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Aisle Altar Hymn

Updated: Apr 17, 2020

Always good for a chuckle is the one about the bride preparing for her wedding day. She'll walk down the aisle, join the groom at the altar, then sing a hymn.

She repeats Aisle Altar Hymn over and over and soon it morphs into I'll Alter Him.

Everyone gets altered. Some willingly and deliberately, others by the sheer forces of life.

While writing, I'm fascinated by how characters change - the primary ones anyway, unless their unchanging nature is the central point (e.g. Chili Palmer in Elmore Leonard's Get Shorty).

Changes come in small, medium and large sizes throughout the telling, with traditional tales resulting in permanent change. The related story elements, from smallest to largest, are beat, scene, act and story.

The character's journey is travelled one step at a time, and each step is marked by the beat, the smallest element of change.

The beat is a minor shift. A nudge toward committing an act previously unconsidered, or deemed unreasonable.

Beats accumulate into a moderate change, which in turn marks the scene or chapter.


Problem - Alex needs go to the washroom

The passionate teacher hates to be disturbed . . .

Beat 1 - Alex puts his hand up to ask permission, but is denied.

Well Alex's biologic needs are urgent . . .

Beat 2 - Alex gets up to go anyway, but the large teacher blocks the doorway.

The situation is heading to confrontation . . .

Beat 3 - Alex tries to squeeze past the teacher, but the teacher physically accosts him

They are now locked in a physical showdown . . .

Crisis / Climax - Alex punches the teacher in the gut, sending him wheezing to the floor.

At the start of the scene, was Alex thinking of punching his teacher? Not likely. The first three beats cumulate toward an act previously not contemplated.

Tracking the beats is a superb litmus test while self-editing.

Right now I'm in the throes of the second draft of my novel The Time Chamber and part of my process is to ensure I'm being economical with my scenes, getting the most out of the action, ensuring the individual beats (the steps in the journey) are taking my characters in the right direction.

And guess what? Two characters are on their way to the altar!

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