<$Susan Goodwill$>

Friday, April 21, 2006

Geeky Writer Stuff: Beats and Values

Okay, so the new MP3 player combined with the great spring weather has me walking up a storm. Four miles this morning.
While I walk, I am listening to McKee's "Story" for the second time. I finally have a bit of insight into how he analyzes a scene. The abridged audio is clearer than the book, by the way. Hmmm. Book needs more editing perhaps?
Here's what I got:
A scene = a unit of conflict. All scenes contain some small or large turning point in which the value charge of the scene changes. A value is the feeling of a scene, not the emotion a character displays, what the reader feels when identifying with the character.
Trust/mistrust, love/no love, confidence/self-doubt
Many value charge changes occur in the subtext of a scene. In other words, what happens below the surface of what your characters are doing.

How to analyze a scene:
Step One-- define the conflict: Main Character wants something (to do this or to get that- phrase it as an infinitive, to apologize, for instance.) Someone, or in some cases, some force, blocks that goal-- the scene antagonist (phrase this as an infinitive, too: to stay mad.)

Step Two: Look for your opening value. This value must change in some way, however subtle, for the story scene to be a valid scene, otherwise it's exposition or summary or some other thing (or shouldn't be there at all).
When a value changes in a big way it is a turning point in your story.
For instance-- hope to despair, love to hate. If a scene is not a turning point, the value change need not be extreme, it can be as simple as expecting to get a clue from a suspect and not getting it. Value change from confidence to frustration, perhaps?

Step Three: Break out your beats: actions/reactions. Beats are tiny units of conflict-- action/reaction. If you can't break it into "ing" words-- it ain't a beat.
For instance: main character apologizING/antagonist ignorING the plea,
main character threatenING/antagonist turnING his back,
main character explainING himself/antagonist softenING,
main character offerING a doughnut/antagonist acceptING.
Look at what the characters are actually doing and then what they are really doing. What it really means would be the subtext-- offering a doughnut--accepting it.
(The action beat is obvious: offering doughnut/accepting-- so is subtext here: apologizing and accepting apology.)
As long as the actions remain the same, it's one beat. The beat changes when the action and reaction change.
Step Four: Note Closing Value and how it has changed from opening value: In the above-- the scene is perhaps set up so that the value charge changes from mistrust to trust.
In most cases you would have a value change to complicate the plot, from a positive to a negative value--this particular value is from a negative to a positive.
Step Five: Survey the Beats and Locate the Turning Point: When the gap opens between expectation and result--- the value changes, and we have a turning point-- A real scene might have 20 beats, but at some point the value changes. If a value hasn't changed-
it isn't a scene. In our simple example, our turning point is at the offer of the doughnut and acceptance.

Very geeky. Enough of that!