Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Day 21: Solidifying Scene Structure

Day 21 of the 36 Day Challenge; the first day of Part 2, Act II and we haven't even covered scene structures yet!  So here are some tips from pro scene writer Jordan Rosenfeld to help you master the scene and create a draft strong enough to withstand even the most brutal of revisions.

Choosing to use a long or short scene has much to do with the overall ebb and flow of your storyline.  When attempting to build suspense or hold off on that pivotal payoff it would be best to use a longer scene.  Or if the previous scene left your reader breathless and reeling from a frenzy of activity a long scene can be strategically placed to slow the pace a bit and allow the reader time to digest what just happened.  Maybe you've just finished a long scene and the story needs a pickup in pace; time to employ the short scene.  The length of the scene can also help distinguish between the personalities of your characters.  A quiet, shy character, for example, will likely have a shorter scene than the long-winded town gossip who is ever-eager to share the latest news of her neighbors, family, and pet gerbil.  
    "Each scene needs to have its own beginning, middle and end.  The beginning should be vivid and memorable, and help immediately draw your reader into the scene.  Scene middles are the vast territory where the stakes must be raised, characters get caught in conflict and consequences follow that keep your plot interesting.  Scene endings, of course, set the stage for the scenes that follow, and leave a feeling or taste with the reader that should be unforgettable," (Write Your Novel in 30 Days, page 66).
    • Beginnings:  With the beginning of each new scene you have the obligation to capture your reader's attention all over again, and Rosenfeld has provided us with three techniques to do just that:
      • Character Launches begin straightway with your protagonist and help your readers feel connected to the emotion in your novel.
      • Action Launches must begin at the point of action - no preemptive explanation is necessary.  If you want to explain a character's motivations be sure to have the character reflect on them after the action has already taken place.
      • Narrative Launches are to be used in small doses; a novel beginning with narration at the exclusion of action can quickly become dull.  Narration can be useful however, if an action sequence would take up too much time and a summary will move the reader along to the real action more quickly.  It may also be necessary to actually set the action in motion, such as in stories beginning with lines like these: "'My mother was dead before I arrived.'  'The war had begun.'  'The storm left half of the city under water,' (WYNITD page 68)."  Another opportunity to begin with narration is if the character is not physically capable of acting (a person in a coma, paralyzed, etc.).
             When deciding on which style of scene opener to use, consider the following questions:
    1) Where are my characters in the plot?  Where did I leave them and what are they doing now?  2) What is the most important piece of information that needs to be revealed in this scene?"
    • Middles:  This is the time to complicate your character's life a bit further.  He began the scene with a goal or expectation, so let's find a way to up the stakes a bit:  find something your character stands to lose (or gain) and threaten to take it away (or provide it).  Will this change your character's goals for the scene?  Will he leave the scene hoping for something he hadn't known he wanted when the scene began?  
    "[To] keep your protagonist from wandering aimlessly about your narrative... give him an intention... - a job that he wants to carry out that will give purpose to the scene," (WYNITD page 69).
    • Endings:  These are the trial of how well you've nailed your scene.  Done right, the reader will have a deeper interest in the characters and plot, keeping them turning pages to find out what will happen next.  Done wrong and you've potentially just lost yourself a would-be fan.  One way to help focus your scene ending is to think in terms of a camera's zoom feature.  Zooming in allows the viewer (in our case reader) to see intimate details and be drawn more closely into the emotions of the characters.  Zooming out will provide them the opportunity for overall reflection and a chance to see how the events in the scene may color the trajectory of the story.  
    Thinking of each scene as a mini story that begins with a goal, sees the goal obstructed by new challenges, and ends with a new goal, will help focus each of your scenes and give them the purpose they need to keep your readers reading.

    MY DAY 21:  Sadly I found that my aforementioned condensed scenes weren't working too well and needed to be expanded.  So much for my previous day's work.   

    Thursday, February 23, 2012

    If You Care About Your Aspiring-Writer Friends

    I blog about grammar a lot over on my own blog. Apparently, I'm not reaching enough people. I'm hoping that all of you out there who care about your friends will share this post. Because even those people you know that don't write novels or other equally ambitious projects, still write. Facebook posts. Twitter. Emails. Texts. And various other things that drive people like me crazy.
    I wouldn't exactly say I'm a grammar freak. I make my own share of mistakes. I just happen to have "Grammar Girl" and the "Chicago Manual of Style Online" bookmarked. Several grammar books have permanent residence next to my computer. I correct my family and friends on Facebook because I get a kick out of making fun of them. And since I'm a writer, they think I have the clout to do that . . . (I won't digress into another post about misconceptions people have about writers.) 
    The great thing about writing fiction is that you can flaunt grammar rules in the name of poetic license most of the time. Like above. Did you notice the sentence fragments? (I didn't pull one over on you? You don't think "Facebook posts" is a complete sentence?) There is one thing that, if your MS crosses my desk--or my screen, I should say--I will mark with fervor. 
    Comma Splices.
    If I've edited for you, chances are you've seen the dreaded comment with two little, annoying letters "cs" over and over. Don't worry about it. I'm about to lecture now, but quite honestly, it's by far the most common mistake I see in manuscripts. There are several in the first Harry Potter book, just sayin'. Sometimes--but only when I can clearly see the reason the author punctuated the sentence incorrectly--I let it slide.
    Simply put, a comma splice is when a comma is used to split (or splice) two independent phrases without a coordinating conjunction.
    Example: I went to the store, I bought bread.
    Wrong. WRONG! . . .  (Sorry, I'm calm now.) Although the two ideas are closely related, and it's quite tempting to emphasize the relationship by using the comma as just sort of a breath between them--it's wrong. 
    If you want that close relationship use a semi-colon. I went to the store; I bought bread. Or better, reword the sentence. I went to the store and bought bread. OR When I went to the store, I bought bread. The possibilities are endless.
    I personally think "Grammar Girl" has one of the best explanations for what comma splices are and why it's better not to use them, despite the temptation to flaunt this particular rule in the name of art. Read or listen to it here
    In the mean time, stop splicing those sentences incorrectly. 

    Wednesday, February 22, 2012

    Dealing with Rejection.....

    Oh my goodness..... I missed my last blog post on here and I feel awful. I hadn't marked the rest of my calender to schedule in a writing session for this blog. I realized a couple of weeks ago that my schedule of blog posts ran out and and thought I was done.   But I'm not done....I have so much more to write.  So looking at the schedule of when I contribute, I realized that I missed an entry....but never fear I will pick it up again and continue on.

    Part of my absence was because of  me and my husband's work schedule.  It changed drastically at the beginning of the year.  So while we are making more money doing other things---I am not getting to write as much.  On top of that I was given the ax at the newspaper I wrote for every week.  Because of budget cuts, I was informed that my last column was published last Friday-- which was three weeks ago. I couldn't even write a good-bye column, it was just "That's it---you're gone".  Terrible. I wrote that column for 3 1/2 years which gave me over 200 articles on many, many topics.  It's so sad to see it end but sometimes that's what happens. 

    So what do we writers do after a difficult loss of position or rejection????  We think about it for a while, we have a good cry and then we pick ourselves up and continue writing.  I realized that I have enough material to publish another book which will be a collection of my best 100 columns and get myself out there even farther than my own county paper.  I can finish several manuscripts I had been working on for over the last year and I can rearrange my work schedule to spend more time with my family. 

    So here I am and will be writing posts to this blog to keep me on my toes and writing my best.  That's all any one can ask for..... 

    Happy Writing!!!

    Tuesday, February 14, 2012

    Who's Your Valentine?

    All around you rose petals line the walkways, chocolates rain from the sky, and violins serenade commuters on the subway.  That's right, it's Valentine's Day again.  If a bunch of gangsters being massacred in a dank Chicago garage can't rid us of this holiday, nothing can.  Yes my friends, it appears the holiday is here to stay; but if you're one of the many celebrating the season sans significant other, do not despair.  I've found you a date.  Don't worry, it's not a set up; you already know the guy.  In fact, you probably know him better than almost any man you've met.  You've been able to see into his thoughts, understand his motivations, and learn that - despite an occasional fault or two - he is one fantastic fellow.  I'm talking about your literary hero; the guy whose very name makes your heart beat a few paces quicker.  PeetaMr. DarcyGilbert Blythe - you're the lucky lady that gets to spend an entire evening curled up with him on the couch (and he won't even mind if you have garlic breath!).

    What is it about flawed fictional characters that we find so hunky?  Is it that they learn to conquer their faults in the end?  Is it that we can see what they can't - that their faults stem from some internal modesty or self-deprecation?  Or is it that, despite how many stupid mistakes they make, we know their motivations are pure?    I'd argue that it's a bit of all three.  (For tips on making a character likable check out Jami Gold's fantastic article).  

    For myself, I love a guy who is willing to sacrifice anything to do what it right.  And despite being a romantic to the core, I love a guy even more if he's ready to give up love to keep honor.  (If Jane Eyre were a man I'd be in love with her.  Instead I wish I could BE her).  Who is your favorite hero and what is it about him that makes you want to swoon?  

    Wednesday, February 8, 2012

    Good? Reads

    I love goodreads.  I really do.  And before I became an author, goodreads was purely fun times for me.  It was somewhere to find new reads, get book recommendations, and have the occasional lively discussion.
    Because I am not only a writer, I’m a reader.
    A pretty voracious one at that.
    But things have recently shifted, and goodreads isn’t always so fun for me anymore.
    It’s work.
    I try (really hard) to comment, and participate, and keep up with all of my favorite people and blogs.  Out of my 548 friends on goodreads, I know only a handful of them in real life, and I only trust about a half dozen more to give me recommendations that I might actually read.  
    The rest are mostly blogs I follow, people who share a love of the same books I do, those who have friended me, and then. . .the indies.
    (Cue evil entrance music)
    Oh, I know, I am one.
    And from the very people I should be embracing, comes the spam.
    Some days, it’s downright overwhelming.  Like sifting through a mountain of garbage to find a few true gems.
    I know we’re all looking for ways to market our book, and goodreads is all fan base,
    But goodreads is not a dating website/singles bar/street corner.
    Authors should not act like prostitutes.
    Don’t try to friend me if the only book you have listed as "read". . .is your own.
    Did you know it actually lists the name of the person who is sending me the book recommendation? So we can assume I’ve already checked out your profile, and if I wanted to read your book, I would have added it to my “to read.” Please stop “recommending” it to me.
    Once I walked into a yogurt shop, threw up on the floor, and left.  When you join a group and drop your book on the bookshelf- but never participate in any discussions. . .it’s rude.  I was eleven.  What’s your excuse?  
    Continuing to try and add me as a friend, after I’ve already ignored you (three times), is only going to make me want to report you to goodreads, and possibly flog you on the message boards.
    Please don’t flatter me in my own comments, when you’ve never actually read my book.  I can view your bookshelf. 
    I have a problem with male authors.  Call me sexist- my husband does it all the time.  I don’t read very many of them.  I don’t connect well with a male "voice," and don't usually enjoy the writing.  I’ve had thirty-three years to figure this out, so please stop trying to convince me your book will “rock my world.” (Actual message)
    Now, I’m not a “reader” blogger- I’m an author- so I know some of you bloggers out there must have some of your own pet peeves. . .let ‘em rip.

    Thursday, February 2, 2012

    Romance Is In The Air

    Valentine's Day is coming up. Most of you probably don't need reminded about that. My husband does, but probably not you. I actually don't consider myself a "romance" writer, although it's an essential element in most of my stories. I usually write YA, so I can get away with awkward romantic scenes. Luckily, when I want to un-awkward a scene, I have a friend named Tracy who can smooth it all out. Last year she taught me something very important about romantic scenes. If you want your reader to feel it, use all five senses.
    The scene started out like this:
    “Hopefully that will make up for my despicable behavior as your friend.” Adam said, guilt still evident in his voice. I wondered how long it would be before that wore off.
    I leaned forward. “I’m sure I overreacted,” I conceded. It took me a moment to realize that my hand was resting on his knee. I blushed, and started to pull it back. He put his hand on top of mine, stopping me for a moment. I looked up at him and met his eyes as he raised them from his own gaze on his leg. He leaned forward and my heart jumped into my throat the moment I felt his lips.
    The spell was broken sooner than I was prepared for. Adam jerked away from me with more 
    force than I could have ever expected. I nearly fell forward into his lap, and I flushed a deep, 
    deep scarlet as I righted myself and sat back, leaning away from him. 

    Sort of . . . blah. I don't really care about the scene and I wrote it! But then it became this:

    “Hopefully that will make up for my despicable behavior.” Adam still sounded guilty. I wondered how long it’d take to wear off.
    I leaned forward and caught a whiff of his cologne. The fact that I recognized the smell so quickly both startled and soothed me. “I’m sure I overreacted,” I said, embarrassed about my tantrum the night before.
     It took me a moment to realize I’d rested my hand on his knee. I froze and stared at it. My hand seemed to ignite. The blood rushed up my arm, to my heart, spreading and warming me. It rose into my face, burning it with embarrassment. Everything about me seemed to center on that moment. Could he feel the warmth? I finally started to drag my fingers backward, reluctant to lose contact with the electric, but blissful feeling.
    Adam curled his fingers over my hand. My gaze jerked up. He stared at our hands, almost transfixed, like he never noticed how nicely my fingers fit inside his. How good it would feel to pull my hand inside his and hold it…
    Okay, maybe that’s what I was thinking.His gaze rose to meet mine. The stillness in the quiet house intensified. Everything seemed to disappear, leaving Adam and I alone. Did every girl get lost in Adam like this? Did he make their heart pound and burn, but love every second of it? When would I wake up and realize I dreamed it all up?His eyes seemed to smile. Almost like he’d waited for this moment. Could that be true? The burning that started in my hand took over. He leaned closer. I saw so clearly the sharp edge of his jawbone, smooth, tanned.  I couldn’t resist reaching up to run my fingers along it. His lips brushed across mine, like the prelude to something amazing. I closed my eyes. My heart stalled. I stopped breathing. My entire world froze in that moment.
    Okay, so I'm probably a bit biased, but this version? This version rocked! All the same things happened, but showing how Bek reacts using every sense blew it all away. Sometimes, despite knowing it all, I blush a little when I read it. I know some amazing romance writers. The best ones help you feel the tension, make your heart race and thud with the characters, or long for the first kiss.

    And in honor of Valentine's Day, I'm recommending a couple of my favorites that do just that. "Friends & Foes" by Sarah M. Eden and "Maid to Match" by Deeanne Gist.