Map your scene


When someone asks if I will edit their manuscript for them, I first tell them to send me several pages which I will edit for free.  Then I can give them an estimate of what I will charge for the whole book.  I had a prospective client send me an action scene out of a book he was writing.  For privacy, I won’t tell character names or the name of the writer, but here is a brief description of the action:
There is a gas station with a little store.  It’s night.  A car with one young man and three girls pulls in and parks.  There is a gangster watching from across the street.  He calls his leader to come.  The young man gets out of his car and goes into the store, leaving the three girls in the car.  He asks the clerk where the bathroom is, and the clerk says it’s at the back of the store, down the hall to the right.  The young man goes in.  The leader arrives and parks at the back of the station and goes in the side door.  One of the girls in the car gets a premonition and gets out of the car to enter the store.  A police car pulls up to the pump to get gas and one of the two officers goes in the store to get some things.  The leader aims a gun at the young man as he comes out of the bathroom, but a light from the police car shines in the window and blinds him, so he misses and then he runs back out the side door.  The girl runs to the young man, who fell and hit his head but is otherwise OK.  The officer in the store runs up to ask what happened and the girl points to the side door, so the officer looks out and sees the leader running back to his car.  The shot that missed the young man went through the bathroom window and hit the other officer in the shoulder.
Meanwhile, the gangster goes up to the car where the two girls are still sitting and shoots at them through the window.  Then he runs back to the back of the store and jumps in the driver’s seat of the leader’s car; the leader is sitting there calmly revelling in having shot the young man.  They drive out of the gas station pursued by the police, and the leader has the gangster drop him off and drive on for the police to chase, promising to come and bail him out if he gets caught.  The girls in the car are miraculously unhurt.
As I was reading the scene, something didn’t seem quite right, so I took the time to draw a map on PowerPoint:
Scene map created by Denise Fuller – 4/2012

Maybe the author had a different configuration in mind, but this was how I pictured the scene.  Of course, when the clerk said the restroom was at the back of the store down the hall and to the right, it might have been to the north of the picture, but either way, there is a problem.  In order for a light from the police car to shine into the bathroom window and the stray bullet to hit the officer’s shoulder from the bathroom window — well, there’s just no way it could have happened.  I suppose the bathroom could have been on the right down a hall to the east in the picture and it would have worked, but then the bathroom would have been at the front of the store and not the back.

So if you are writing a complicated scene, try mapping it so you that you can accurately describe the action.

PS – Oh, and if you read my blog a couple days ago about the math test I was preparing for, I passed it today!

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