Act One, Part Three: Double Scene Sequence

One way to describe the difference between discovery drafts and truck drafts is that discovery drafts are “this happens and then this happens and this happens,” and truck drafts are “and this is what those things mean.” The way to do that isn’t by telling the reader what the stuff means; it’s by putting the action on the page in a way that leads the reader to interpret subconsciously what it means. Structure is one excellent way to communicate meaning. So this chunk of narrative is two scenes (one in Button’s PoV, one in Nita’s) in which they discuss the partnership and then find somebody waiting to kill Nita whom Button shoots, and two scenes where Nick talks to Dag and Rab and discusses the investigation and also finds out more about Dag. There’s nothing wrong with any of this except that Nita and Button’s conflict is resolved in the first scene, both of Nick’s scenes are chat not conflict, and there’s no relationship between Nita’s scenes and Nick’s scenes. Other than that, everything is fine. Argh.

Scene sequences are units of narrative that are just like scenes. While each scene in a scene sequence has to be complete in and of itself, it also has to fit into the meaning and structure of the sequence as a whole, just as the sequence has to fit into the meaning and structure of the act as a whole and the act has to fit into the meaning and structure of the novel as a whole. When you take two scene sequences and weave them together, moving back and forth between them, you’ve created another narrative unit: the double scene sequence, which as to work as a whole, too. Which is complicated. So the first thing I do is look at the structure I already have: The person who opens the narrative owns the narrative, and in this case it’s Nick. Except Nick’s scenes are low key and Nita gets the guy with the gun. Also this is Nita’s book and she should get this sequence; Nick can have the next one. So the first thing I do is put Nita first. But equally important is that Nita get the last word, so she needs to be last, too. So now we have this: Now Nita owns this narrative section. Next step: Figure out what each scene sequence means and how the scenes escalate to a climax. Nita’s sequence starts with Button in the car saying “We need to talk” and ends with Button saying, “Okay, I’m your partner.” She already did this in the first scene (which I can fix) but when she really needs to say it is the last scene in this sequence. In other words the events of this sequence have to be the start of the Nita/Button partnership brought about by the events of these three scenes. In scene one, Button expresses her doubts about the partnership but in the end tells Nita about the Lieutenant, establishing that she wants to play fair and not take sides. In scene two, Button shoots the guy trying to kill Nita. In scene three, Nita takes the rap for Button. Depending on how I revise it, that should show, not tell, the reader that these two are becoming partners because they both do things that are extreme to protect the other.

Nick’s sequence is a hella lot of infodump in the guise of plot: Dag and Rab tell Nick stuff and Nick gives orders. I’d have to fix that anyway, but since this is part of the larger narrative chunk, I need to make this parallel to or at least echo Nita’s scene sequence. The best way to do that is to show Nick’s relationship with Dag and Rab evolving through events the way Nita and Button’s partnership is evolving in their sequence. Nick’s never going to be partners with Dag and Rab, at least not in this act: He’s the Devil Elect and they’re his agents. But showing that the way he works with them changes can also show that he’s changing. The fact that he’s noticing emotions in Dag and Rab is a big clue that he’s developing empathy again; their surprise that he’s asking them not what they think but how they feel about things and the freedom that gives them to express themselves outside of agent talk shifts their relationships.

At the end of both of these sequences, the two teams should have evolved, not necessarily cementing the relationships but definitely foreshadowing that these two groups of people are going to stick together with their groups for reasons other than duty. But I’d like another relationship arced in this double sequence: the Nita and Nick relationship. They’re apart, which is frustrating for romance readers (still not sure this is a romance, but if it isn’t, the secondary plot is). I can’t put them together, but I can keep them thinking about each other.

For the Nick scenes, that’s easy: he’s investigating her. For the Nita scenes, it’s harder because she has other things on her mind, but I think he’d be in there–she just saw him as a skeleton, that’s gonna leave a mark–but the fact that she told him he was under suspicion and that she’d be back to question him should at least make her wonder if he hadn’t sent the shooter.

And then there are the transitions between the scenes, those little gray arrows in the diagram. Nita’s first scene ends when Button gets out of the car; Nick’s first scene begins (in this rewrite) when Dag comes into the apartment. The next Nita scene begins when Nita gets out of the car and follows Button, so I need something at the end of the Nick-vs-Dag scene that somehow sets that up. The second Nita scene ends when Nita takes the gun and shoots the corpse so that she can take the blame for it, and the second (and last) Nick scene is Rab coming in. If I shift Rab’s entrance to the end of the first Nick scene, I’ll have Nita getting out of the car and Rab coming in, which is weak but better than nothing. Then the third and last Nita scene is Mort coming in and the corpse disappearing. Nick’s second scene ends with Rab leaving, so that balances Mort coming in. I’m not sure that really works–most narratives start with somebody either coming in or leaving a stable situation so it’s pretty generic–but it does set up echoes, faint though they may be. And the fact that both sequences are working toward building teams also helps.
Edited to Add: I still haven’t fixed the transitions.  Argh.

And then there are the character arcs. Button grows closer to Nita as Dag and Rab develop a more personal relationship with Nick. Nita gets hit with more proof of the supernatural and Nick gets hit with more proof of his humanity, and they both deny it. At the ends of their sequences, both Nita and Nick are more driven than ever to find out about each other, each seeing the other as the key to the investigation (they’re not wrong). That sets up the breakfast scene where Nick sits down at Nita’s table and she lets him: they’re both after information. So this narrative section is about evolving the teams (which will become one), developing the subtext of the Nita and Nick relationship, and showing the beginnings of the arc of Nita accepting the supernatural both without and within and Nick accepting the return of the natural in his life, both without and within. I think if I can do all of that (okay, I’ve done a lot of that, I haven’t been sitting here on my thumb all week), I can declare this in its truck draft stage and go on to the rewrite of the breakfast scene (in which I have already incorporated your feedback, so thank you very much for that). And then after that is the next double scene sequence which belongs to Nick, and that throws the act into its last sequence which is Nita and Nick together investigating something horrible while fighting both each other and the growing awareness that things aren’t what either of them assume, ending with the climax of the act where they both have to accept that their worlds just blew up. All the while keeping Nita and Nick alive on the page and the action moving and . . .

Writing is hard.





Edited to Add:

I still don’t have the Nick scenes right, they’re pretty much discovery drafts since I rewrote them almost completely, but I have to let them go for now and move on.  Same for the transitions.  

Here’s the link to Part Three.

37 thoughts on “Act One, Part Three: Double Scene Sequence

  1. Is she *final photo* not giving a leveling look. Oh, yeah, she is. So we just arc.
    Facing my weekend, yeah, writing is gonna be hard. Doing it anyway.
    We are confident you’ll work the scene/sequence through.

    1. That’s actually a great GIF which I did not get to work. It’s my favorite photo of Nita. And Plaza for that matter.

  2. Which is why I’m not a writer, but a reader. So, thank you authors for doing the heavy lifting!

  3. Salvageable. So maybe messy, not an outright mess.

    This was great breakfast reading. I’m going to have to double time so I don’t get late for work.

  4. I love Joyce!! Kitteh!

    Very interesting changes. Much better at letting me know that Sandy & Daphne are black, Day is Asian, and Rab is gay. Also, appreciated the extra time difference references. The whole “not real” thing though is a bit of a stumbling thing for me. A skeleton is still real but then again, his bones are in Italy, so maybe none of him on the island is real?

    I so wish I could snuggle Joyce.

    Thank you for making my day with the excerpt! I reread most of your books. This will be the first one I’ve reread prior to it being published. ? Well, act one anyway. Your work is definitely paying off. The story is much tighter.

      1. “I don’t want to lose you two, either. To death or to a woman.”

        Rab said, “No chance.”

        “Or to a man.”

        This moment aside, he’s always struck me as cheerfully asexual. So, maybe?

        1. There’s this in the discovery draft of the second act:

          “Okay, fine, you like him.” Keres surveyed Nick again. “Well, he’s a huge improvement over your last one, even if he is dead below the waist.”

          “Dead everywhere, actually,” Rab said from the other side of the table where he was unpacking Chinese food from the bags she’d brought. “Did you get Eggs Shen?”

          “What am I, new at this?” Keres went around to his side of the table. “So, you’re a little young for me, but I’m open-minded.”

          “I’m gay,” Rab said. “But I appreciate the interest.”

          Keres picked up a piece of crab Rangoon, bit into it, and chewed it thoughtfully while she looked him over. “Bisexuality is big this year. Keep a good thought.”

        2. Nope, he’s gay, but there’s this in the discovery draft of the second act:

          “Keres, it’s not a pass,” Nita said. “He’s dead.”

          Keres looked down at Nick’s groin. “War wound?”

          Keres . . .” Nita said.

          “Okay, fine, you like him.” Keres surveyed Nick again. “Well, he’s a huge improvement over your last one, even if he is dead below the waist.”

          “Dead everywhere, actually,” Rab said from the other side of the table where he was unpacking Chinese food from the bags she’d brought. “Did you get Eggs Shen?”

          “What am I, new at this?” Keres went around to his side of the table. “So, you’re a little young for me, but I’m open-minded.”

          “I’m gay,” Rab said. “But I appreciate the interest.”

          Keres picked up a piece of crab Rangoon, bit into it, and chewed it thoughtfully while she looked him over. “Bisexuality is big this year. Keep a good thought.”

        3. Oh brother, how did I miss that? I even read that, and I think my mind stumbled a second going, “what man?” but I just kept going.

          Good thing it gets spelled out later for those of us who have dense moments!

          Very excited to read more about Keres.

          1. I did it that way because he’d use “gay” with Keres because it’s an American term and I didn’t want to figure out what the term would be in Hell. I have enough problems without working out a second language.

            I did think about using Gallifreyan and then just saying a demon had worked on Doctor Who, but that just opened another can of worms.

  5. I love the new interactions between Nick and Dag, and Rab’s total lack of boundaries. He reminds me a little of me, except male. I didn’t think that their scenes dragged at all, but it was a little jarring going back and forth between something so dramatic (burglar! gunshots! disappearing corpse!) and active, and something entertaining but relatively calm.

    On a completely separate note, every time I picture Nick as the skeleton of Wentworth Miller, I start to hear Bones by The Killers in my head. 🙂

  6. Taken individually, Nita’s and Nick’s scene sequences are great, interesting and entertaining and full of foreshadowing on Nick’s part, and action on Nita’s part. But yeah, the transitions don’t really mesh yet, and Nick’s second scene in particular really messes with the tension of the shooting and disappearing body at Nita’s house. Maybe if the order of discussions/revelations in Nick’s scenes could echo/build up the suspense for Nita’s scenes? (obvious example would be, say, them discussing Nita being targeted BEFORE the demon tries to shoot her/gets shot — as it is, “I’d think she’d be hard to kill,” falls almost flat because my reader-brain has already dismissed Nita as being safe for the moment.)

    Honestly, the end of Nita2 feels like all that’s left for her sequence is aftermath, especially with the bland beginning of Nick2. It’s hard for me to tell if I’d be anticipating the body’s disappearance at this point if I were reading it for the first time (hazards of following your progress 😉 ), but cutting the scene at the discovery of No Body might make a good cliffhanger to keep the tension from being flat. Maybe even divide the scenes up more, but I think I’m starting to veer too far into what-I-would-do advice now.

    Thanks for letting us join you for the ride, it’s more of a delight every time you update the scenes. (And I’m seconding the desire to snuggle Joyce, she sounds AWESOME.)

    1. You’re right.
      I think I’m going to finish up the truck draft of this whole act (should be done by the weekend) and then do a paper edit where I cut the living hell out of Nick’s scenes. That should help a lot.
      I am SO ready for a paper edit on this.

  7. First of all, these characters are great. Dag, Rab, and Button are popping off the page, and Nick is way more engaging that he has been in anything you’ve posted up until now.

    I like the Nick scenes, but I like them because the characters are doing such good work that they’re almost hiding the fact that these scenes are 100% infodump. So much infodump that things started to blend together. Is there a way to possibly make a clearer delineation between the overarching plot stuff about the hellgate and the stuff Nick is told about Nita? Maybe that’s the problem: Nick is told all of this stuff, he doesn’t have an active role in finding any of it out. He doesn’t have much of an active role in these scenes at all. He just stands there an accepts information, processing it all internally, which is fine for us, as the audience, because we can see all of that. But it doesn’t make for much give and take in the scene.

    One thing that threw me about the (Button) Nita scene is the complete lack of description of Nita’s house. We got a) creepy, rundown part of town and b) small yard with a concrete front walk, but that’s it? Nothing about the actual house itself? In a Crusie book, where home is such an important character signifier and underlying theme? I know the whole island is Nita’s “home”, but give me some kind of clue about where she hangs her hat, another piece of her to attach to. We know Button’s looking at the house because she sees the curtains move, but prior to that she doesn’t notice any details, try to square the image of the house in front of her with the mental picture she’s forming of her new partner?

    1. Oh, that’s interesting. I had done a scene where she walked through the house, but that got cut early on. I think maybe I don’t spend much time in Nita’s house–I can see it, I know what it looks like–because she’s not going back there once she goes to work in the morning. I’m not sure the story ever goes back there. Dag moves in waiting for somebody to come for Nita again, but he doesn’t have a PoV. Hmmm.

  8. So the scene in the car: meh. I think I liked it before, but it seemed the same?

    The first scene with Nick and Dag is different, and that was fun to read, especially Dag. Also, when he turns around the laptop, and the scene ends, I was like, “NOOOOOO WHAT’S ON THAT LAPTOP,” so I guess I know which scene I’m more involved in.

    “‘Like a nightmare with fur,'” LOLOLOLOL. Dude, Nita is in deep denial, hmm? Also, 40 pounds? My 3 yo is 40 pounds. That’s one big ass cat. And fangs. And red eyes. Hilarious.
    Ok, I was kind of annoyed when that scene ended, too. So, basically, you’re an engaging writer. There’s news.

    Hey, I’m gonna be 33 this year. Exciting. I just bonded with the heroine a bit more.

    1. I checked. Forty pound cats exist.
      First scene in the car is different, but you’ve probably read it now at least five times. That’s wears on a reader. The Dag and Rab scenes are mostly new.
      Good news is the breakfast scene is mostly new now and everything after that is all new. I don’t know how you all can keep reading the same scenes and not scream.

      1. Come on. I’ve read most of your books five times. Some of them in German as well as English. Keep chucking scene rewrites our way, I love it.

      2. Wot Salpy said.

        But also because it’s my “Cruise Fix” until this comes out.

        (And also because I’m having a fascinating time watching this evolve).

  9. Coming in very late.

    I read “Unbelievable, she thought and went toward the house.”

    as “Un-fucking-believable, she thought and went toward the house.”

    And then was surprised when there was no swear. I’m not sure what that says about me.

  10. The only thing I got hung up on was Button talking about 3 centuries of Buttons in law enforcement. I think it was because my brain started thinking her name was Buttons rather than Button, and wondered how she was 300 years old (which, admittedly, is not uncommon in the average character we’ve seen so far, otherwise I might not have gotten stuck). I’m not sure if “The Button family” instead of Buttons would have kept my brain from stumbling, or if there’s another way to word it to make it less potentially brain boggling.

    I agree that Dag’s conversation with Nick is a better race tip than the previous diner adjectives. Thanks for the fun read!

  11. Terrifyingly grim as a worldview. Ha ha ha ha ha ha.

    I like the way the body disappears when they’re not looking and I totally get why she’s happy to keep denying the supernatural. And I’m loving this so much that I just went back and read WTT because I couldn’t handle that this just stopped. Sigh.

    I had a hiccough here:

    “I like my job,” Nita said. “But I like the detecting part. I like protecting my island, the people here. Not that crazy about the procedural stuff. So while I do not wish to get fired, it wouldn’t be the end of the world.”

    “It would for me,” Chloe said.

    What would? Nita losing her job, or Button? I’m assuming Button, but then Button says no more PJs, which sounds like protecting Nita’s job, not her own? Unless it’s association? Anyway, I stumbled, but I might be the only one.

  12. So while this is still rough, you’ve got it now.

    All the other beginnings and bits you’ve posted have felt like drafts, and I have read them with my critical head. This feels like “I want the rest of it right now and if it’s not perfect I don’t care.”

    So just giving you my totally subjective “this is working for me”.


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