Michaeline: In Like a Lion, and Vice Versa

A princess feeding two lions in a courtyard

If you feed your fiction lions the right things, they turn into lambs by the end of the month, right? (Image via Wikimedia Commons)

It’s been a very long time since I’ve dipped into Robert McKee’s screenwriting guide, Story, so I may be misremembering the details of scene reversal. But, even if it is misremembered, this is what I need right now.

Do your scenes turn? McKee’s blogsite asks that question here, and as I remembered it, one way of doing this is making sure your character comes out of the scene 180 degrees turned around from the way she or he enters it. For example, Betty starts the scene happy. She’s going to marry her rich boyfriend, Jon, and in the process, he’s going to pay off her student loans, which frees up some important part of her paycheck so she can pay off Sidney (her step-brother who is a loanshark). But, during the first scene, Jon dumps her because his family convinced him that she’s a gold-digger. She ends the scene sad, un-engaged, and with no prospects for clearing her debt.

Scene two, she goes into the scene in the above state, and Sidney offers her a little job that will pay off her loan tidily. She exits the scene happy and hopeful.

In scene three, she enters Mr. Harper Smith’s mansion happy and hopeful that all will turn out OK. She’ll pay off her debt to her lousy stepbrother, and never have to see him again. But then she finds out the job entails kidnapping, robbery and Mr. Smith insinuates that a little sex would go a long way toward making the transaction more profitable for Betty. Ugh. Miserable and MeToo’d.

But in scene four, it turns out that Mr. Smith’s younger stepbrother, Randall Applebaum (no relation to Sidney – or is he?) is handsome, smart, and also struggling to get out from under Mr. Smith’s and Sidney’s thumbs. Hope rears its head!

And so on, and so forth. This is for a roller-coaster of a story that always keeps the reader turning pages to see what’s next.

A lady with one lion fawning on her, and a lamb leading the way.

One down, one to go. (Image via Wikimedia Commons)

I’m not very good at this sort of thing. I tend to like an escalator model, myself, where the characters start happy, encounter a problem and solve it neatly, and exit the scene happy and ready for new triumphs. Maybe I’m too kind to my characters.

At any rate, the reversal, twisty version of a story would make an excellent writing exercise, I think.

I am not quite sure, but I think it’d work just fine (with the right story) if the scenes themselves reverse in chronological order, and not necessarily following the POV character.

For example, Randall enters scene one happy, and becomes depressed. We switch to Betty, who enters scene two depressed, and then she’s overjoyed by the end. Betty also has scene three, where her joy is proven to be premature, and ends up down in the dumps. Scene four goes to Randall’s viewpoint, down in the dumps, but something wonderful happens and he’s happy, too. Scene five, all the happiness goes down the drain for Randall, but he is thrown together with Betty. Scene six is Betty’s viewpoint, but she’s in it with Randall, and their nightmare is entertainingly resolved, and they both enter scene seven as a team, and triumphant. Only to find in scene eight that they’d both missed one eensy-weensy detail.

Or maybe there’s a pattern where Randall is going up, up, up, but in the alternating scenes, Betty is going down, down, down into misery . . . until there’s a meeting of the minds and who knows what happens then?

At any rate, it’s something to think about in March. In like a lion, out like a lamb, or vice versa, sometimes on a daily basis.

9 thoughts on “Michaeline: In Like a Lion, and Vice Versa

  1. I’m not sure all my scenes turn, but I try to make sure there’s some kind of change in story value, and that they always move plot, or character, or both. I usually imagine every scene as a mini-story and check it Jenny-style: who’s the scene protagonist, who’s the antagonist, what do they want, what’s the conflict, and who wins? That feels natural to me, but it may not work for you. If your Girls prefer an escalator, write an escalator. You can always edit later if you don’t like it when you’ve finished. Or write short stories. Or how about a collection of linked short stories that together form some kind of overall arc? You do you, and we’ll enjoy the fruits 🙂

    • I think even in a short story, there has to be movement in each scene, but I’m not sure it has to be 180 degree movement. I mean, there’s a risk of making the reader a bit motion sick (I’ve read books that hop-hop-hop at a frenetic pace that makes me mentally dizzy — and then there are books that are fast-paced, but smooth as silk).

      And it’s true — all that movement has to relate back to the conflict, I think. At least the major movements. (-: I’m still mulling it all over.

  2. I remember the need for shifting tone of scenes from the McD course, too, they way Jilly says. Something has to happen, and if it doesn’t, you can cut the scene because you don’t need it. The whole study on beats was about how the scene/paragraph started and how it ended, although I’m not sure a 180 shift is required. But it sounds like to me that if your characters start out happy, solve a problem, and come out happier, that would “count,” because change does happen. Let your Girls rule!

    • What Kay said 😉 . Funny thing is, I really struggled with beats in class, but now I look for them. I usually identify them before I write a scene. If I don’t, I can pretty much guarantee the scene will lack juice and I’ll have to start again. That McD course really was time and money well spent.

  3. As I remember from seeing McKee back in 2010, it didn’t have to be a 180 turn, just a shift to the positive or negative on some story value. And it was okay to do a couple of negatives or even a couple of positives in a row. But if the value kept shifting the same direction scene after scene, people would get bored if too many positives or wrung out if too many negatives.

    • Variety is the spice of life? I didn’t actually go back to McKee’s book for this, although it is quoted in the link, so I may have picked up something that was necessary for me at the time, but isn’t working for me anymore . . . or I need the next-level stuff that’s embedded in the text (-:.

      I did notice that people (maybe Wikipedia?) said that McKee says go with what works. But the point of a toolbox is that if something isn’t working, you can try throwing a wrench or a hammer at it, and see if that fixes anything. (LOL, and I wonder why my stuff isn’t working. I need to treat my tools with more care, and use them more precisely.)

  4. Pingback: Kay: Finding The Voice – Eight Ladies Writing

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