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Friday, May 01, 2009

The 4x6 Scene

The hallmark of creative nonfiction is the scene. Any fool journalist can give you anecdote. James V. Smith Jr. in The Writer's Little Helper advocates listing each scene in your story on a 4x6 index card. These cards can be shuffled around to decide how to you tell your story.

  • On each card, jot down what happens in the scene--action, players, and setting.
  • State the purpose of the scene: (1) move the story line ahead; (2) introduce or develop character(s); (3) introduce or worse a problem; (4) solve a problem; (5) set up later scenes; (6) create atmosphere or develop setting; or (7) present information or data.
  • Identify a singular element to highlight: action, conflict, imagery, invention, irony, dialogue, or suspense.
Later in the book, Smith explains the last bullet item, calling it the ACIIIDS test. It's his contention that each scene should contain all these elements, with one dominating.

Action--the level of movement or activity ("impending," "incidental," "overt," "urgent," "frenetic").
Conflict--the level of argument or contention ("tension" to "fatal").
Imagery--the level of visual cues ("suggested" to "determinate").
Invention--the level of creativity in a scene ("cheap trick," "blink-blink," wondrous smile," "expletive," "WOW!").
Irony--the level of wit, or sense of humor, in a scene (from "subtle" to "take your breath away").
Dialogue--the level of conversation ("internal" to "imbroglio").
Suspense--ranging from "invisible" to "nail-biter."



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