Showing posts with label writing scenes. Show all posts
Showing posts with label writing scenes. Show all posts

Sunday, August 29, 2021

How to Write Vivid Scenes: Connecting Scenes

Check out Chris's Haunted Series:
The Ghost on the Stairs, The Knight in the Shadows,
The Riverboat Phantom,
and The Ghost Miner's Treasure


We welcome prolific author for children and adults, and editor, Chris Eboch, who has graciously agreed to share her three-part series of How to Write Vivid Scenes, from her book Advanced Plotting. Part 1 appeared last month: How to Write Vivid Scenes, Part 1. This month we present Part 2, and next month: How to Write Vivid Scenes: Cause and Effect.

Each Scene is a Mini-story with its Own Climax

Each scene should lead to the next and drive the story forward, so all scenes connect and ultimately drive toward the final story climax. 

A work of fiction has one big story question — essentially, will this main character achieve his or her goal? For example, in my children’s historical fiction novel The Eyes of Pharaoh, the main character hunts for her missing friend. The story question is, “Will Seshta find Reya?” In The Well of Sacrifice, the story question is, “Will Eveningstar be able to save her city and herself from the evil high priest?” 

In Desert Gold (written as Kris Bock), the big story question is, “Will Erin find the treasure before the bad guys do?” There may also be secondary questions, such as, “Will Erin find love with the sexy helicopter pilot?” but one main question drives the plot.

Throughout the work of fiction, the main character works toward that story goal during a series of scenes, each of which has a shorter-term scene goal. For example, in Erin’s attempt to find the treasure, she and her best friend Camie must get out to the desert without the bad guys following; they must find a petroglyph map; and they must locate the cave. 

You should be able to express each scene goal as a clear, specific question, such as, “Will Erin and Camie get out of town without being followed?” If you can’t figure out your main character’s goal in a scene, you may have an unnecessary scene or a character who is behaving in an unnatural way.

Yes, No, Maybe

Scene questions can be answered in four ways: Yes, No, Yes but…, and No and furthermore…. 

If the answer is “Yes,” then the character has achieved his or her scene goal and you have a happy character. That’s fine if we already know that the character has more challenges ahead, but you should still end the chapter with the character looking toward the next goal, to maintain tension and reader interest. Truly happy scene endings usually don’t have much conflict, so save that for the last scene.

If the answer to the scene question is “No,” then the character has to try something else to achieve that goal. That provides conflict, but it’s essentially the same conflict you already had. Too many examples of the character trying and failing to achieve the same goal, with no change, will get dull.

An answer of “Yes, but…” provides a twist to increase tension. Maybe a character can get what she wants, but with strings attached. This forces the character to choose between two things important to her or to make a moral choice, a great source of conflict. Or maybe she achieves her goal but it turns out to make things worse or add new complications. For example, in Desert Gold, the bad guys show up in the desert while Erin and Camie are looking for the lost treasure cave. The scene question becomes, “Will Erin escape?” This is answered with, “Yes, but they’ve captured Camie,” which leads to a new set of problems.

“No, and furthermore…” is another strong option because it adds additional hurdles — time is running out or your character has a new obstacle. It makes the situation worse, which creates even greater conflict. In my current work in progress, tentatively titled Whispers in the Dark (written as Kris Bock), one scene question is, “Will Kylie be able to notify the police in time to stop the criminals from escaping?” When this is answered with, “No, and furthermore they come back and capture her,” the stakes are increased dramatically.

One way or another, the scene should end with a clear answer to the original question. Ideally that answer makes things worse. The next scene should open with a new specific scene goal (or occasionally the same one repeated) and probably a review of the main story goal. Here’s an example from The Eyes of Pharaoh:

Scene question: “Will Seshta find Reya at the army barracks?”

Answer: “No, and furthermore, she thinks the general lied to her, so Reya may be in danger.”

Next scene: “Can Seshta spy on the general to find out the truth, which may lead her to Reya?”

Over the course of a novel, each end-of-scene failure should get the main character into worse trouble, leading to a dramatic final struggle. 

Next time: Cause and Effect

Chris Eboch is the author of over 60 books for children, including nonfiction and fiction, early reader through teen. This essay is adapted from Advanced Plotting, available for the Kindle, in paperback, or in Large Print paperback. Chris is the also the author of You Can Write for Children: How to Write Great Stories, Articles, and Books for Kids and Teenagers. Learn more at https://chriseboch.com/ or her Amazon page, or check out her writing tips at her Write Like a Pro! blog.


Tuesday, July 27, 2021

How to Write Vivid Scenes, Part I, by Chris Eboch

Prolific children's and adult author, Chris Eboch

Author/editor Chris Eboch has her foot in two worlds: children’s literature, as Chris Eboch and M. M. Eboch, and as Kris Bock, in adult literature. Chris has written over sixty books for children, including nonfiction and fiction, early reader through teen. Chris’s books on writing, You Can Write for Children, and Advanced Plotting, and posts on her blogspot, Write Like a Pro! A Free Online Writing Workshop, are chock full of down-to-earth advice for authors interested in honing their craft. Chris has been a member of SCBWI-NM for many years, has served as Regional Advisor, and currently serves in a new capacity as Published Authors Coordinator. Chris takes an active part in helping fellow authors succeed. We are very fortunate to have her. Read more about Chris in my WOTM February 2019 post: "Writing Tips from Author Chris Eboch", and in my June 2020 post, “Felany Melanie: Prequel to the movie Sweet Home Alabama.

During the next three months, Chris will be sharing her expertise on “How to Write Vivid Scenes,” information that has helped me personally with my craft.  

How to Write a Vivid Scene

In fiction writing, a scene is a single incident or event. However, a summary of the event is not a scene. Scenes are written out in detail, shown, not told, so we see, hear, and feel the action. They often have dialog, thoughts, feelings, and sensory description, as well as action. 

A scene ends when that sequence of events is over. A story or novel is, almost always, built of multiple linked scenes. Usually the next scene jumps to a new time or place, and it may change the viewpoint character. 

Think in terms of a play: The curtain rises on people in a specific situation. The action unfolds as characters move and speak. The curtain falls, usually at a dramatic moment. Repeat as necessary until you’ve told the whole story.

So how do you write a scene?

  • Place a character — usually your main character — in the scene. 
  • Give that character a problem.
  • Add other characters to the scene as needed to create drama.
  • Start when the action starts — don’t warm up on the reader’s time.
  • What does your main character think, say, and do?
  • What do the other characters do or say?
  • How does your main character react?
  • What happens next? Repeat the sequence of actions and reactions, escalating tension.
  • Build to a dramatic climax.
  • End the scene, ideally with conflict remaining. 

Scene Endings

Scene endings may or may not coincide with chapter endings. Some authors like to use cliffhanger chapter endings in the middle of a scene and finish the scene at the start of the next chapter. They then use written transitions (later that night, a few days later, when he had finished, etc.) or an extra blank line to indicate a break between scenes within a chapter.

Give the reader some sense of what might happen next — the character’s next goal or challenge — to drive the plot forward toward the next scene. Don’t ramble on after the dramatic ending, and don’t end in the middle of nothing happening.

A Scene Can Do Several Things

  • Advance the plot.
  • Advance subplots.
  • Reveal characters (their personalities and/or their motives).
  • Set the scene.
  • Share important information.
  • Explore the theme.

Ideally, a scene will do multiple things. It may not be able to do everything listed above, but it should do two or three of those things, if possible. It should always, always, advance the plot. Try to avoid having any scene that only reveals character, sets the scene, or explores the theme, unless it’s a very short scene, less than a page. Find a way to do those things while also advancing the plot. 

A scene often includes a range of emotions as a character works towards a goal, suffers setbacks, and ultimately succeeds or fails. But some scenes may have one mood predominate. In that case, try to follow with a scene that has a different mood. Follow an action scene with a romantic interlude, a happy scene with a sad or frightening one, a tense scene with a more relaxed one to give the reader a break. 

Don’t rush through a scene — use more description in scenes with the most drama, to increase tension by making the reader wait a bit to find out what happens. Important and dramatic events should be written out in detail, but occasionally you may want to briefly summarize in order to move the story forward. For example, if we already know what happened, we don’t need to hear one character telling another what happened. Avoid that repetition by simply telling us that character A explained the situation to character B. 

Avoid scenes that repeat previous scenes, showing another example of the same action or information. Your readers are smart enough to get things without being hit over the head with multiple examples. If you show one scene of a drunk threatening his wife, and you do it well, we’ll get it. We don’t need to see five examples of the same thing. Focus on writing one fantastic scene and trust your reader to understand the characters and their relationship. For every scene, ask: Is this vital for my plot or characters? How does it advance plot and reveal character? If I cut the scene, would I lose anything?

Next month: How to Write Vivid Scenes: Connecting Scenes, by Chris Eboch

Visit Chris at: www.chriseboch.comhttps://www.krisbock.com/; and her Amazon page:  https://www.amazon.com/Chris-Eboch/e/B001JS25VE/ .


Tall Boots by Linda Wilson,
illustrated by 1000
Storybooks, will be
available on Amazon
next month
Linda Wilson, a former elementary teacher, has published over 150 articles for children and adults, several short stories for children, and her first book, Secret in the Stars: An Abi Wunder Mystery, which is available on Amazon. Publishing credits include biosketches for the library journal, Biography Today, which include Troy Aikman, Stephen King, and William Shatner; PocketsHopscotch; and an article accepted by Highlights for ChildrenSecret in the Mist, the second in the Abi Wunder series, is coming soon. Follow Linda on 
https://www.lindawilsonauthor.com.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Never Write an Unnecessary Scene Again

Thank you to longtime writing friend K. M. Weiland for sharing her essay that helps you identify unnnecessary scenes in your fiction. 
By K. M. Wieland

When you think of the important moments in a story, you probably think about the big scenes in which stuff happens. Characters are taking action—or having action taken against them. Somebody’s doing something that matters. There’s conflict; there’s nail-biting; there’s huge stakes on the line.

But what if I told you these are not the most important moments in your story?

The most important moments are always those that take place after the big scenes. Yes, you heard right. As crucial as character actions may be, they pale in comparison to the importance of character reactions. This is because character reactions are the measuring stick readers use to determine the true importance of a big scene

Consider this: Let’s say the volcano under Yellowstone erupts. That’s big, gosh darn it. So of course it’s important to your story. ’Nuff said. Especially if, say, your protagonist’s brother is missing in the disaster area. But then, let’s say, your protagonist hears the news and then just goes about his daily life as a mailman. He doesn’t do anything about his missing brother. He doesn’t even seem that concerned beyond his initial, Oh my, that’s horrible. Poor Samson.

Suddenly, readers are confused. Maybe Yellowstone blowing up wasn’t such a big deal after all. Maybe the missing brother isn’t important. Maybe we misread all the signs. Maybe the author just stuck in this seemingly “big” scene for kicks, even though it obviously isn’t going to have any impact on the story.

Every big action in your story needs to garner an equally big reaction from your characters. Otherwise the action, no matter how impressive, simply doesn’t matter.Readers will always look to your characters to gauge the importance of any scene—and if the characters aren’t reacting in appropriate measure, the readers will, at best, count that big scene as inconsequential. At worst, the jarring disharmony between their understanding of events and the characters’ response will frustrate them to the point of abandoning your book. Now just think how you’d react to that!

-------
K.M. Weiland lives in make-believe worlds, talks to imaginary friends, and survives primarily on chocolate truffles and espresso. She is the IPPY and NIEA Award-winning and internationally published author of the Amazon bestsellers Outlining Your Novel and Structuring Your Novel, as well as Jane Eyre: The Writer’s Digest Annotated Classic. She writes historical and speculative fiction from her home in western Nebraska and mentors authors on her award-winning website Helping Writers Become Authors.




Friday, February 15, 2013

Lazy Ways to Keep The Reader Hooked - The Dan Brown Secret


Guest post by John Yeoman

‘My life began when I murdered my grandfather and was arrested for improper behaviour with an ostrich.’

How can we fail to read on? When we write a story, it’s not difficult to hook the reader in the first line. Any intriguing puzzle, high moment of drama or magical touch of wordplay will get them started. The challenge is to keep the reader enthralled in our story beyond the first page.

Try this simple strategy to engage your reader from start to finish. It’s also a tested way to gain a cash prize in a top writing award.

Many a story starts with a thunderclap and ends with an earthquake but it has a long dry desert in the middle. Elizabethan dramatists didn’t bother too much about this. Ben Jonson once remarked that his audience would slip out for an ale after the first Act and only return in the last Act to enjoy the traditional bawdy jig. So there was no need to work hard on the middle, he said.

You can’t afford such complacency in a modern story. Readers will put your story down and never come back. They’ll not buy from you again.

1. Inject Uncertainty

Every episode of your story, and certainly every chapter, must end with a gentle scene hanger. It doesn’t have to be lurid. But it must tempt the reader to turn the page. It’s also a sure-fire way to impress the judges of a story writing contest.

The simplest scene hanger is to maintain a tone of uncertainty at all times. (The term ‘suspense’ literally means ‘to hang, suspended’.) Nothing is ever quite completed. At the end of every scene, the circumstances beg for explanation. The future seems always ominous or, at least, unpredictable.

If the main plot-line appears to be emphatically finished, the reader will simply put down the book.

2. Use Foreghostings

A simple way to achieve this tenor of uncertainty is to drop in ‘foreghostings.’ These are more subtle than ‘foreshadowings.’ They’re hints of future events that the astute reader will spot but the principal characters might not.

Dan Brown has mastered this trick of suspense. His success suggests that maintaining suspense is what readers principally demand of commercial fiction.  The Dan Brown secret is very simple: he incessantly shifts the scene to another scene just before the first scene reaches a climax. And in the prior scene he foreghosts each scene to come.

Scene, in this sense, means a single unit of action. To ‘change a scene’ usually means changing the characters and/or location. In Dan Brown’s The Lost Symbol, there are no fewer than 133 chapters. Each is a major scene. Within those scenes there are often several minor scenes, short episodes that switch back and forwards between characters or locations.

For example, the novel starts with Prof Langdon having been called to give an important lecture at the Smithsonian Institute. He’s racing to get there by 7pm when the lecture begins. The lift is slow. Will he make it?

The question acts as a foreghosting. We know that something odd is about to happen.

He gets to the door at 7pm exactly, straightens his tie breathlessly and walks in with a smile. And he stops. The scene closes with his thoughts: ‘Something is very, very wrong’.

What could be wrong? The reader has to wait for an answer.

The novel then cut to another scene, a teasingly long description of the Smithsonian’s architecture. Meanwhile, the reader is lusting to know: what was so wrong about the lecture room?

3. Cut A Scene Before the Climax

Just when the reader’s patience is at a breaking point, Dan Brown’s story cuts back to Prof Langdon. He’s still looking at the room. It’s empty. His invitation to the conference has been a hoax. But who is the hoaxer? And why has he done this?

Brown’s gambit is to cut a scene just before a moment of high tension, switch to a long episode of dry description or seemingly irrelevant dialogue to tease the reader, and then return to the moment of high drama. It’s like a tango: one step forward, three steps back.

The reader soon learns to expect this formula. Brown’s skill is in persuading the canny reader that, nonetheless, the revelation will be worth the wait. His revelations are usually unpredictable and even more interesting than the reader expected.

Of course, there are many ways to sustain suspense in a story but the Dan Brown tango is a proven formula. Apply it to a story that’s even better written than The Lost Symbol and you’ll have a winner.

What techniques do you use in your story to keep the tension high?

Dr John Yeoman, PhD Creative Writing, judges the Writers’ Village story competition and is a tutor in creative writing at a UK university. He has been a successful commercial author for 42 years. A wealth of further ideas for writing fiction that sells can be found in his free 14-part story course at:
http://www.writers-village.org/story-class

Dr John Yeoman has 42 years experience as a commercial author, newspaper editor and one-time chairman of a major PR consultancy. He has published eight books of humour, some of them intended to be humorous.




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