Writing the same scene differently

So here’s the thing. I’m writing a disaster novella. It has four characters each of whom get individual scenes. Chapter 1 introduced everybody, Chapter 2 showed two of the characters in the immediate aftermath of a crisis, and Chapter 3 will show two more. Essentially, the four scenes that comprise Chapters 2 and 3 are the same. A character realizes something has happened, comes to grips with it, and deals with some of the immediate aftermath in their surroundings.

I want to keep the reader hooked, to make these narratives feel individual and not redundant, even if they are treading some of the same ground. And I don’t want to skip a character moment of realization just because I’ve already written a couple of them. Everybody reacts to a situation differently, and if I’m doing my job of creating unique characters then I could have each of these people doing the exact same thing and the scenes would still come out different.

Terminology becomes a factor in my scenario. For starters, I’m still working out exactly what I should call the surface beneath the character’s feet. Is it the ceiling because that’s what it was a few minutes ago or is it the floor because that’s what it is now? Can we have such an animal as floor ceilings and ceiling floors? Probably the approach I’ve taken organically (i.e. typical seat of the pants technique) is to let each individual character think of the thing beneath their feet as the floor or the ceiling depending on what makes them comfortable.

It helps that I’ve thrown the characters into different kinds of physical locations, and given them different personalities and goals. These things alone can make scenes unique. And one thing that is already becoming apparent as I continue to plot and structure this book is that pairings matter. Even though these characters are largely independant of each other for now (and may remain so for the vast majority of the book), they need to interact in thematic ways. Sometimes the sharing is more overt (one character’s sister is with one of the other main characters at the time of the crisis), and sometimes it’s just a shared object, or a phrase, or a joke.

So you make things different by applying different variables, and you tie them together thematically by sharing elements. That way instead of just repeating yourself, you build on what has come before.

One other potential way to deal with this problem (though one I have not chosen to apply yet) is different timelines or non-linear timelines. If this was a book I was assured you could all read in one sitting, then I might play with the structure a little more, but as it is I want people to be able to follow individual character narratives from week to week, and not get to lost or forget who someone is after a month. But I may have moments where something happens explicitly to one character that is only implied in another (if that character has nothing to offer in the real-time reaction).

Every writing project gives unique problems to solve. Already figuring out how to keep a narrative thread going while tossing the ball to four different characters is a challenge, but one I am enjoying thoroughly. You guys will have to be the judge of whether I just keep repeating myself, or whether I have something new to say.

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