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Buffer scenes (1 Viewer)

VRanger

Staff member
Administrator
I wrote a scene last night in our collaboration (for the last person on the Forum who hasn't heard--@PiP and me), and left a comment for PiP that the scene is only there as a buffer between the scenes just before and after. I'll call them Scenes A, B (buffer, isn't that convenient!), and C.

Scene A sets up an event in Scene C, but I didn't want both pieces of business in the same scene, and I wanted a cooling off period for the reader between the two pieces of action.

By the time our MCs get together in person in this book, the action is day by day ... from Chapter 11 on ... and will cover just more than a week by the time the story concludes. Scene A and C have the same two primary characters (including the MMC), and Scene B jumps to what happens with the FMC ... and it makes sense to do that since we're often covering morning-afternoon-evening for each of the MCs.

So in comes Scene B, where (I hope) I have a couple of bits of humor to carry it, plus the FMC witnesses action leading to Scene C.

As I left PiP the note explaining the purpose of Scene B, it struck me this isn't an uncommon tool ... not just for me, but in lots of books I read. I'll end a scene with something to leave the reader hanging, and I don't want to immediately resolve that tension ... so some other element of story buffers 'Plot Element Prep' from 'Plot Element Resolution'. And sometimes, it's not just a scene, but an entire chapter, doing the buffering. In some books I've read, it could be a few chapters.

I don't know if this is a big conversation starter, but I'd be interested to hear how some of our other authors handle this, and I'd find examples interesting.
 

JBF

Staff member
Global Moderator
I don't know if this is a big conversation starter, but I'd be interested to hear how some of our other authors handle this, and I'd find examples interesting.

Multi-POV is easy enough. Hit the break, jump to another character, and use this second character to set up another cliffhanger

If you're one of those ironheaded morons like me...then you get problems. My current project is rife with them - a horror story with a limited cast and a single POV character that advances in what are essentially timed increments.

This is dangerous territory. I'm out on the edge as style and subject matter go. My solution so far has been to stack the world against the protag - he's coming up on two weeks of days that run twelve and fourteen hours on the low side, management isn't happy with anything, he's newly in trouble with the girlfriend, and being one of the low men on the chain he tends to get marked for scut work.

To make this function (maybe) I've been breaking it up by having him and the other major character catching up on their sleep in shifts. One hour on, one hour off; not much, but better than crippling exhaustion.

So...to buffer things I knock him unconcious every sixty minutes or so - which in this instance means I go from screwing with him in real life to screwing with him in dreams, most of which are influenced by all the other problems in his life and make little or no rational sense but which do fit into the framework of the larger story.

Not sure if that's what you're after, though.
 

Llyralen

Senior Member
I’m sure there is more to it than “just” a buffer? Maybe there is something in the chapter that adds character development? Or it develops the subplot?

You didn’t just write “watermelon, watermelon, watermelon” over and over again, after all…right? If I’m wrong about that it’s a million to one. Taking bets now before @vranger or @PiP reply!
 

VRanger

Staff member
Administrator
Not sure if that's what you're after, though.
I'm just interested in how others discussing how they do this. Writers bragging. :)

Yes. That was an issue in my first person. Other than a chapter break, it wasn't easy to put distance between crisis and resolution. There IS a technique for that, but you can't use it too often. You come to crisis, and then move forward to a settled scene, be in that scene for a while, then resolve the crisis in flashback.

What I did was have some crises that didn't require immediate resolution, so I could have the MC worry about them while doing other things, at the same time having him fret over the upcoming resolution ... hopefully building extra tension.
 

VRanger

Staff member
Administrator
I’m sure there is more to it than “just” a buffer? Maybe there is something in the chapter that adds character development? Or it develops the subplot?

You didn’t just write “watermelon, watermelon, watermelon” over and over again, after all…right? If I’m wrong about that it’s a million to one. Taking bets now before @vranger or @PiP reply!
Certainly, the buffer scene should add to the story. It must be interesting to read, just like all the other scenes. But it may not be a totally necessary scene. And that's okay. If you cut all a book's scenes that aren't total necessary, you'll get rid of 80% of most books' content. ;-) However, they'd be pretty bare. As you mentioned, there'd be less character development, less atmosphere building, etc.

In my 3rd person PoVs, JBF's discussion was dead on. I have multiple subplots, so each subplot can end in a crisis and I go to a parallel subplot which is equally compelling. Dead easy. (Except there are timeline issues to keep straight).

However, my Scene C happens poolside in August, so there COULD be watermelon!
 

KatPC

Senior Member
In my novel I wrote (that is gathering dust) I actually did a time jump. I started the story about the MC reminiscing about the past and as things developed I'd jump to the present and make the MC face 'live' problems. After a while the MC would think back to the past again and I would flip back to the past. I would add in what i call 'chapter breaks' or buffers in your example, that will hint on the MC to go back to the past and continue that story, and they do and we would go back to the past to piece together the past.
 

Llyralen

Senior Member
In my novel I wrote (that is gathering dust) I actually did a time jump. I started the story about the MC reminiscing about the past and as things developed I'd jump to the present and make the MC face 'live' problems. After a while the MC would think back to the past again and I would flip back to the past. I would add in what i call 'chapter breaks' or buffers in your example, that will hint on the MC to go back to the past and continue that story, and they do and we would go back to the past to piece together the past.
Sounds tricksy!
I was going to start a thread about use of flashback. I hope you weigh in on that when I do! :1)
 

JBF

Staff member
Global Moderator
Another one I've considered for the first of the eventual three books was having every other chapter be correspondence of some kind. Letters from home, after-action reports, transcripts of radio chatter... that kind of thing.

I'm not sure I've ever seen it done, nor can I say with certainty that it's workable. Might be something I toy with eventually, though.
 

Ajoy

Senior Member
My recently finished novel is in first person POV following my main character through her arc chronologically. She has visions of characters from a magical world that interrupt tense scenes but also come at other times. Up to the midpoint turn, the narrative is fairly evenly split between my main character in her present and in her visions, where she's in the bodies of characters from the magical world as they experience their memories (but it's still her POV, not theirs). After the midpoint turn, the main character is in the magical world and doesn't have visions again until the climax. Those last visions do break up the climax but also give the final pieces to close up the connection between the vision arcs and the main plot arc. I think these sort of do what you're talking about with buffer scenes.
 

Lawless

Senior Member
it struck me this isn't an uncommon tool ... not just for me, but in lots of books I read. I'll end a scene with something to leave the reader hanging, and I don't want to immediately resolve that tension ... so some other element of story buffers 'Plot Element Prep' from 'Plot Element Resolution'. And sometimes, it's not just a scene, but an entire chapter, doing the buffering.
Why, it's perfectly normal. I don't even see what there is to discuss.
 

KatPC

Senior Member
Why, it's perfectly normal. I don't even see what there is to discuss.
It's just a topic to see what others do and how to incorporate into their stories. We all do it differently and some ... not at all.
Sounds tricksy!
I was going to start a thread about use of flashback. I hope you weigh in on that when I do! :1)
I will read, support and write!

Another one I've considered for the first of the eventual three books was having every other chapter be correspondence of some kind. Letters from home, after-action reports, transcripts of radio chatter... that kind of thing.

I'm not sure I've ever seen it done, nor can I say with certainty that it's workable. Might be something I toy with eventually, though.
That's interesting. I added diary entries into my story. For me it gave clues to the reader of what were to lie ahead, but also as it was 'Dear Diary,' it contained the MCs personal perspective of their emotions and thoughts that a reader knew and take on whilst reading on.

I have idea of a short, maybe novella, where the story will be 'told' through the letters to mum. It would be very 'raw' and i'm not sure if others have read any books like this or if there is a need to add context for the reader or let them figure it out through letters.
 

VRanger

Staff member
Administrator
Why, it's perfectly normal. I don't even see what there is to discuss.
Well, there have been a few options discussed here, and I found them interesting. What brought this to mind for me is I needed a buffer between the two scenes in the subplot, I didn't have a solid place to go in the main plot at that moment in the story, and there isn't much in the way of subplots. So I had to create a scene out of nowhere. Maybe my motive for the thread was cathartic, because I don't write scenes that don't advance plot, so this one breaks my own rule. ;-)
 

SueC

Staff member
Senior Mentor
I wrote a scene last night in our collaboration (for the last person on the Forum who hasn't heard--@PiP and me), and left a comment for PiP that the scene is only there as a buffer between the scenes just before and after. I'll call them Scenes A, B (buffer, isn't that convenient!), and C.

Scene A sets up an event in Scene C, but I didn't want both pieces of business in the same scene, and I wanted a cooling off period for the reader between the two pieces of action.

By the time our MCs get together in person in this book, the action is day by day ... from Chapter 11 on ... and will cover just more than a week by the time the story concludes. Scene A and C have the same two primary characters (including the MMC), and Scene B jumps to what happens with the FMC ... and it makes sense to do that since we're often covering morning-afternoon-evening for each of the MCs.

So in comes Scene B, where (I hope) I have a couple of bits of humor to carry it, plus the FMC witnesses action leading to Scene C.

As I left PiP the note explaining the purpose of Scene B, it struck me this isn't an uncommon tool ... not just for me, but in lots of books I read. I'll end a scene with something to leave the reader hanging, and I don't want to immediately resolve that tension ... so some other element of story buffers 'Plot Element Prep' from 'Plot Element Resolution'. And sometimes, it's not just a scene, but an entire chapter, doing the buffering. In some books I've read, it could be a few chapters.

I don't know if this is a big conversation starter, but I'd be interested to hear how some of our other authors handle this, and I'd find examples interesting.
I'm not always consistent in how I do this, but I love writing stories and books about how a past event can influence a present or future behavior and in order to do that I have to find a reasonable way to incorporate the information into the story line. It can come about as a remembrance, or reading a letter from the past, or it can even be an entirely separate existence, that merges together as if by fate because of some influence somewhere along the line. So when you do that, you have to figure out not only the event that will move the story line along, but also the rationale, so it doesn't look hokey. But it's nice to hear others employ this type of technique that vranger is describing. We are so cool! :) In my WIP, almost every chapter has a different voice, so setting up future events for another voice is sometimes tricky. I have a villan, whose story line is completely seperate from other characters, but is essential because of the role his behavior plays in bringing others together . . . I think anyway. That's the plan, but I am not good at villanry (is that a word?) so we'll see how that all works. Thanks, Jim. :)
 

Taylor

Staff member
Global Moderator
I've been following this thread and wanting to contribute, but I don't fully understand the technique of a buffer. So I take it I don't use it. It reminds me of the word, "filler", which people often discuss, as also giving the reader breathing room. I seriously don't know how to write either of these things. I use three punctuation marks for a break in scene within a chapter.

For example:

The MC is on the Brooklyn Bridge and starts to recall a past experience that relates to the meeting she is about to have at her destination. * * * The scene of the experience that occurred five years earlier. (it's quite long, mostly dialogue and the majority of the chapter) * * * Noticing her exit, she is yanked back to the present, as she must swerve in front of another car to make it off the bridge. She thinks, That’s what you get for daydreaming on the Brooklyn Bridge. Still driving, she is back in present thoughts thinking about what to say in the meeting. Next Chapter. She arrives late but heads into the office. The scene resumes in a new setting.
I wrote a scene last night in our collaboration (for the last person on the Forum who hasn't heard--@PiP and me), and left a comment for PiP that the scene is only there as a buffer between the scenes just before and after. I'll call them Scenes A, B (buffer, isn't that convenient!), and C.
So are A, B, and C all consecutive actions with no break in time or change in setting? For example Scene A: A couple of people just meet and start a conversation in the living room of their friend's house. They get flirtatious. Scene B: The host calls one of them out to the backyard to show off a new pool. Scene C: Everyone sits down at the dining room table, they are seated together, the flirtation continues and they agree to meet again. Is that what you mean by giving a cool-off period?

Or do the settings change in between?
Scene A sets up an event in Scene C, but I didn't want both pieces of business in the same scene, and I wanted a cooling off period for the reader between the two pieces of action.

By the time our MCs get together in person in this book, the action is day by day ... from Chapter 11 on ... and will cover just more than a week by the time the story concludes. Scene A and C have the same two primary characters (including the MMC), and Scene B jumps to what happens with the FMC ... and it makes sense to do that since we're often covering morning-afternoon-evening for each of the MCs.

So in comes Scene B, where (I hope) I have a couple of bits of humor to carry it, plus the FMC witnesses action leading to Scene C.

As I left PiP the note explaining the purpose of Scene B, it struck me this isn't an uncommon tool ... not just for me, but in lots of books I read. I'll end a scene with something to leave the reader hanging, and I don't want to immediately resolve that tension ... so some other element of story buffers 'Plot Element Prep' from 'Plot Element Resolution'. And sometimes, it's not just a scene, but an entire chapter, doing the buffering. In some books I've read, it could be a few chapters.
I think it's fine to leave a scene or chapter ending with a hanger, and pick up the action later on. Well, I hope so, because I do it all the time. LOL!
But when I do it, I never match the scene perfectly as if breaking it up from one second to the next second.

For example:

The last lines of a scene is that the MMC fell asleep on the couch at the FMC's apartment while she was in the kitchen fixing a late-night snack. They had just reunited after a long breakup. She covers him up with a blanket and goes to bed. End of Chapter. The reader is left to wonder what happened at the end of the night.

The scene of him waking up is never shown. In a later chapter, they do end up at an awards dinner together, but based on the conversation, it's clear that nothing happened that night. The reader can assume he got up and took a cab home, but it's not important to write that. It's better to leave it to the imagintion. (but no buffer is used.)
I don't know if this is a big conversation starter, but I'd be interested to hear how some of our other authors handle this, and I'd find examples interesting.
Not sure if my examples are relevant...but I tried. 🤪
 
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Ajoy

Senior Member
I've been following this thread and wanting to contribute, but I don't fully understand the technique of a buffer. So I take it I don't use it. It reminds me of the word, "filler", which people often discuss, as also giving the reader breathing room. I seriously don't know how to write either of these things. I use three punctuation marks for a break in scene within a chapter.
I imagine in your recently finished novel, the buffers would be your POV changes. I understood the idea to mean a way to break up the forward movement of your chronological arc...allow the reader to sit with some tension before resolution, allow for mini-cliff hangers, leave the reader wondering for an extra scene or chapter. There seem to be a lot of ways to achieve that 'buffer' effect.
 

Llyralen

Senior Member
I'm with @Taylor on not really understanding "just a buffer chapter", but action isn't the point of my books and writing is too difficult for me to term anything "just". I'd never need to write something mainly to calm things down. lol. From my current vantage point I predict that if I were writing action, I would think placing a more mellow chapter would be termed character development or setting up. I imagine I wouldn't term any chapter as "just a buffer". I don't know, I have a furrowed brow every time I come back here too. Maybe one year I'll search for this thread and add "Folks, I just wrote my first buffer chapter!" Right now I don't think I have a framework to understand. I also wonder if a "buffer chapter" for one person might be the favorite chapter of another. Who knows? But I'm open to learn more.
 

Taylor

Staff member
Global Moderator
I imagine in your recently finished novel, the buffers would be your POV changes. I understood the idea to mean a way to break up the forward movement of your chronological arc...allow the reader to sit with some tension before resolution, allow for mini-cliff hangers, leave the reader wondering for an extra scene or chapter. There seem to be a lot of ways to achieve that 'buffer' effect.
A good explanation. Basically, a cliff-hanger and then everything between that and the resolution would be considered a buffer? I think the term may be throwing me off. We use the term "buffer statement" in business writing as a way to "soften the blow." For example, start with a positive before pointing out a negative. But I looked it up and can't find anything specific to fiction, but the general term means: Lessen or moderate the impact of (something). So perhaps something that makes the conflict more palatable before proceeding to the resolution.
 

Ajoy

Senior Member
A good explanation. Basically, a cliff-hanger and then everything between that and the resolution would be considered a buffer?
I believe so. There is a scene in my novel where the main character finds herself caught by the man she's been hiding from. Before the reader gets to find out if this means she gets harmed or permanently imprisoned, the man knocks her out. The next two scenes are visions the main character has that give her some of the events that led up to her capture (this is fantasy and the visions are a type of magic). Then she wakes up and the conflict continues until a scene level resolution is reached. In this case, she escapes, but not without consequences that push the story forward, toward the final climax. The way it's been described in this thread, I would consider those vision scenes 'buffer' scenes. Even though the scenes are important, they force a pause in the tension, creating a small cliff hanger.
I think the term may be throwing me off. We use the term "buffer statement" in business writing as a way to "soften the blow." For example, start with a positive before pointing out a negative. But I looked it up and can't find anything specific to fiction, but the general term means: Lessen or moderate the impact of (something). So perhaps something that makes the conflict more palatable before proceeding to the resolution.
I did the same thing as you when I first saw the word, 'buffer'. My mind compared it to 'filler'. And while it seems a buffer scene could be very filler-like, it sounds like there's a pretty wide variety of techniques, some allowing the 'buffer' scenes to still serve extremely plot and character relevant roles. I don't even know if 'buffer' scene is an official term, but I'm rolling with what I'm seeing with the examples shared. ;)

With my own work, I feel like the scenes I would call buffer scenes are also extremely plot relevant (to a level of necessity). In my case, I just fractured one of the plot lines and delivered it in pieces, increasing the complexity beyond the first person chronological plot line that would be told just through the main character's eyes. I would say people use multi-pov and non-chronological timelines for similar reasons. And as @vranger mentioned, extra buffer scenes that develop character or tone or world would also still be of value to the reader experience, even if they could potentially be cut if not needed as a buffer scene.
 

Ajoy

Senior Member
I'm with @Taylor on not really understanding "just a buffer chapter", but action isn't the point of my books and writing is too difficult for me to term anything "just". I'd never need to write something mainly to calm things down. lol. From my current vantage point I predict that if I were writing action, I would think placing a more mellow chapter would be termed character development or setting up. I imagine I wouldn't term any chapter as "just a buffer". I don't know, I have a furrowed brow every time I come back here too. Maybe one year I'll search for this thread and add "Folks, I just wrote my first buffer chapter!" Right now I don't think I have a framework to understand. I also wonder if a "buffer chapter" for one person might be the favorite chapter of another. Who knows? But I'm open to learn more.
I think it's more of a matter how you use/where you place those character/setting development scenes. Even in a lower action story, you might place a 'buffer' scene like such:
character is about to learn some crucial truth about their life that they had previously been unaware of; insert buffer scene that is out of the chronology of the scene just described, but maybe this scene develops an element of character or world that will deepen the reader appreciation of the coming revelation; then comes the revelation scene.
 

Llyralen

Senior Member
I think it's more of a matter how you use/where you place those character/setting development scenes. Even in a lower action story, you might place a 'buffer' scene like such:
character is about to learn some crucial truth about their life that they had previously been unaware of; insert buffer scene that is out of the chronology of the scene just described, but maybe this scene develops an element of character or world that will deepen the reader appreciation of the coming revelation; then comes the revelation scene.
Interspersing or pacing the piece strategically can be what's needed. I've read books or seen movies that have interweaving plot lines, I just never think of these as being solely "buffer", because something has to entertain during that time. Something needs to move forward--but maybe they are "just buffer", or maybe that's what they started out to be. =)
Actually, sometimes when we aren't trying we produce our best work. =)
 
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