The Wisdom of Jim Butcher – What I Learned Today

On my journey to becoming a better writer, I’ve decided to learn something new (or revisit something important) about the craft every day. When I can, I’ll share it!

Jim Butcher is a novelist. He wrote, among other things, “The Dresden Files”, which I enjoy a great deal. I’m a screenwriter and sometime prose writer, so why on earth is Jim Butcher in my “What I Learned Today” category? Storytelling is storytelling. Structure, characters and telling a good tale are universal across disciplines. It’s amazing how much translates.

I discovered Jim’s LiveJournal blog from 2004. Start reading it from the bottom.

What I learned today:

In the Dec. 28th Entry, Jim talks about scenes. In all fairness, I’ve heard this before, but it didn’t resonate with me as powerfully until Jim’s piece – he puts it all together in a way that clicks for me.

The idea is that in every scene, a character has a goal and someone is trying to stop that character. This creates conflict. This ends in some degree of failure because the character does not get what they want. This is important; the character with the goal has to fail. They can get a “Yes…But” partial win, a “No” complete denial or a “No and Furthermore” which is a set-back – but a complete win is a boring scene (unless it’s your last scene).

But…

There are scenes that aren’t scenes, and this is where it gets interesting. Jim calls them “Sequels” (see the next entry in his blog) and this is where the meat of the lesson is. Sequels are the aftermath of scenes, where the fallout happens, where the decisions are made. By calling them “sequels” and not “scenes”, we can stick to the Scenes Must Have Conflict rule while allowing the characters to process, introspect, bind wounds, make a game-plan. From there, they make a choice that propels them into the next scene. Easy peasy.

I hear what you’re thinking, “that’s creative writing 101!” And it is. I used to read for a big screenplay contest and it’s shocking how often boring stories didn’t follow this process.  In fact, looking through my latest TV pilot, I’ve got a scene that is neither scene nor sequel, it’s pure exposition and boring as hell.

By default, writing scenes and sequels way will lead to a tighter story and active characters. It’s basic stuff, but very elegant.

Thank you, Jim!

 

Jim’s website: http://www.jim-butcher.com/

Jim on Twitter: @longshotauthor

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