Posted in Misc Topic

Writing Process

My finished novel is with my editor. Yes, I know I’m an editor, but I have this firm belief that you should never edit your own work because you can’t see your own shortcomings. Meanwhile,  it’s time to begin working on the next book in the series. I thought I might blog periodically about my writing process. Hopefully it will be helpful to someone. Hopefully it will be inspiring to someone. Hopefully it won’t all come to shit. If it does come to shit, hopefully it will at least be a glorious pile of shit. Ahh. The glories of risk taking.

I decided to work in Scrivener this time around. I have dabbled in it before for outlining but I decided to try it exclusively for this next book. I like the cork board visual and the ease at which you can edit and move chapters and scenes around. There is a bit of a learning curve to using Scrivener, but there are tons of YouTube videos available. Scrivener is also inexpensive, and allows you a free trial to test it out. Note that I don’t get any kickbacks from the Scrivener folks. I just happen to like it.

First things first. I spent some time thinking about my story premise and kicked ideas around with my critique partner. If you don’t have a critique partner or critique group, let me recommend that you find one. Google critique groups in your city and join one. Not only will it help you get into a writing community, but you will learn a great deal about writing craft over time, and you will have a like-minded individual or two to kick ideas around with. Do take some time to find the right group for you. Each group is different and you will need to find a good fit.

My critique partner shot down the ideas I had initially. They were too normal and not particularly dynamic for my story concept. Since my main character is not normal (I am writing urban fantasy at the moment), the premise was too mundane. While driving I settled on “If you follow your passion you will find your purpose,” which I thought worked with where my character left off the end of the last book. While sitting at a stop light I texted my new premise idea and three-sentence outline to my critique partner, which he accepted as a good one.

I opened Scrivener and created a new book file. The first thing I did was write my premise in the notes. Having a premise helps you to focus on what your book is about. As you write pages with your premise in mind, you will end up infusing your pages with meaning, which is good for your readers

Good. 1st step done.

Then I set up an initial ten chapter template (see image) to begin outlining the new story. This ten chapter starting point is stolen from Writer’s Little Helper by Jim Smith, and for me, it’s a great way to begin plotting. I find the guideposts helpful to ensure a cohesive story line. Note that I don’t get any kickbacks from Jim for recommending his book. I just happen to like it.

 

My next step is to work out the opening scene, then the climax, and then the ending scene. After I get through that, I will add twists and complications and sub plots and such. I’ll let you know when I get there.

Posted in Misc Topic

Anatomy of a Scene

 

Writing Pensive Scenes

This week we are continuing our exploration into writing scenes by looking at pensive scenes, or those scenes that explore the thoughts and feelings of our characters. These are not action scenes by any means. In fact pensive scenes slow the pacing of the story significantly, so they are used sparingly. We don’t want our stories to drag.

Pensive scenes allow your reader to see your character’s interior self. There may be thoughts (internal monologue), and moments which allow your character to digest actions, and events, and twists that have changed their course of action earlier in the story.

Pensive scenes also allow your reader to catch their breath after a series of action filled sequences of events. Note that pensive scenes are rarely ever used to open a novel. They also tend to show up later in the plot line.

So what makes a pensive scene?

  • Your character spends more time thinking than acting or speaking
  • Pensive scenes reveal something to the reader about your character’s frame of mind
  • Pensive scenes must have some bearing on the plot. If they don’t, then cut them Each and every scene must move the story forward or it should not be in the book

Be sure to use scene setting to ground your reader in space and time when you are writing a pensive scene. You want your reader to know where our character is as they have this internal time. You can use the setting also as a way to convey the mood and meaning for your character’s thoughts and emotions. You might also start the scene in transition between the heart-pounding action of the earlier scene to help move your reader to a quieter moment of your character’s thoughts. Let your reader gear down rather than making them stop on a dime as it were.

Remember that the purpose of the pensive scene is to give your reader some intimacy with your character as your character experiences their inner thoughts.

  • Give your character realistic responses to earlier events
  • Make sure that your character wrestles with some issue in the previous scene or series of scenes
  • Have your character come up with a plan of action to move them toward their goal
  • Show your character’s internal conflict
  • Include some element of danger for your character to think about
  • Add tension through your character’s surroundings
  • Use mood and ambiance

When writing your pensive scene, it is still important that the story move forward.

  • Can you end this introspective scene with a cliffhanger so that your reader will continue to turn the page?
  • Can your character come to a moment of decision that changes the direction of the plot?
  • Is there some surprise that pops up? Your story still needs twists and turns to interest your reader, even in quiet scenes.

Remember that pensive scenes should be used sparingly in your novel, but they can be a great way to create intimacy between your character and your reader. They slow the pace but if you end with some special twist your reader will be intrigued.

Come see!

I have been invited to speak at PubCon on April 29th in Denver. I’d love to see you there if you can make it.

Black and White Cat
Posted in Fiction Writing

Anatomy of a Scene

Writing Dramatic Scenes

Last time we discussed the elements necessary for writing suspenseful scenes, and why that was important. This week I thought we would focus on a particular type of scene, specifically the dramatic scene.

The dramatic scene allows your characters to deliver a wide array of emotions, and can allow you to use emotions to move your story forward. These emotions include everything to gratitude to tantrums and are written in a way that will emotionally affect the reader.

The dramatic scene can be written around a fight, a betrayal, obsession over an object or another character, or any other concept of high emotion. The goal of the dramatic scene is to move your characters toward change. Your character will be forced to make decisions based on the complications which arise from the emotional content presented in the scene, and this decision will force your character to go a different direction than they previously intended. Note that dramatic scenes tend to show up toward the middle and end of novels rather than in the first act.

Start the scene with a slower pace. Be sure to include all the necessary scene setting your reader will need to ground themselves in space and time. Then use dialogue, action, and high emotional content to speed up the pace of the scene until the climax of the scene. Then allow your character a moment of reflection and decision making, so they can move forward in a different direction.

  • Use the relationships of your characters to bring them closer together or the break them apart
  • Use your character’s actions to support inner conflict
  • Use both hot (passion, rage) and cold (shock, internal grief) emotions to direct the drama and draw the reader in.
  • Use foreboding
  • Use interaction with other characters
  • Use confrontation, threat of death (or harm), or ruined expectations
  • Do NOT use exposition which is boring and NOT dramatic
  • Do not write your scene with hysterics or unrealistic action or you will move into melodrama (not a good thing)

Remember that dramatic scenes should focus on the character’s feelings so they will reach an emotional climax which then forces your character to change, either through epiphany or contemplation.

The added dramatic scene will entice your reader to turn the page and also help your character move forward to the end.

Posted in Fiction Writing, Misc Topic

Anatomy of a Scene

Writing Suspenseful Scenes

As we continue our exploration of using scenes to write our novels, let’s keep in mind that our scenes should be entertaining, dynamic, and purposeful. Your story will benefit from well-written scenes that keep the reader’s interest. Note that not each and every scene should be a suspense scene because the amount of suspense in each genre differs. If you become aware that your story is dragging, think about adding some suspense.

Certain elements will make your scene more suspenseful. The stakes must be high for your character. Increase the risk. Your character must be in trouble or get into trouble and have a hard time getting out. Add some danger. Add emotional intensity to your scene and don’t let up until the end. Your character should be under pressure to change or act by other characters, or by things that occur during the scene.

That said, don’t rush into the suspense. You will need to create a logical series of events which create the suspense. Let your reader see the intensity grow page by page so that the expectation of things to come increases the reader’s anxiety. The key word is anticipation. Let the reader be concerned for your character as you open the scene, and let the uneasy feeling grow as your character moves through the scene.

Think about the possibility of letting our antagonist get the upper hand over your protagonist and let your reader worry over your character. Let your character feel threatened and in danger and show your reader what that looks like, feels like, smells like, tastes like. Those sensory details are important to share with your reader. Make the danger tangible so your reader will have to white-knuckle it. And let your character react to the danger in an unexpected way so that there is even more conflict.

Make things complicated.

When you get to the end of a suspenseful scene, conclude the action and give your character a moment to reflect on what just happened. This will allow your reader to catch their breath before the next suspenseful scene.

OR

Carry the suspense all the way through to the end of the scene and end it on a cliff hanger so that your reader must turn the page.

Mix it up. Worry your reader. Let anticipation rule the day. You will have happy readers. And that is a very good thing.

 

Posted in Fiction Writing, Misc Topic

Anatomy of a Scene

 

The Opening Scene

We’ve been talking about writing in scenes as a way for authors to complete their novels, and as a way to ensure that every page of our book is compelling and moves the story forward all the way to the end. Our goal is that we would stop wasting our valuable writing time working on pages that are dull or stray from the story line which later ends up being deleted. We want to make every writing minute count.

This week we are going to focus on The Opening Scene.

The opening scene is the first scene in your novel and it is the most important scene you will write. If the scene is boring, or confusing, there is a good chance that your reader will put your book down and not buy it. That’s bad. So we need to be sure that the opening scene contains all the elements necessary to make the reader turn the page. Note that the opening scene is not the prologue.

The opening scene serves a few purposes and contains the following:

  • It contains the hook. The hook is the reason your reader will read the book because they want to know what happens next
  • It implies the story question
  • It brings your reader immediately into your story world
  • It establishes the setting
  • It hints at the overall plot
  • It introduces your protagonist and allows the reader a glimpse of their struggles (both interior and exterior)
  • It sets up the conflict
  • It sets up the pace

The opening scene should open with a hit of a riddle. This riddle is the story question that will be answered by the end of the book, and it is this riddle that will intrigue your reader. There needs to be enough information, enough action, and enough plot information to hook the reader without being overbearing with detail and minutia.

Your inciting incident does not necessarily need to be in your opening scene, but it should be pretty darn close to it. It should definitely be in Act I if you are following a 3 Act Structure or a 4 Act Structure, or it is the catalyst event if you are using a beat sheet. If your inciting incident is not located so early in your story, then I recommend you revise your plot. Note that the inciting incident is the event which begins the story problem that your character must solve by the end of the book. Think about the last movie you watched. What was the thing that made your characters jump into action? That is the inciting incident.

Your main character and your overall plot are intertwined. Plot and character CANNOT be disconnected. Your plot pushes your character, and your character reveals the plot. You must have these two elements in the opening scene, and throughout your book.

The ending to your opening scene (remember that all scenes have a beginning, a middle, and an ending) should leave your reader dangling with tension, crisis, dilemma, or conflict. Leave the significant situation unresolved so that your reader has to find out what happened.

Next time: more on writing that scene.

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Posted in Misc Topic

Anatomy of a Scene

Intentions II

This week, we are continuing our exploration of breaking down the scene with a look at scene intentions.

Remember that there are different kinds of intentions.

Author intention, for example, is what you, the author, intend your book to be about, how you want to present information to the reader, what genre you will write in etc. You are the one who controls all the variables with regard to your book, good, bad, or indifferent. Of course, we all hope for good, so the goal is to go into your writing project with some cognizance of the process.

With regards to your plot, an intention is a specific direction your character takes in the scene. This intention can arise either out of consequence of the last scene or out of some impending situation from the overall plot. If the impending situation is directing your character, you can consider this a plot-based intention. This means that scenes of this ilk are created and written with the specific goal of getting your character to the end of the story. Just be careful to make sure it is not too easy for your character to get to the end.

Sometimes, the scene intention is situational. Your character murdered someone in the last scene and now they must deal with the consequences. Do they run? Do they turn themselves into the police? Do they ask for help to hide the body? The situation of the last scene has determined that your character must stop the main intent of getting to the end of the story (the overall story goal), in order to deal with the current situation. This particular intention is scene-specific. These are short-term character goals and intentions. These kinds of scenes also add tension to your story, because these keep your character from getting to the end.

But what if the intention of the scene is to stop your character from moving forward at all? This is the kind of intention that your villain might have. The villain’s intention is opposition, and it is their goal to make your main character fail. Period. Now your character is not moving forward toward the end of the story. Neither are they dealing with repercussions of past actions. Your character is now having to stop and deal with something completely unexpected. Note that this kind of intention creates a plot twist, and complications for your character and may also create a new intention for your character temporarily as they now have to deal with the villain’s plans.

Think of these different types of intentions as you outline your story. As you think of your author intention, remember that it is your job to create a dynamic story for your reader. You will need to set your intentions for yourself, your characters, plot, villain, and know when and how to keep your character from completing their goal, and if you break these down by scene you will have an easier job of writing your novel.

Next time: The opening scene

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Posted in Misc Topic

Anatomy of a Scene

Setting Intentions

We are continuing our exploration of writing scenes, which includes all the elements that should be in a scene for it to be a successful piece of writing. The ultimate goal of outlining and writing your novel using scenes is that you will complete it with a minimum of wasted time and effort.

This week I thought we would focus on intentions for our scenes. Remember that a scene is a specific place where continuous action occurs in the novel. You can have a scene that encompasses an entire chapter or multiple scenes in each chapter. I prefer the latter option.

A scene should have a beginning, a middle, and an ending which ideally includes some hook to cause the reader to turn the page. Your scene should be set up properly with enough visual clues to allow your reader to see the events of the scene in their mind’s eye. Each scene should include some of the five senses to help your reader become emotionally involved with your characters, and each scene should have enough tension to keep the reader enticed in the story.

Before you write your scene, think about what it is that your protagonist wants. What does your character need? This is important. The character must have an intention when they enter the scene. It could be your character wants to escape from a killer. It could be that your character wants to ask someone for a date. As the author, you should decide whether or not your character will achieve their intention before the end of the scene, or if they will fail. Regardless of failure or success, your character should encounter complications that put a wrinkle in their plans. It is these complications that will build suspense for your reader.

Say for example your character wants to ask someone for a date. They are in a coffee shop and they see the person of their dreams across the room. They get up to approach their dear intended, but they spill their coffee all down their front. Now they must detour to the bathroom and clean themselves up. Your character has failed on the first try. After blotting their shirt with a wad of paper towels they go back to ask their intended for a date. But now, their love interest has a guest at their table. Drats. Oh, wait. It’s your character’s side-kick who always wants to help. Well, that’s good. Except, your side-kick always messes things up for your character. Oh, no. Your character’s love interest jumps up from the table and runs out of the coffee shop. It’s a clear failure.

As the author, it’s your job not to make things too easy for your character. You should know before you write when and where your character will succeed or fail, and when they will encounter complications. Note that you do have to let your character succeed sometimes. Just be sure they don’t succeed all the time.

As you are outlining your new scene you have to make sure that the scene and the scene intention makes sense to your plot. If your story is about monkeys in space, it is unlikely that a scene on dating would be appropriate. Maybe you want to explore what a monkey date would be like. A monkey walks into a bar…but don’t do it unless it truly works for your plot. This tangent would be a waste of your writing time.

When you outline your scene intentions think about who will oppose your character’s goal(s). Is there another person in your character arsenal whose sole motivation is to thwart your protagonist at every opportunity? Should your villain be in the scene? Or is there another person whose sole purpose is to help your character achieve their goals? Yes, this side-kick can help your character, but not so easily, and not too soon. And it may be that this side-kick intends to help your protagonist but their assistance always goes amiss, just as in the coffee date scene above.

Regardless, be sure to make sure that each and every scene in your novel is there for a reason, and the reason is to move the story forward to the end. Don’t waste time.

Remember, there are no dating monkeys in space.

Copyright: Image by StockUnlimited