben, the outsider intrudes into the dark world of leather bikers. BG pushes into Ben’s space. Biker smashes Ben’s body.
  • Secret: Biker Girl baits suckers to keep her boyfriend on edge; Ben is in love with Sera.
  • Symbol/Archetype: Symbol – Ben’s clothing becomes stained with his own blood. The shirt, symbolizing rebirth and love, is an index to Sera’s acceptance of Ben.  Bloodied the shirt symbolizes Ben’s irrevocable downward spiral that not even love can redeem.
  • Archetype #1 = Outsider/Quester = Ben; Archetype #2 = Temptress = Biker Girl;  Archetype #3 = Death God = Biker.

We take 5-6 minutes working the scene profile, a warm-up for the scene template.

Scene Template

The Scene Template paces your writing with the timer – every five minutes, you shift from one scene-part to the next. Together, the Profile and the Template teach your brain a standard scene structure.

The writing on Day Two focuses on the First Encounter scene. While six key scenes – Page One, Plot Point One, Midpoint, Plot Point Two, Climax, and End – are fixed, the First Encounter is movable. In Leaving Las Vegas, the scene on the Las Vegas Strip where Ben asks Sera “Are you working?” moves from act three in the book to act one in the movie.

Definition: First Encounter is the first meeting of Lover A and Lover B, Protagonist and Antagonist. If the book is a mystery, the First Encounter occurs between the Killer and the Sleuth.

Laying the Groundwork for the First Encounter Scene

When he wrote The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald crammed his First Encounter into the back story, where Jay Gatsby, an Army lieutenant from out West, falls in love with Daisy Fay, his dream girl in white. Daisy is the archetypal golden girl, modeled on Ginevra King, a socialite debutante from Fitzgerald’s past. The boy had no money; the rich society girl dumped him.

In the novel, to set up his midpoint, Fitzgerald had Jordan Baker replay the First Encounter to Nick Carraway. Nick is the voice of The Great Gatsby. He is Fitzgerald’s cat’s paw, his alter ego, the functionary go-between who abets adultery (Daisy cheating on Tommy) by getting Lovers A and B together in Nick’s house (symbols: flowers in profusion and a stopped clock), which, following a masterful set-up at Plot Point Two, gets three people killed:

  1. Daisy kills Myrtle Wilson, Tom’s mistress
  2. George Wilson, Myrtle’s husband, kills Gatsby
  3. Distraught, George Wilson commits suicide

A quick look at fate and class structure: Gatsby, Myrtle and George are blue collar; Daisy and Tom are rich, very Upper World; Jordan leeches off Daisy. Nick, stuck between Gatsby and Daisy, is classless. He engineers three deaths. He blames Daisy and Tom. Lots of irony.

Rewriting  your First Encounter. The warmup takes one minute. Working the scene-parts takes 5 minutes each. 

“This is a scene about….”

  • Setting: The time was/the place smelled of
  • Character A describes Character B: His/her hairdo looked like
  • Dialogue: What are you looking at?
  • Action: She slammed the side of his head with…. (use strong verbs)
  • Intruder (breaks closed circle): What are you guys up to?
  • Climax and Resolution: (use one long sentence, no periods, no commas, no dashes) and extend the action to a rousing climax that propels the characters into the next scene.

Scene Performance

The writers perform four scenes. More actors emerge. More authors squirm. Using categories from the scene profile, I analyze Urns, the stage play, using categories from the scene profile.

  • Title: From Beyond the Grave
  • Form: Stage Play, Two Acts
  • Setting: Contemporary
  • Characters: Gloria, Rachel, Ruth, Jasper, Headache, Artemis
  • Resource Base: House
  • Objects: Letter, Urns, Dust
  • Source of Conflict: Who gets the house? Who controls the urns?
  • Action: Entrances, Exits, Object transfer
  • Dialogue: Excellent – so I use it to display the five rules of dialogue:  
    1. short lines
    2. echo words
    3. object inserted
    4. hook to the past
    5. link to the future

Homework for Day Two:

  • Type up scene template writings
  • Type up your character grids

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© 2011 Robert Ray.  Course Description: Rewriting 101.  All Rights Reserved. 

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