22 October 2005

The Chapters in Beats

One of the things I learned from years in theatres is how to plot the tempo of a scene in what we called "beats." Basically, there is a natural rise and fall of the action. It is similar to the old party game of tracking the silences in the room (about one every 15 minutes) to see how lively the party was. There would spontaneously be silence and everyone would look down at their watches. In the same way you can track the rhythms and the beats of your story. So I thought I'd try it with mine.

Chapter One: Interviews in the Retirement Home.

  1. Norma Parson's chicken scratch story. Sets the stage regarding Aaron's profession. Deals with the difficulty of telling what parts of oral history are dependable and what it is difficult to validate. Establishes introduction of Mad Aunt Hattie and how you "can't believe what she says."

  2. Setting up the interview and discussing the job with Jack. Introduces Mad Aunt Hattie and her own quirky view of herself. Establishes mentor relationship with Jack. Sets up use of cell phone in Aaron's business.

  3. Mad Aunt Hattie's story. Introduces the idea that things aren't what they seem. Provides motivation for investigating. Establishes relationship between Aaron and Hattie so that they have grounds to continue meeting together as she progressively reveals more of her story through Aaron's repeated visits.

  4. Aaron's investigation following Hattie's instructions and accident when lightning flashes. Creates the cliff-hanger for turning to the next chapter.

Chapter Two: Witnessing the Alien Meeting.

  1. Aaron's awakening in the wrecked car. Establishes that he's out of contact when there is no cell service. Establishes his disorientation. Creates the question of whether he is lucid or hallucinating when he stumbles on the meeting, and also casts doubt on his hearing, affected by the thunder clap.

  2. Looking in the church. Establishes that there is a window that is in viewing distance of the rendezvous place even though it is not used at this time. Establishes that the church is empty and still. Establishes that the church is normally unlocked.

  3. Following the light to the grove behind the church. Validates Hatties story of 12 oaks. Introduces Aaron to the scene of the aliens. Gives us our first sample of an overheard conversation taken out of context. Begins Aaron's impositon of his context (inherited from Hattie) on what he hears.

  4. Taking the photo and being discovered. Brings us to another cliff-hanger where Aaron is unconscious.

Chapter Three: The Good Samaritan.

  1. Aaron's awakening in the wrecked car unable to hear again. Creates doubt over whether he ever saw or heard what he thought he did. Introduces Pol as a human character who is caring and helpful.

  2. Casts into question whether or not there is cellular service because she calls 911. Distracts Aaron from his quest when EMTs arrive and take him to the hospital.

  3. Checking out of the hospital and discovering Pol waiting for him. Establishes a lingering concern for Aaron on Pol's part. Gives them a chance to talk as she takes him home. Reveals the fact that she is looking for a writer. Also establishes that she is unwilling to talk about what he saw the night before.

  4. Coffee with Pol. Establishes that Pol intends to keep an eye on Aaron in one way or another. She takes charge of getting him settled, calling his insurance company, using her staff to make things right. Leaves us with a spoken and an unspoken invitation as Pol invites Aaron to come to her office.

Chapter Four: Succumbing to the urge to investigate.

  1. Aaron’s visit to the service station. Collects his belongings from his wrecked car. Discovers the insurance company has already been to visit. Bemused over how fast they responded.

  2. Aaron returns home to find the insurance agent waiting for him. Hands him a check for more than what Aaron thinks his car is worth and says that he’ll take care of it from there on out. Lucky he wasn’t killed in the accident and tells him to bill any additional medical care. Aaron is overwhelmed at the agent’s speed and generosity. Agent lets slip that he was tipped off to move fast by a powerful person.

  3. Aaron’s telling of the events at the weekly poker game with his buddies. Establishes that he can’t remember exactly what order things happened in or what they were. Makes Jack wonder if he has a concussion. Establishes that Jack has loaned him a car.

  4. Aaron decides to revisit the scene, recording every detail he can to refresh his memories. More suspicions aroused when Aaron can’t find a trace of where his car went off the road. The church door is locked, further rousing Aaron’s doubts of what he thinks he remembers. Then he explores behind the church and finds the circle of 7 trees and 12 stumps. There is no trace of activity, but he pulls out his camera phone to take a picture. When he looks at it he discovers a picture from the night before. Finding the picture ends the chapter with the revelation that it wasn’t all a dream.

Chapter Five: Face-to-face with the enemy.

  1. Aaron visits with Mad Aunt Hattie again to get more of her story. She can tell by the questions he is asking that he has been to see the rendezvous. She tells him that if he really wants the truth, he’ll have to get close to the source. Motivates Aaron to go see Pol.

  2. Pol and Alex discussing the situation in the inner office. Allusion to old way of doing things makes it sound like they might be in a criminal activity. Establishes that there is conflict between Pol and her “superiors”.

  3. As Pol and Alex leave the inner office, they find Aaron standing in the middle of the office with his cell phone out. There is a moment of recognition and the phone rings distracting them. Aaron quickly adjusts his phone and the ringing stops. Says he was just calling, but gives him the opportunity to cover taking a picture of Alex as he leaves.

  4. Aaron pulls out resume and says that he’s interested in applying for the writing job. Aaron & Pol talk and just as they are turning to go into Pol’s office Nina arrives. She is apologetic for leaving the office unattended, etc. Pol introduces her to her new writer. Nina is appalled and says she has interviews scheduled. We establish that Pol has just hired over Nina’s head as chief of staff which puts Nina instantly in opposition to Aaron.

I'll do some more chapters as the day goes by or as the weekend progresses, depending on my workload this weekend.


Anonymous said...

So the basic beat-structure of your novel is one beat per chapter, in a sawtooth pattern, with the waveform more or less going back to zero at each chapter break?

Wayzgoose said...

Not really. There are three or four distinct segments of action per chapter. Each builds on the preceeding and reaches a conclusion of its own. Hopefully, the last beat builds to a "gotta turn the page" chapter ending. I'm trying to figure out how/why that didn't come across in what I wrote, so obviously I have some work to do to get it right.