External refers to what’s happening outside of characters’ minds. It’s the stuff that an observer could see. You could film it pretty easily. Internal refers to what’s going on inside a character’s head: feelings and thoughts. Prose storytelling regularly informs us of characters’ interiority in ways that, say, a screenplay cannot.
I recently came across this insightful analysis of suspense in the opening of the film Inglorious Basterds. In it, there’s a mention of an article from the Psychology journal, Frontiers in Psychology about Tension and Suspense. The authors, Moritz Lehne and Stefan Koelsch, posit six components underlying suspense and tension, which I find useful in thinking about crafting scenes to engage your readers and get your characters into trouble.
So, first of all, it’s worth noting that most of the story’s momentum comes from the “What’s going to happen next?” question, and that’s a question that arises from present-time story. Most of the story’s meaning, however, arises from the time digressions.
I work with a lot of manuscripts–everything from novels to short stories; chapters, scenes; essays, memoir–and in this video, I go over four of the most common problems I’ve encountered in the work I’ve read in the past year or so.
I introduced this concept of scenes vs. summary in my post on the four ways to break down page-level craft. Here, in more detail, is what scene vs. summary is all about. And I’ve included some explanation on how the story writer can benefit from knowing this aspect of craft.
Here are four ways to break down what can be included on a page. There’s some overlap between these, but it’s helpful to consider these four breakdowns when you’re crafting your scenes.
In my MFA program, we were required to read 80 books over the two-year course of study. Like most writers, I was already a voracious reader, but time constraints and job demands had meant that I read far fewer than 40 books a year. In reading such a large volume of books, though, I came to embrace some tenets of story consumption: