Numbers in Writing: Scene Chords

Blog Post 19 ChordsThis is the last post of my series on numbers in writing.  I want to talk about scene chords.  In his book, Plot and Structure, James Scott Bell discusses four scene chords.  He defines a chord as what a scene does.  Chords fall into four categories:  action, reaction, setup, and deepening.  For more details and examples, check out his book.

Bell classifies action and reaction chords as major chords and setup and deepening chords as minor chords.  Action and reaction are major because most of the scenes will fall into these two categories with the minor chords of setup and deepening used more sparingly.  Think of the major chords as being like a good, homemade spaghetti sauce.  To help minimize the sweetness of the sauce, you might add a little Texas Pete.  For those not familiar with Texas Pete, it’s actually a hot sauce.  To balance out the sweetness, you would use this sauce sparingly.  Use it too much, and you ruin the sauce.  Use it too little, and the sauce tastes out of balance.

Numbers can play two major roles.

  • They can show a proper balance between major and minor chords. Take a look at the pie chart above. This is from the novel I plan to release early next year. Note how the minor chords of setup and deepening make up only twenty-five percent. Though I don’t have a specific limit, I do recommend to let these minor chords be no more than twenty-five percent. Remember that they’re more the space, not the main dish.
  • The can show a proper balance between action and reaction scenes. My opinion is that it is good to strive toward an equal distribution of action and reaction scenes. Again, this is not a hard and fast rule, but I’ve found that the more the equal the distribution, the better the novel reads (see above).

Setting up the pie chart is easy.

  1. Complete your first draft.
  2. Taking the spreadsheet you’ve previously set up, add a column that lists out the four chords of the scene.
  3. Develop your pie chart. For more information on how to set this up, contact me, and I’ll gladly give you more detailed instructions.
  4. Review the pie chart. Do the minor chords of setup and deepening have a minor role in the distribution? Are the major chords balanced to your liking?
  5. Revise the novel to strike more of what you think is an appropriate balance for your specific plot.

There you have it.  Five easy steps to determine how using numbers in conjunction with scene chords can enhance your novel.

I’ve enjoyed sharing this series with you, and I hope that all of my posts will help you writers drafting your novels to improve them.

Question:  What other ways can numbers assist in the development of a novel?

I have not received any compensation for writing this post.  I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services I have mentioned.  I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR Part 255: Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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