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Viewing: Blog Posts Tagged with: scenes, Most Recent at Top [Help]
Results 1 - 25 of 29
1. Writing Scenes

A scene is more than simply having the action happen in only one location. 


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2. Fiction Techniques for Nonfiction


Six Winning Steps Toward a Compelling Opening Line, Scene and Chapter
Start Your Novel by Darcy Pattison
  • 29 Plot Templates
  • 2 Essential Writing Skills
  • 100 Examples of Opening Lines
  • 7 Weak Openings to Avoid
  • 4 Strong Openings to Use
  • 3 Assignments to Get Unstuck
  • 7 Problems to Resolve
The Math adds up to one thing: a publishable manuscript. Download a sample chapter on your Kindle.

All those fiction techniques you’ve spent time mastering — dialogue, description, setting, mood, scenes, characterization, and plot — are equally useful in writing nonfiction. Yes, there is more leeway in nonfiction than in the last twenty-five years, but publishers still value creative nonfiction or fiction written with fiction techniques.

For example, I have a new nonfiction coming out next year, Kentucky Basketball: America’s Winningest Teams (Rosen, 2014). I searched and searched for an interesting opening to the story, until I found a scene that was worthy of describing.

It was Valentine’s Day, 1938. Packed into the University of Kentucky Alumni Gym were over 4000 people, some sitting in windows, others literally hanging from the rafters. The UK Wildcat basketball team led top-ranked Marquette University team by 10 points.

It’s an exciting rivalry game, early in the history of the basketball program at Kentucky. Fiction techniques dictated that I set the scene immediately. Then I use sensory details to fill in the scene to describe the fast-paced last few minutes. Joe “Red” Hagan shoots a long 49-foot field goal from near the half-court line. When Marquette missed three more times, it becomes the winning score. Then, the interesting part started. In the audience was “Happy” Chandler, governor of Kentucky. He was so excited by the win, and especially Red’s winning shot, that he called for a hammer and nail. He rushed onto the court and at the spot from which Red shot, Chandler hammered a nail into the floor to commemorate the moment.

It’s stuff of legends. And it deserved a full scene, which meant fiction techniques.

Research Details for NonFiction: Think Fiction

This means that while I was researching the nonfiction topic of Kentucky basketball, I was really looking for a certain type of information.

Scenes. I look specifically for scenes with a beginning, middle with conflict, and ending. It needs to be something fun and interesting, a specific event.

Details. Next, I look for details. Here’s a fact: the basketball arena was meant to seat 2500, but 4000 fans were in attendance. A newspaper article of the times specifically said that fans were literally sitting in windows and hanging from the rafters. I look for numbers, colors, sizes, shapes, extended descriptions, and other specific details. These will all help the story come alive.

Timelines. The timeline of the basketball game was important to lay out and newspaper reports were helpful. The details of the first half were important to understand, so I could focus on the last three minutes.

Personalities or Characters. This story is made richer by the presence of Happy Chandler, governor of Kentucky. What a happy thing that he was named Happy! It added to the appeal of the story that the governor with such a nickname was so Happy that he did something unexpected.

Unexpected. The story is interested because of the governor’s unexpected reaction. Stories of last-minute wins are commonplace, even if in the moment it feels like a miracle. By itself, Red Hagan’s shot isn’t remarkable enough to include in a book like this. But add to that the unexpected hammer and nail, and it becomes a remarkable story of a fan who wanted to acknowledge a miraculous shot. That’s why this story made it into the book’s introduction, surprise.

Research and document all your research; but while you’re researching, think fiction techniques. And your nonfiction article will become an interesting story that both informs and entertains.

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3. Multiple POVs

How to handle scene transitions when you have more than one point of view. 


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4. Writing in Scenes

Author Nancy Kress shows how to write your novel scene by scene. 


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5. Cause and Effect

How to build your story through a series of causes and effects. 


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6. Self-Editing Scenes

In addition to self-editing your overall book, you also need to examine it scene-by-scene.


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7. Opening Lines, Scenes, Chapters: Best, Worst, Fix Them, Write Them

Today is a compilation of previous posts on the topic of how to open a story or novel. These are among the most popular posts here on Fiction Notes, so I gathered them in one place for you.

  1. 12 Ways to Open Your Story: The Story in Miniature
  2. First Page: An Editor Discusses Why It Is Important
  3. Prophetic Openings: How to Set Up the Ending at the Start
  4. Openings: 5 Ways they Go Wrong
  5. How to Improve Your Weak Opening
  6. SCENE 19: Special Scenes: Openings
  7. 4 Goals for the Opening Chapters of Your Novel
  8. Just Write It: Stop Second Guessing until You Revise
  9. 9 Tips on Opening Lines & Opening Chapters of Your NaNoWriMo Novel

Goodreads Book Giveaway

Wisdom, the Midway Albatross by Darcy Pattison
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8. Cutting Scenes

How to decide which scenes can and should go when you revise. 


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9. Think Like a Writer: TOC

We’re done! But I thought you might like a re-cap and a table of contents.

The 31-day Think Like a Writer series challenges writers to write at least 750 words each and every day for a month. I used the website 750words.org, but you can do it with pencil and paper or on your computer. These creative writing prompts are meant to be “morning pages” or practice in Thinking Like a Writer.


  1. Observe the world around you
  2. Observe Sensory Details
  3. Noses: Observe Characters
  4. Make Your Characters Move
  5. How to Create a Mood with Sensory Details
  6. Discover Your Passions
  7. Be Mean to Your Character
  8. How Old is Your Character?
  9. Subtext: What is this story really about?
  10. Write in Scenes
  11. Give Your Character Something to Hold
  12. Emotion from a Photo
  13. 3 Ways to Handle Time in a Novel
  14. Titles that Readers will Love
  15. Make an Image become a Symbol
  16. What what you are SCARED to write
  17. Everything is Worse and Worse
  18. Writers Need to Whine Sometimes
  19. Found Object Stories
  20. Set the Scene: Panorama
  21. Set the Scene: Zoom
  22. Set the Scene: Scan
  23. Omniscient POV
  24. 1st Person POV
  25. 3rd Person POV
  26. Different Perspectives for Different Audiences
  27. Before and After: Reveal Character
  28. Secrets and Letters
  29. The Other Side of the Story
  30. Unlovable Characters

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10. Review: Let's Count to 100! by Masayuki Sebe

Bright and colorful animals and children invite your child to count, count, and count some more as you explore this book full of numerous scenes. Click here to read my full review.

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11. Scenes

Tips to bring your scenes to life.


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12. The Best Laid Plans

I think I got over-ambitions with my recovering foot.  I did not accomplish everything on my list in my last post as soon as I meant to. Over about three days, I did get those three poems sent out, and I rewrote a short story for a fiction contest and entered it. I did visit websites, etc. for agents I want to send my MG mystery to, and made my list.  And then I just got plain tired.  I will spare you the details of foot excercises three times a day, 20 minutes each time.  But those exercises, plus walking around a little, really wore me out.

So, I've been reading again.  Not fiction, because I think I reached "fiction glut" rather than "reader glut" last week.  Instead, I've been re-visiting books on the writing craft and doing some more research for my current WIP under revision, my MG ghost story set in 1919 Sacramento. My characters are Irish-Americans, so I've been especially soaking in anything Irish, and the book I just finished reading (and thoroughly enjoying) is Thomas Cahill's How the Irish Saved Civilization, a wonderfully written account in a style that makes history truly exciting to read.

The writing books I've been poring over are: Self-editing for Fiction Writers, by Renni Browne and Dave King, and Novelist's Essential Guide to Crafting Scenes, by Raymond Obstfeld.  The latter is really for writers of adult fiction, but, except for the chapters on murder mysteries and sex scenes, the advice and examples are superb for children's writers as well.  Both books are good.  I've read them before, they are part of my library, but you never can revisit a good book on the writing craft too many times.

So, now the foot is better, the energy is back, and it's forward and on to my revision of Granny's Jig, and query letters for Imogene and the Case of the Missing Pearls -- although my computer time will be in smaller doses for a few days. (I have learned my lesson.)
Hope all

7 Comments on The Best Laid Plans, last added: 8/16/2011
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13. Chapters Vs Scenes

First off, Lacey was interviewed! Read her interview at Simon Hay's blog!

So I was reading this awesome post at QueryTracker about writing a synopsis and the section on chapters got me thinking.

I don't write in chapters. My brain doesn't understand them. Like, literally - I find it confusing how sometimes a chapter can take place over a period of three days, and another time a chapter ends in the middle of a scene and the next chapter picks up at the exact same place. I can't find the pattern.

I think in scenes and scene sequences - thanks to all my film and screenwriting education, I guess. My first ms is a dual narrative and for the most part each "chapter" is one complete scene or sequence.

H.L. Dyer says at QueryTracker, "Each chapter, like a novel, should have a beginning, middle, and an ending."

This makes sense to me, and I think this is true of my scenes and scene sequences, they are just generally too short to be considered a "typical" chapter. I'm also a fan of the short chapter in fiction, so maybe that says something about me and my writing.

As I'm in the planning stages of my next book, I'm finding the chapter issue interesting. This book will have one narrator and so switching chapters at the end of each scene doesn't quite work with how I want this book to be.

I don't outline, but I do make note of all the major scenes I know need to happen, as well as my beginning through to the inciting incident, and my ending. I'm fascinated by people who use chapter outlines, and know exactly what will be in each chapter when they sit down to write.

I don't know how they do this. But then I also tend to be more fluid with my scenes. I will switch them around and re-order them in order to best build tension, make motivations clear, and keep the story moving forward.

At this point, I feel certain that I will have to write first and separate into chapters later. I will probably but in chapter breaks in places where it feels right, but other than that I won't know where a chapter ends and the next one starts until I finish the story.

What about you? Do you know exactly what your chapters will entail? Do you think in chapters or scenes? Does anyone else split and number chapters after they've written the book? Am I crazy?

8 Comments on Chapters Vs Scenes, last added: 3/23/2011
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14. Tracking with a Timeline

By Julie Daines

Keeping track of timing when writing a novel can be tricky. Using a timeline can help you remember what happened when, and other details that add continuity to writing.

A typical timeline for me consists of the following:

The time of day events occur, including the specific date, day of the week, and the duration of those events or scenes. Even though most of that detail never makes it into the story, I refer to it frequently to make sure I’m not stuffing too much into one day while leaving other days mostly empty. I check the timeline to make sure scenes are occurring in a natural way. It helps when my characters refer to events that have happened in the past, I can easily remember when they occurred. Keeping a timeline helps ground the story in real time and draw the reader in.

The weather. I keep track of the weather so when I’m writing about events that occur at the end of the day, I maintain continuity in the weather.

What the characters are wearing. Again, this is usually a detail that doesn’t make it into the book, but just in case I want to refer to it, I can easily remember. This includes what items they have with them, if they are traveling or something.

Sometimes I indicate on my timeline emotions or paradigm shifts that my main characters have, just to see if the timing feels natural. It also helps when revising a scene to look at the timeline and remember whether this scene is before or after a certain emotional moment.

I find the timeline very useful in writing, but it comes in handy especially during the revising process. It saves me a lot of time when I need to remember what happened when. Keeping track of scenes like this also helps me notice if I have repetitive scenes or if the cycle of events is becoming formulaic.

I know this is basic stuff—writing 101. But if you don’t do this, give it a try. It’s makes a difference. 

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15. Brainstorming

Every few months I meet a friend for lunch, and, over sandwiches and multiple cups of coffee, we discuss our works-in-progress and the vicissitudes of this crazy writing life.Each of us works alone, so it’s good to brainstorm a bit, offering encouragement to each other in the way that only other writers can provide support for one another when they step away from their desks for a few hours.At

1 Comments on Brainstorming, last added: 5/27/2009
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16. The Beauty of Layers

I mentioned layering moments in a scene on one of my writing listservs so I thought I would go into more detail in this post. To help me learn structure in novels, I’ve been analyzing some of my favorite books.

Right now, I’m analyzing The Hunger Games because it’s a great mix of a plot and character. This novel also incorporates the 3-act structure, which I love. The main thing I’ve learned is how author Suzanne Collins layers her moments. It’s fascinating when you break it down.

Here’s an example from a layered moment from Chapter 5.


“Sorry!” she pipes in her silly Capital accent. “You’re just so hairy!”

Venia makes what’s supposed to be a sympathetic face. “Good news, though. This is the last one. Ready?”

Baseline now layered with action:

R-i-i-i-p! I grit my teeth as Venia, a woman with aqua hair and gold tattoos above her eyes, yanks a string of fabric from my leg tearing out the hair beneath it. “Sorry!” she pipes in her silly Capital accent. “You’re just so hairy!”

Venia makes what’s supposed to be a sympathetic face. “Good news, though. This is the last one. Ready?” I get a grip on the edges of the table I’m seated on and nod. The final swathe of my leg hair is uprooted in a painful jerk.

Baseline now layered with action and protagonist thoughts:

R-i-i-i-p! I grit my teeth as Venia, a woman with aqua hair and gold tattoos above her eyes, yanks a string of fabric from my leg tearing out the hair beneath it. “Sorry!” she pipes in her silly Capital accent. “You’re just so hairy!”

Why do these people speak in such a high pitch? Why do their jaws barely open when they talk? Why do the ends of their sentences go up as if they’re asking a question? Odd vowels, clipped words, and always a hiss on the letter s…no wonder it’s impossible not to mimic them.

Venia makes what’s supposed to be a sympathetic face. “Good news, though. This is the last one. Ready?” I get a great on the edges of the table I’m seated on and nod. The final swathe of my leg hair is uprooted in a painful jerk.

This is just a simple example. With other moments, you could also break down layers including setting, background information, and/or flashback.

When you break a moment down like this, it really can help with your own writing—especially during revisions. If you find your scene is weak, you can go back and add layers to deepen moments. This is the beauty of layers.

You should try it with your own favorite novels and see if you can break down the moments into layers.

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17. Chapter One

Current word count: 16,822

Words written today: 394

Words til goal: 23,178 / 367 words a day til the end of September

Additional writing: revised two chapters in first novel. Now on chapter 20 of 33.

Yesterday I said that, as well as working on my new book, I have been revising my original novel, especially the opening chapter. In fact, I moved a lot of parts around so that a scene in chapter two became the new opener, a scene from the original chapter one was placed in the new chapter two, and 4,000 words were cut. The opener of this book has had more facelifts than Joan Rivers (ok, maybe not that many, but close :) ), but this is normal, especially for the opening scenes.

To me, chapter one is the most important parts of a book, because it has to draw in the reader. The first few sentences have the biggest job of all. After chapter one, the second most important part of a manuscript is every other sentence, because each one has to keep the reader turning pages, and those at the end must resonate with the reader enough that he or she will want to treasure that book, recommend it to friends and seek out more by the same author. But that’s all after the reader has been enticed by chapter one.

There’s a generalization that most of the time, what’s written in chapter three is really the best start for the story because it takes a while for the writer to get into the story. This was very true for this manuscript. As this opener has had so much work done on it, I thought it would be interesting to detail it for you guys:

First draft of chapter one: POV not protagonist’s; scene showed the discovery of an item that is the reason for the protagonist to move.

Second draft of chapter one: same reason for scene but I tried a different POV, again not the protagonist (he can’t be in this scene). The reason I tried this second version of basically the same scene was because the first version was in an adult’s POV and I thought it would be better in a kid’s.

Third draft of chapter one: at a writer’s retreat, an agent suggested I use the same POV throughout, which meant I couldn’t use the item discovery scene as my protagonist couldn’t be in that scene. So my old chapter two, in which the protagonist is back home and first learns about them moving, became chapter one. This scene was reworked about three times for action as I got to know the character, but I’m not including them as individual drafts here.

Fourth draft of chapter one: In my new chapter one, my protagonist learned about them moving, but in chapter two he learned more about it as he eavesdropped on his parents talking, then in chapter three they moved. In the fourth draft, I realized that the story doesn’t start until they get to the new place, so I cut down all that back story to a couple paragraphs (at least it ended up being a couple paragraphs after many edits) and put it in chapter three, which became my new chapter one.

NOTE: All of this was before I had even finished the book! It was around this time that I got more dedicated, starting writing every day, and decided to forge ahead to the end of the book before I did any more editing.

In subsequent drafts of the full novel, the chapter one didn’t change too much from that fourth draft, except getting tighter and using better word choices. Until…

Fifth complete draft of chapter one: This was my latest reworking of the section, in which chapter two (technically, I think it would have been the original chapter four) became chapter one. Now in the opening scene, he has already moved in and is starting to explore his surroundings, the surroundings that bring him into the story.

I haven’t listed all the little word, sentence structure revisions that have been done in the various chapter ones. This lists just the major reworkings. But rest assured, there were numerous revisions for writing.

This kind of reworking is not unusual. Each story is different, and every time you write a new story, it will be different. But working on finding the best opening scene can take multiple tries. But it’s important work, necessary work. Many readers won’t buy a book unless they’ve read the first few pages and want to read more. I’m like that, and I know I’m not alone. If I’m interested in the title, I’ll read the jacket copy, and if I’m interested in the jacket copy, I’ll open the book and read the first few pages. If I’m not bored, I’ll buy the book. So, to satisfy readers like myself, I have to make sure that those opening pages really sing.

In my critique group a few weeks ago, a member of the group brought in his third revision of his chapter one and he sighed — with a smile — saying he didn’t think it would be his last revision. No, it won’t be. But that’s ok. It’s part of the process and part of the journey of writing the story. As I wrote all those chapter ones that eventually got cut, I learned about the characters. I now know more about the characters than what’s in the final book, and I think that’s the way it should be.

So, if you’re on your third and fourth version of your chapter one, don’t worry, you’ll find the perfect opener, even if it takes a few more drafts. The important thing is to keep trying.

How’s your writing or revising coming?

Write On!

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18. Compress Novel

4 Ways to Slim Down Your Novel

After reading over the first section of the novel that I’ve just revised, I realize that I want to cut some of it. It’s not bad the way it is, but cutting 10-20% will help.



Beats. One way to do this is to look at the individual beats or actions within a scene. Is each one necessary? Can I shorten each scene in the novel by 10%?

Cut scenes. I also realize that I might could cut one small scene entirely. The problem is that this scene is in the alternate POV, so if I cut it, then I have to give this character a different POV-scene.

Combine scenes. I don’t want too much going on in one scene, it needs to stay focused. But there might be one or two scenes that don’t have a sharp enough focus in this novel. If I take the narrative parts, information that needs to be given to the reader, and put that into other scenes, spread it around, I might be able to eliminate a scene.

Brisker Prose, Please. One critiquer of a novel manuscript asked for, “Brisker prose, please.” This is partly using great verbs, cutting adjectives, etc. But it’s also about writing tighter overall.

Related posts:

  1. Writing a Novel in Scenes
  2. 3 Ways to Salvage a Scene
  3. Big Scenes

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19. 25 scenes in 25 days

Where has the month of October gone?

This year in many ways has been very LONG. When I think about all the things that have happened, 2009 stretches miles long. But then when I think of it in other ways, 2009 has flown by leaving me breathless wondering where the time went.

My goal for October was to finish my Act 1 revision. I’ve gotten some headway but I’m not finished so I don’t think I’m going to make my goal.

I would usually say “That’s okay.” But really it isn’t. I believe that I must be more diligent with myself. I need to be my own drill sargent. Because really I need to start meeting some deadlines.

So, I’ve decided to embark on 25 scenes in 25 days. That’s a scene a day. I need focus and I think tackling these scenes on a daily basis will help me get this Act 1 into shape. And even with my hectic work schedule, I should be able to carve some time to revise a scene. I’m sure to revisit these scenes again during the next revision round, but at least for this round, I can do it and move on to Act 2, which by the way has approximately 36 scenes.

So from October 24th until November 17th, I will concentrate on one scene per day.

I’ll keep you posted on my progress on Revision Update Wednesdays.

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20. Plot, Plot Layers, Subplot

OK, you’ve narrowed down your story to a plot template and you know what characters, events, settings are implied by the story you are thinking about and the plot template. You know some of the pitfalls of plots. Now what?

It think this is the hardest part of plotting a novel, going from generalities to particulars, actually choosing and writing scenes. But you have to make a start, so let’s get to it.

Working Methods

Plan or write. Plan first or write and see where it goes? Oh, the perennial question! I’ll dodge it, though, by saying you must follow your own bent. Find your own working methods and habits of working that produce pages that lead to a full draft of a novel.

However! IF you usually just start in writing, TRY planning each scene. IF you usually plan each scene, TRY just jumping into the writing. Every once in a while, it’s great to break your pattern of working and see what happens. Shake yourself up! (I suggested this once at a national conference and got several notes later that this was the best advice the writers had ever taken, the resulting novel was the best she had written – so try it!) If the results are disappointing, you can always go back to your original methods of writing your novel.

It just depends. But I just avoided the question again of what to write first, second, third, etc. And here’s where the answers get frustrating: it just depends. Not knowing your genre, audience, voice, characters, setting, plot template – I simply can’t say. But I can give general guidelines.

Try to write in scenes. A scene is a unit of story that is self-contained, in that it has a beginning, middle and end; it has a goal and a resolution (either tragedy or success); it plays a role in the story. Writing in scenes adds tension to a story and keeps the writing focused. (MUST you write in scenes? No. Yes. It depends. If you’ve never done it, try it!) This is easy advice to ignore; I did it for many years and my writing suffered. More on the anatomy of scenes tomorrow.

Working Attitudes

http://www.flickr.com/photos/wallyg/2322425260/Don’t be boring! Try to build in surprises. Bored readers won’t finish your story.

  • Scene cuts. With each new scene or chapter, stop and think about what is expected next. Don’t do it. Instead, jump ahead a bit more than expected.
  • Leap-frog story lines. Or leave a character in the middle of a crisis and leap frog to another character where you get us involved emotionally, before leap-frogging back to the first story line.
  • Ground your novel in physical, sensory details. In the scene’s opening, set the scene, especially the emotional tone. Do this by careful selection of sensory details and the specific words you use to describe what is happening.
  • Focus on emotions. Always remember to make us care about a character before springing danger.

Don’t be cliched! Brainstorm like crazy. Before you start a scene/chapter, list ten possible events and sequence of events. Yes. Ten. Not nine. Not eight. Ten. Force yourself to go beyond the cliche that you thought of first and go on to something different, more striking and more original.

Plot Complications and SubPlots

Depending on what source you consult, you may hear a couple terms used concerning subplots and plot layers, or extra complications for the main character. These work for me.

21. Scene Quiz: Harvard Bar Scene

Scene Quiz: From a Harvard Bar to Your Scenes

Yesterday, we talked about what you’d find if you dissected a good scene. Today, we’ll apply this information by studying a scene from the classic movie, Good Will Hunting. (Warning: Adult language) Then, you can apply it to your own scenes.

Watch this four minute scene and identify the following:

  1. What happens in the beginning phase?
  2. What happens in the middle phase?
  3. What is the turning point or focal point of the story?
  4. How does the scene end? In a disaster (tragedy), in success, or somewhere in between? At the end, what has changed for each character?
  5. What is the setting for this scene? Why is this an appropriate scene for the action that happens?
  6. What is the underlying emotions of this scene, the pulse, as Sandra Scofield calls it?
  7. List at least 3 reasons why this is a necessary scene for this story.
  8. What else do you notice about scenes by studying this film clip?

Repeat this analysis for each of the scenes in your novel.
If you want confirmation of your answers, or want to discuss the analysis, please leave a comment.

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22. Words on the craft of writing

Revision update: On chapter 21/22 out of 30. I got chapter 21 done yesterday but wasn’t truly satisfied with it, nor the beginning of chapter 22. Then at the end of the day, when I was walking our dog (a great time to think), I figured out what I think is a solution. So I’ll be trying that today. I’m not sure it’ll be better, but it can’t hurt to try.

The blogosphere has had some great posts on the craft of writing lately, so I wanted to share some of the ones I’m enjoying.

Writer Anita Nolan has been doing a series on writing in scenes, with part 1 on how to write with scenes, part 2 on the elements of a scene and part 3 on scene endings.

Andrea Brown agent Mary Kole has been giving critiques on novel beginnings on her blog. The Workshop Submission posts are really interesting, as Mary shows the writer’s work and intersperses her analysis. I’ve linked to Mary’s first post, but she has five up, so click forward to read them all. It’s very interesting.

Author Larry Brooks‘ StoryFix.com has been writing a great series on what elevates a story to greatness. In his first post, he discusses empowering ways to think about your story; the second is about the power of “arena;” the third, taking the reader for the ride of their life; fourth, your favorite “vicarious” ride; and five, variables to consider.

Write On!

2 Comments on Words on the craft of writing, last added: 3/24/2010
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23. How Might You Challenge Yourself as a Writer?


by Robert W. Walker

There are indeed many challenges a writer faces from beating back inertia to becoming redundant on the page to using the wrong tack on approach to opening the story or novel in the wrong place and on and on and on. Building character is a challenge, but we must have in our lead role, our star character fully-realized; we are challenged to live with him or her for a long time, but we take that challenge to make this character special as the more we know him or her, the more easily manipulated along a storyline. We are challenged too by plot, and many of us find this far harder to come to terms with than character, yet a fully realized character can suggest or imply a plot.

I challenge myself with each book I write. I challenge myself by doing a setting that is for me exotic—that is out of my safety zone as I may never have been there.

I challenge myself by creating a character at opposite ends of the spectrum than myself – say a female Medical examiner and FBI agent or an 1893 Inspector in Chicago or a pair of interns on the Titanic.

I challenge myself often with a storyline that is meant to tease the reader into thinking one thing but second guessing himself at the same time.

Most recently, I have challenged myself to set up a novel with two separate storylines running simultaneously in two different time “zones” – one in 1912, the night Titanic went down, and the other one hundred years later with divers capable of working two and a half miles below the surface and swimming into and through Titanic’s interiors in 2012. This was indeed a huge challenge but oddly enough, I based my structure and desire on none other than the film and book Fried Green Tomatoes. It may sound at odds but I wanted to duplicate my own feelings coming away from that story – that I at once wanted to be in the past story and the present story each time I was inside the other story than the one I wanted to be in; in other words, each storyline was compelling. So my challenge to myself was to make each storyline so compelling as to make the reader want to return to BOTH whenever he or she was in past (wanting to get back to present), and in present (wanting to get back to past).

So what sorts of challenges do you set for yourself as a writer? Would love to hear about them here. I know if you write, you face umpteen challenges but at times one might have been particularly prickly and you might be so proud that you met it and overcame it well. So let’s hear about that!

Rob Walker

3 Comments on How Might You Challenge Yourself as a Writer?, last added: 9/17/2010
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24. Terabithia’s Hero’s Journey

Using the Hero’s Journey to Plot

WritersJourneyAt the Michigan SCBWI conference two weeks ago, I was asked to teach about the Hero’s Journey. Taken from Joseph Campbell’s classic work on folklore, the hero’s journey is a classic paradigm for plot, especially for quest stories. The best book for studying the hero’s journey is The Writer’s Journey by Christopher Vogler.

bridgeWhile we usually see the hero’s journey used for a quest story, it can be used in many other types of stories, including contemporary children’s stories. Here’s my take on how The Bridge to Terabithia fits into the Hero’s Journey. I doubt Paterson was thinking about this paradigm as she wrote; but it’s a classic paradigm that can shortcut your plotting process and give you something great to work with.


OPENING or BRIDGING CONFLICT: Jess wants to run, but his family doesn’t appreciate him.
Main Supporting Character hinted at: new family moving into Perkin’s old place.

Jess wants to do art, as supported by (Mentor) Miss Edmunds, but his family doesn’t think it’s worth his time to pursue.

Meets Leslie and the first week of classes, she beats all the boys at running. (Notice that Leslie doesn’t enter the story until chapter 3! The Ordinary World is often slighted by beginning writers and this is an excellent example to study for the importance of this stage.)


Jess and LeslieAfter the race Leslie tries to befriend him, telling him he’s the “only kid in this durned school worth shooting,” but he brushes her off brusquely, telling her, “So shoot me.”


The one bright spot on the horizon is Miss Edmunds’s weekly visit to the school.


Leslie admits to class that her family doesn’t have a TV. Jess wants to protect/comfort her, but can’t.


Jess supports Leslie against girl bully, Janice Avery.
Their friendship begins.


Jess and Leslie’s friendship continues to grow and deepen in the next couple of months, both in school and in Terabithia.

  • Enemies: Janice Avery has a subplot of her own.
  • Tests: Christmas gifts – Jess finds free puppy, Prince Terrin, for Leslie;

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25. Writer’s Push

I mostly write at night and some of you who follow me on Twitter already know that in the last couple of days, I’ve been struggling with the scene from hell.

**Cues scary Satanic music**

This scene is a new one for the middle of the novel based on a new plot point. The premise of the scene was a setup to get all of the major players in the novel into one place so that a major turning point occurs. Sounds simple enough, right?

But it just wasn’t working. Ugh! And the scene from hell was born.

**Demons laughing in the background**

Now this struggle could be a case of writer’s block but I was writing words for the scene — they just weren’t sounding true or right. You know that writer gut feeling that tells you what you’re working on will probably go into a WTF folder? Yeah, that was the kind of feeling I had.

I tried anyway because I’m a stubborn girl. And I tried. And I tried.

Then I just gave up. There was no use pushing this scene that wasn’t working. So I closed my file and drank a Blue Moon and lost myself in a book.

Little did I know during all this time my subconscious was working in the background. Figuring out how to make this scene better. After a few nights of good sleep, I woke up yesterday morning with a “That’s it!” moment.

Love it when that happens!

So the thing I’ve learned this week (or rather re-learned with the selective memory I have) is that I can’t push a scene where it doesn’t want to go. I need to trust my gut to let it go and just come back to it. I didn’t have a bad case of Writer’s Block but rather a serious case of Writer’s Push.

Has this ever happened to you? Have you had a case of Writer’s Push?

Would love to hear how other writers found their true words. :)

5 Comments on Writer’s Push, last added: 2/10/2011
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