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A scene is more than just the background of your novel. A scene is everything that happens in the reader’s mind as it relates to your novel.

Two Basic Scene Types

Scene writing is the most integral, and obvious part of any story, but it is also overlooked and the least understood part of storytelling. First, type of scene is the scene proper. The second type is called the sequel.

Scene Building Blocks

Each scene follows a specific structure. At its heart, the arc of the scene is the same as that of the larger story structure exhibited over the course of the book: 1. Beginning which is the Hook. 2. The middle which is where the scene develops and finally there is the end or the climax of the scene.

What is the Scene’s goal?

Possible scene goals are endless, but very specific to your story. Your character can want anything in any given scene, but within that universe of options, you must narrow down the desires expressed within your scene to those that will drive the plot. Everything else needs to be cut and either discarded or put elsewhere in the novel where it becomes an integral part of that scene. What information do you want passed on in this scene? How can you best pass that information on? As we learned last week, that information is given in the form of narrative (or internal dialogue, action, or dialogue).

Scene Conflict Options

In the scene proper, conflict keeps your story moving forward. “No conflict, no story” because without conflict, the story comes to an end. When the character’s initial goal is stymied by conflict, it causes the character to react with a new goal, which is stymied by further conflict, which causes that person to again modify his or her goal until the goal is reached and the story ends.

Options for Disasters in a Scene

The disaster is the payoff at the end of the scene. This is what readers have been waiting for—often, with a delicious sense of dread. It answers that question: ‘What’s the worst that can happen? Or later in the story in might be to answer the question “How was he going to get out of that one?”

Scene Variations

You’ve already probably seen some successful scenes, in your own stories and in popular books and movies, that don’t seem to quite fit the proposed structure. How exactly does that work? Your scene might be something as simple as a transition scene where narrative is used to describe that time or location changed. Your scenes might not be action or dialogue, but rather it is internal dialogue which is our second main form of scene which is the sequel.

Sequel Building Blocks

The sequel—the second half of the Scene—sometimes gets shortchanged. But it is every bit as important, since it allows characters to process the events of the scene and figure out their next move.

In a sequel, a character or characters ponder what has just happened and to plan how to deal with this new information.

Options for Sequel Reactions

At the heart of every sequel is the narrating character’s reaction to the preceding scene’s disaster. This is where the author gets the opportunity to dig around inside his character’s emotional and mental processes and find out what he’s really made of.

Sometimes the sequel reaction is not just the reaction of the protagonist, but the reaction of everyone involved and their decision on how to move forward as a group.

Sequel Dilemmas Options

Once your character’s first emotional response to the previous scene’s disaster has passed, he will have to get down to the all-important business of thinking about what he’s going to do next. The previous disaster has left him in quite a pickle. It was a catastrophic declaration. The character or characters now respond with, “What do I (we) do now?”

Sequel Decisions Options

The most instinctive of all the sequel’s building blocks is the decision. This third and final piece of the sequel grows out of the character’s dilemma and leads right into the next scene’s goal. The decision is the little cattle prod on your story’s backside that keeps it moving.

Variations on the Sequel

Sequels, even more than scenes, offer all kinds of flexibility. To help you realize the possibilities of the sequel, let’s take a look at some of the common variations.

The key to getting a sequel is in the emotions that are portrayed in the sequel. In the sequel, you’re expressing how what happened in the scene affected the POV character. You can do this in several different ways. You can do it through description and narration. For instance, you could tell the reader that the POV character was elated by the event. You can do it through an internal monologue with the POV character telling you that he feels sad and hopeless, or you could do through dramatization like the POV character showing anger by punching a wall. Finally, you can show how the person is feeling by giving away the tone of how he’s feeling by using elements of the setting and weather. For instance, a strong sequel might be shown after a fire that burns down the POV character’s home, as the fire trucks are pulling away, it begins to rain and the POV character is soaked to the skin with someone else coming up to him and putting a blanket around his shoulders and leading him out of the rain.

At first, scene development can be a subject that takes a while to fully grasp and, as a result, can spawn all kinds of questions. However, once authors grasp scene structure, the whole approach to storytelling becomes clearer and more refined and easier to navigate.

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To get a scene right, it takes a balance in narrative, character interspection, action, and dialogue.

Want to write the best novel ever? Wouldn’t you love to write a book that a reader couldn’t put down?

Part of the skill needed for this to happen is to have a compelling story, but another part of it involves balancing these three elements of fiction: dialogue, narrative, POV character introspection, and action.   

This is an intuitive process, and you probably didn’t think about how you wove these elements when you were writing that first draft, however, now that you’ve nailed your plot, your characters, and your scenes, you’re ready to zero in on these three elements as well. To do this, move inside your characters. Now, during the revision process, when reading back through the story, you can better identify with dialogue, narrative or action that overtakes the scene.

The perfectly balanced scene has a perfect pitch, like a well-balanced stringed quartet and you are the musical director.

Balance Novel Elements like a Stringed Quartet

Dialogue is like a first chair violinist who carries the melody of a musical piece. The dialogue should always be the main emphasis in a scene, however, dialogue should never be the only focus of a scene. Just as the second chair violinist, the celloist, and bass player adds depth to a scene, so also can narrative, introspection, and action.

Just as a musical score sometimes has one of the instruments do a solo portion, if you want to highlight a particular character trait in your viewpoint character or focus on something specific that the characters are talking about, you don’t want the scene cluttered, the reader distracted, or the pace slowed by action or narrative. When someone is telling you a story, the setting, the other people around you, everything just kind of fades away, and you’re intent only on what the other person is saying. You cut away action and narrative and leave only your characters’ spoken words.

If an author weaves action and narrative throughout the dialogue, slows the pace of the novel down, however, if you keep the dialogue primary to fast-paced scene of dialogue. If a scene is just dialogue, we get the full impact how life expresses itself in his life. When you isolate a character’s dialogue, if the reader is paying attention, he’ll become privy to the character’s personality and motives in a way that’s not possible in the woven scene just because there’s too much going on.

Scene Pacing

Pacing is probably the most common fiction element to address when considering how to weave dialogue, narrative and action. If you’re creating a fast-paced conflict scene between two or more people, you might do well to consider only dialogue, at least for parts of it. In this case, use action to create movement, and use narrative and introspection only when catching your breath.

The passage would be very effective without a bunch of narrative bogging down the moment. The dialogue should demonstrate a character’s feelings toward another person. Dialogue can take the protagonist pages to tell us something in narrative, whereas a scene of dialogue can quickly show us through that character’s own words said out loud. Narrative explains, and dialogue blurts out.

Similar reasoning applies when writing scenes with only narrative, character introspection, or only action. You want to focus on something in your character’s mind or describe something that would only sound contrived in dialogue, so you use straight narrative.

If the action needs to drive the scene forward because it’s intense and emotional, your characters just wouldn’t be talking during this time.

Sometimes, as in real life, there’s just nothing to say at the moment. Always, let your characters lead the story along.

Adjusting Pace

Blending dialogue, action and narrative requires finding your story’s rhythm. As you write our scenes, to help you determine what you need to do in your rewrites, consider answering these questions about your story.

Ask yourself:

Is the story moving a little too slowly, and do I need to speed things up? (Use dialogue.)

Is it time to give the reader some background on the characters so they’re more sympathetic? (Use narrative, dialogue or a combination of the two.)

Do I have too many dialogue scenes in a row? (Use action or narrative to break it up.)

Are my characters constantly confiding in others about things they should only be pondering in their minds (use narrative).

Do I need to get out of my character’s head because a conversation would be more effective? (Use dialogue.)

Does this scene have too much dialogue? Narrative? Action? (Insert more of the deficient elements.)

Do my characters provide too many artificially created background details as they talk? (Use narrative.)

Revealing Character Motive

Whether we’re using dialogue, action or narrative to move the story forward, any or all three of these elements reveal character motives. Your story’s dialogue can reveal motive in a way that’s natural, because whether we’re aware of it or not, we reveal our own motives all the time in our everyday lives. Understanding a character’s motive is to understand the character.

Get Your Copy of The Comprehensive Novel Editing Checklist

If you have a first draft that you would love to publish this year, be sure to pick up a copy of my novel editing checklist and if you haven’t already, sign up to make sure that you never miss a post of this editing series. 

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Why Your Book Description Matters

The book description is the pitch to the reader about why they should buy your book. It is the basis of the sales copy that will get them to see that the book is for them (or not), and then convince them to make the purchase.

It may seem that this article was put here out of place, but the truth is, if you haven’t already started it, now is a good time to start putting together your book description for your book either to include in your query letter to agents and publishers or to add to the back cover of your self-published book.

Remember, people are looking for a reason to not buy your book, so having a good book description is key to keeping them on the purchasing track.

How to Write Your Book Description

A good way to write a book description is to use the Hook, Pain, Pleasure, Legitimacy, Open Loop Format

1. Hook

The first sentence should be something that will grab your desired reader and make them take notice. If that isn’t right–or worse, if it’s wrong–you can lose the reader immediately, and then it doesn’t matter what the rest of the description says.

People are always looking for a reason to move on to the next thing. Don’t give it to them. Make the first sentence something that compels them to read the rest of the description. Every good book description you see is interesting from that first sentence. The idea is to focus on the boldest claim the book offers. Think if that most sensational fact or the most compelling idea.

2. Pain

In nonfiction, experts recommend that once you have their attention, then clearly describe the current pain they are in. In novel writing, the idea is similar, but instead of showing your reader’s pain, show your character’s pain. If you can accurately and realistically describe the pain of the character so that the reader empathizes with them, df, you will have them fully engaged in the description and seriously entertaining the idea of buying the book.

What pain does the character face? What unsolved problems do they have? Or, perhaps what unachieved aspirations and goals do they have? Clearly and directly articulate these, in plain and simple language. Make the situation seem impossible.

3. Pleasure

Then offer them a question about a possible solution. Done right, this creates an emotional connection by describing how the book will make the potential reader feel after reading it. Or even better, what the reader will get out of reading your novel.

Legitimacy

This is simply about letting the reader know why they should listen to you, why you are the authority and the expert that they need to hear from. This can be very short and should not be a focus of the book description. You want just enough social proof to make them keep reading.

This can also go in the hook. If there is an impressive fact to mention that should be bolded in the first sentence. Or if there is one salient and amazing thing about you or the book, that can go in the book description, something like, “From the author of [INSERT WELL KNOWN BESTSELLING BOOK.]” If you’re an unknown writer, put in something like “If you liked (a book of the same genre by a famous author,) you’ll love (title of this book). Or if your book is a cross of two genres, write something this “Where Jaws and Twilight meet.”

5. Open Loop

You state the problem or question your book addresses, you show that you solve or answer it, but you also leave a key piece out. This encourages the the reader’s interest and leaves them begging for more.

You do want to be very explicit about what your story is about, but you don’t want the plot’s solution in the description. This is to create an “open loop” that will make your reader realize that they have to buy your novel.  

Here is the description that I used in my first novel: When God Turned His Head:

Beautiful Drusilla was in love with Kanter Thorton but to protect him she was forced to marry another man. After years of abuse her husband is poisoned and all eyes are on her as the likely suspect. Only Kanter and a young lawyer named John Adams believe she is innocent. Will Drusilla finally be set free in this drama set in the backdrop of Post-puritan/Pre-revolutionary War Boston?

It makes you want to read more: After reading this description, any reader is going to keep going into the reviews and other information. You’re hooked—you want to know how the future second president of the United States is going to help solve this murder..

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Over the past several weeks, we have discussed how to move the story along through transitional means of scenes and chapters. This week, we’re going start looking at what goes into each scene. We’ll assess each scene and build them to appear realistic and draw the reader into story.

Imagine the story is part of a scene of a play. You have well developed characters in the wings ready to act out the story lines that you have ready for them. However, the stage is still bare, and the props have not yet been gathered. The characters also do not have their scripts. By the end of this month, your characters will have all of these.

This week our focus will be on the setting so get out your paint brushes and get ready to develop your story’s backdrop.

Setting

Setting is the place of story and answers the questions where and when. Writers and readers expect a story to take place somewhere and at some time.  Setting includes locations (indoors and outdoors), cities or countries or planets, era or age, time of day, and cultural milieu.

Since you have written the first draft and have developed your book this far, you have, at least, a general idea of the details of your setting. Setting is a necessity, but it doesn’t affect readers the way plot and character do, and readers aren’t drawn into the novel because of the story’s setting. However, setting does effect mood and event possibilities and character temperament. Change the novel’s setting and you create a new story.

Setting influences character type, word choice, pace, tone, even genre. Setting enhances story by enfolding plot and character in a place where they fit, where their strengths can best be highlighted. Setting helps characters and events shine, it gives them a backdrop that allows them to show what best fits the story and hide what doesn’t belong.

Writers can use setting to bolster their weak areas—bring depth to a plot-first story by introducing a setting that heightens the characters’ strengths and weaknesses. Setting can be used as a jumping off place for a dramatic action scene.

Scenes

Scenes in plays are similar to scenes in novels. If you write a short section in which something significant happens in a single setting, then it is a scene. The scene directly affects what happens later. “What happens later” is the sequel. Here is a good article on how to write perfect scenes.

Action launches tend to energize the reader’s physical senses. To create an action launch:

1. GET STRAIGHT TO THE ACTION. Don’t drag your feet here. “Jimmy jumped off the cliff” rather than “Jimmy stared at the water, imagining how cold it would feel when he jumped.”

2. HOOK THE READER WITH BIG OR SURPRISING ACTIONS. An outburst, car crash, violent heart attack or public fight at the launch of a scene allows for more possibilities within it.

3. BE SURE THAT THE ACTION IS TRUE TO YOUR CHARACTER. Don’t have a shy character choose to become suddenly uninhibited at the launch of a scene. Do have a bossy character belittle another character in a way that creates conflict.

4. ACT FIRST, THINK LATER. If a character is going to think in your action opening, let the action come first, as in, “Elizabeth slapped the Prince. When his face turned pink, horror filled her. What have I done? she thought.”

5. SAVE TIME BY BEGINNING WITH SUMMARY. Sometimes actions will simply take up more time and space in the scene than you would like. A scene beginning needs to move fairly quickly and, on occasion, summary will get the reader there faster.

6. COMMUNICATE NECESSARY INFORMATION TO THE READER BEFORE THE ACTION KICKS IN. Sometimes information needs to be imparted simply in order to set action in motion later in the scene. Opening sentences such as, “My mother was dead before I arrived,” “The war had begun” and, “The storm left half of the city underwater,” could easily lead to action.

7. REVEAL A CHARACTER’S THOUGHTS OR INTENTIONS THAT CANNOT BE SHOWN THROUGH ACTION. Coma victims, elderly characters, small children and other characters sometimes cannot speak or act for physical, mental or emotional reasons; therefore the scene may need to launch with narration to let the reader know what they think and feel.

8. ENGAGE WITH SPECIFIC VISUAL DETAILS. If your character is deserted on an island, the reader needs to know the lay of the land. Any fruit trees in sight? What color sand? Are there rocks, shelter or wild, roaming beasts?

9. USE SCENERY TO SET THE TONE OF THE SCENE. Say your scene opens in a jungle where your character is going to face danger; you can describe the scenery in language that conveys darkness, fear and mystery.

10. REFLECT A CHARACTER’S FEELINGS THROUGH SETTING. Say you have a sad character walking through a residential neighborhood. The descriptions of the homes can reflect that sadness—houses can be in disrepair, with rotting wood and untended yards. You can use weather in the same way. A bright, powerfully sunny day can reflect a mood of great cheer in a character.

Scene launches happen so quickly and are so soon forgotten that it’s easy to rush through them, figuring it doesn’t really matter how you get it started. Don’t fall prey to that thinking. Take your time with each scene launch. Craft it as carefully and strategically as you would any other aspect of your scene. Remember that a scene launch is an invitation to the reader, beckoning him to come further along with you. Make your invitation as alluring as possible.

Get Your FREE Copy of The Comprehensive Novel Editing Checklist

This is the first post in a series of blog posts about how to edit your novel. If you have a first draft that you would love to publish this year, be sure to pick up a copy of my novel editing checklist and if you haven’t already, sign up to make sure that you never miss a post of this editing series.

FREE COMPREHENSIVE NOVEL EDITING CHECKLIST

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