I started Nita in 2016 (I think) and there’s a page in the Works in Progress menu here that shows six revisions of the first scene, one for each year from 2016 to 2021. (Don’t read all six. If you’re curious read the first and last one, reading all six will make you hate the book.) So now it’s 2022 and this is the last damn time I’m doing this because it really does get to the point where I’m washing garbage.
So here’s my method for revising scene.
I do not do this for every scene in the book. It would make me insane. But there are two times I need this kind of analysis. One is for a scene that just is not working but that I know I can’t cut. Like the first scene in the book that introduces the protagonist. The other is for a major scene, a turning point, that has to be absolutely precise in what it’s doing. Like the first scene in the book that introduces the protagonist. So here we are, using the “analyzing a scene by beats” method to fix the first scene in the book that introduces the protagonist.
• A scene is a series of beats. A beat is unit of action, a unit of conflict.
• In cause and effect linear fiction, each beat follows the last because it’s produced by the last beat.
• Each beat is of higher intensity than the last to build expectation and to keep reader interest.
• Each beat is (usually) shorter than the last to increase pacing.
• And the last beat ends the scene’s conflict and throws the reader into the next scene.
So the first thing I do when revising scene is figure out the beats.
Since this is not my first time revising this damn scene, the beats are pretty clear. I thought.
Protagonist Goal: Go into Hell Bar to find out who’s afraid in there and fix it.
Antagonist Goal: Keep her drunk partner from damaging her career and Button’s by feeding her coffee to sober her up and keeping her in the car.
What the scene needs to do:
Introduce Nita with the hopes of attaching the reader to her
Introduce Button with the hopes of attaching the reader to her
Foreshadow Nick with the hopes of making the reader want to see him, and especially to see him and Nita meet
Foreshadow the Nita/Button partnership
Set up suspicion about Something Bad going on
(Please note: I don’t think about ANY of this during the first drafts. This is revision stuff.)
BEATS FOR NITA’S FIRST SCENE:
1. Nita tries to make it clear why she has to go into Hell Bar even though she’s had too much drink and she’s in pajamas, Button politely disagrees. Beat is 471 words, ending with Nita trying to get out of the car and Button saying, “Wait.”
2. Button argues more directly against getting out of the car, proposing an alternative. Beat is 604 words, ending with Nita trying to get out of the car and Button saying, “Wait.”
3. Nita is getting out of the car when a patrolman and a detective both arrive to stop her while interacting with Button, showing the difference between them while moving the plot with back-up for Button and stronger conflict for Nita, who really needs to get into that bar and save somebody. Beat is 1311 words and ends with Button saying “Wait.”
4. Nita tells Button she understands why she doesn’t want her in the bar but she has to go in and tells Button to leave her. Button refuses, cementing the partnership. Beat is 280 words and ends with Nita heads for Hell Bar, not waiting, and Button following.
• The first and second beats are the same, don’t escalate
• Beats that are over a thousand words are too long; making the pacing is too slow, so beat three needs to be split into two and should be anyway because of two interruptions.
• As written, this does not foreshadow the romance which is the main plot of the book.
• That third “Wait” should escalate. Maybe “Wait,” “Wait,” “WAIT.”
So the plan is to:
• Combine the first two beats..
• Cut and split the third beat to be increasingly shorter and more intense.
• Make Nick more of an (unnamed) presence in the scene so the reader begins to anticipate the meet.
• Fix that third “Wait.”
• Cut this in general. We need to get to the Meet.
The easiest way to do this is to open four docs, one for each beat, and work on each beat as if it were complete in itself. Button’s “wait”s are the turning points, ratcheting up the conflict, and the last beat ends with her not saying “Wait,” but following Nita into the bar instead.
Easy peasy. (Screaming inside.)
I’ll put Scene One 2022 up on the WiP page as soon as I get it done. Don’t hold your breath.