Getting Down to the Nuts and Bolts: Plotting a Steampunk Scene

Frank Reade and His Steam Man of the Plains

I’ve talked a bit about plotting, but I really haven’t explained the basic idea of plotting a scene.The structure of narrative is built up from a variety of scenes; it is very rare that a novel would just be one scene (I can’t think of one example, to be truthful). So the scene is the brick from which your castle in the air is built – or, to use a Steampunk Metaphor – a scene is one of the springs that goes into the running of the clockwork of your story, pushing it along.

So, let’s start with a simple and basic plot, one of the classics: a couple find each other and fall in love, then there is some event that separates them, and eventually they find each other again for the happily-ever-after ending … or not, as the case my be. Picking one aspect of that plot: some event separates them. Did they fight? Was one character dragged away by events beyond their control? Did they plan to meet up, and one of them failed to make the meeting? As the writer, it is up to you to make this event plausible without contradicting you characterizations or settings. Let’s pick another classic: one of the couple gives up the other ‘for their own good’. Say the girl character is at university and doing brilliantly, and her beau decides his presence is putting her career at risk, for what ever reason.

This is where you have to start plotting your scene. Will he just call off their ‘engagement’ with no explanation? Will he deliberately start a fight, so that she will break it off with him and never know the sacrifice he is making? Will he start undertaking risky behaviour, expecting to die and so set her free that way? Or will be do the completely unexpected thing, and just tell her that he believes he is a bad influence on her, and give her the opportunity to make up her own mind? (I prefer the last option, because it assumes the girl is mature and smart enough to direct her own destiny.)

Let’s say you’ve chosen the ‘sacrifice’ option, as – again – it is one of the classic options; this is the driving force of any version of ‘A Star is Born’. So, you need a scene where your protagonist will die in some manner, and it is up to you how you will plot it. In the first two movie versions of ‘A Star in Born’, the Norman character drowns himself. This can be very dramatic, as your character walks resolutely into the dark, cold water. But your character don’t live near the ocean. So how would you plot this?

Firstly, you would write down the main points of the scene:

1/ ‘Norman’ realizes he is a liability and is harming his true love.

2/ ‘Norman’ decides to commit suicide, but he doesn’t want to recreate residual guilt for his true love.

3/ ‘Norman’ decided to drive his car/horseless carriage over a cliff, making it look like an accidental death.

So, you now have the blueprint of your scene. Now you have to get all the parts and screw it together.

Wheels within wheels

Wheels within wheels

If you are writing a straightforward recollection of events, you might leave the scene nearly as sparse as the outline. Sometime, particularly with death scenes, less can be more. Death is dramatic without much ornamentation. However, if you are a ‘wheels withing wheels’ stylist, you might add more description of the scene. What does the car/carriage signify? Where ‘Norman’ chooses to leave the road might have significance. If you prefer to write in first person perspective, you might take your audience with ‘Norman’ and see his final moments through his eyes. How you write this scene relates to what has gone before, and what you plan to be the repercussions of this scene for the rest of your narrative.

This is what plotting is all about. Every scene should be pushing the story forwards. It might not be that the death of this character is vital to the narrative, but is essential as an insight into the character of the main protagonist: a young woman who has tragically lost the love of her life. It might be that you are writing a tragedy, and his sacrifice was in vain. So the scene has to touch the heart of your audience; or shock them; or give them a sense of relief that the character got his just desserts.

Ask yourself:

Is this scene necessary?

What do you, the writer, want this scene to achieve?

Who needs to be in this scene?

What is the setting?

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2 Comments

Filed under Plot, Steampunk, Steampunk Genre, writing, Writing Style

2 responses to “Getting Down to the Nuts and Bolts: Plotting a Steampunk Scene

  1. To write a really gripping scene you need a fundamental conflict, one character wants to be/do/have something and there’s an opposing force. They might win, they might lose. Doesn’t matter, it’s the conflict that’s important. Of course you can can add other conflicts into a scene with multiple characters, though it can get too complicated.

    Conflict doesn’t have to be big and forceful, but it needs to be there, it’s the tension that holds the readers attention. (See what I did there.)

    Working with professional actors (which is a wonderful thing) they have a different way of looking at the same thing: To them a good scene is a question of dominance and control: someone wants to be in charge, someone else is trying to stop it.

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