Posted in books, creative writing, publishing, writing, writing advice, writing thoughts

Indie Author Basics: What is an indie author and is it right for you?

What is an indie author?

An indie author is a writer who self-publishes to sell their work, who approaches publishing as a business, who retains all or most rights to their work, and who retains creative control over their work.

Authors today have many more publishing options than they have in the past. The three most common are traditional, indie, and hybrid. What are the differences between being a traditional, hybrid, and independent author?

Traditional: Contract with a publisher to have a book published. Sign over some or all rights to the work for a specific period of time. Most production decisions are made by the publisher. Publishers bear the cost of production and some marketing. Royalties are shared between the publisher, agent (if there is one), and the author.

Indie: Self-publishes all their books. Retains all rights to their work. Earns higher royalties. Author bears productions costs and marketing costs. Retains full creative control. Approaches writing as a business/career.

Hybrid: Publishes through a publisher and self-publishing. At least one book is self-published. Has a non-exclusive contract with a publisher, or self-publishes books that have been passed on/release by the publisher using a right of first refusal clause. Indie titles may be backlist books released from contracts.

When considering which option is right for you, consider some of the following questions:

What aspects of publishing can you learn to do yourself?

What aspects will you need help with?

How much of your royalties are you willing to give up in exchange for help?

How much time to do you have to commit to publishing?

How much creative/production control do you want?

What rights are you willing to give up and for how long?

There is no one-size-fits-all answer to publishing and deciding on a publishing route should be well thought out.

Next week, we’ll talk about some of the responsibilities indie author take on to build their career.

Posted in audiobook, books, classic literature, dystopian, lessons learned, writing, writing advice, writing thoughts, writing tips

Lessons Learned: Brave New World

I just finished listening to Brave New World by Aldus Huxley and there were three main lessons I took away from the book.

Those who aren’t familiar with the novel should know a few things. It was published in 1932 and is a dystopian fiction novel set in largely London and, for a brief period, in a Native American reservation in New Mexico. The story explores themes of society vs. the individual, passion vs. stability, and the price of happiness.

Lesson 1: Use unique structure purposefully

In the early chapters, Huxley has a section where the Controller is explaining the dystopian world to the reader through a tour he’s giving to research students visiting a fertilization factory.

During this explanation, there are insertions of other character’s points of view, sometimes breaking in after only a few lines or mid-sentence. At first, the style was very distracting, especially since I was listening to the book and didn’t have visual cues of the shifts. The patched together structure was interesting, though, because as the Controller is explaining the process of creating humans ideal for their society, the reader is given examples of how these methods control the behavior of individuals.

If you choose to use a unique structure in your writing, make sure there is a good reason for it, or it may only serve to confuse or distract readers.

Lesson 2: Don’t preach to readers to get a point across

I have a personal dislike for preachy books, probably because I grew up in a very religious household and had more than enough of that growing up.

If you have a particular point or philosophy you want to share with readers, do so through the characters and story and NOT by directly telling them what the right way or answer is. Let them discover the idea or answer by experiencing the story.

Huxley does this very well in this book. The Controllers and other characters do, at times, directly state the theories and philosophies of the society, however there is always a skeptical character to give the reader another point of view or at least make them question the legitimacy of the concept.

Each of the four main characters have viewpoints that differ from the main society in different ways as well, so the reader isn’t inundated with only one character’s arguments or ideas. Each character is also given a strong reason for seeing things differently, so their struggle with society feels genuine and unforced.

As the reader, there were times it was hard to decide which idea or concept was “right” or “better” because Huxley did such a good job of showing both sides of an argument. Instead of telling the reader how to think, the story asks reader to thoughtfully consider the philosophies presented and decide for themselves.

Lesson 3: An unsatisfying ending can work when the story calls for it

Just as there were times while reading that I couldn’t fully commit to one side or another of an argument or philosophy, I couldn’t really think of a way the story could end in a satisfying way because the issues were too big to be wrapped up simply and easily.

Maybe Huxley felt the same, or maybe his purpose wasn’t to provide answers (which I think is very likely), because the book doesn’t have a satisfying end in the sense that any of the issues are solved. A few of the characters find relatively acceptable ends but, for the most part, story aspects are left either unhappy or up to the reader to puzzle out.

It didn’t bother me to have the book end like this, though, because a neatly wrapped up ending where everything was solved would have felt manufactured and trite. The purpose of the novel seemed to be to get readers to think more deeply about how individuals and society have to reach a balance, what it means to be happy, whether passion and stability can coexist, and who or what should set moral and ethical boundaries.

A story doesn’t need a satisfying ending if the purpose is to leave readers unsatisfied enough to keep thinking about the problem and the possible solutions.

Posted in books, creative writing, writing, writing advice, writing thoughts, writing tips

Why worldbuilding is important in all genres

Fictional settings, whether modern in the real world, sci-fi, fantasy, or paranormal, require some level of worldbuilding.

The world your character lives in should have an impact on the story

Setting should transport the reader to that location and not feel like it could have taken place anywhere. Worldbuilding is creating a fictional world that still feels realistic.

Details make all the difference in worldbuilding, and keep a setting from feeling generic. Highlight unique and quirky elements and integrate them into the storyline and character profiles.

When worldbuilding, consider which of these will be relevant to the story:

Layout and geography, what lies beyond the immediate setting, politics, laws, and governing systems, culture and traditions, weather, local plants and animals, jobs, economy, imports/exports, history, enemies, and allies, folklore and urban legends, details only locals would know, and the hero’s feelings and opinions about the place.

All of these will affect the character’s views, way of thinking, actions, choices, and lifestyle.

Details make the difference in worldbuilding, whether high fantasy or the corner coffee shop. However, the level of detail depends on the genre.

Unless the color of every mug in a coffee shop is relevant to the story, leave it out. Developing an intricate system of magical spell-creation requires a higher level of detail so the reader can understand the process.

Details MUST be relevant, no matter the genre.

What characters eat can indicate location (coleslaw on pulled pork sandwiches in the south), income (another Ramen noodle dinner!), personality quirks (all food must be yellow), and more. Irrelevant details confuse readers and cause them to look for hints or twists where there aren’t any. Remember the advice that if you mention a gun in scene 1, it better be fired by someone by the end of the story!

Once you have the foundation and are starting to add details, do so in logical layers.

Real world example:

Choose the city relevant to the story line -> choose a professional that makes sense for the location and character -> choose a neighborhood with access to or amenities that will help progress the story -> choose frequently visited locations that provide opportunities for conversations, action, or conflict -> develop hobbies that allow for character growth, etc.

Paranormal example:

Choose a mythology base -> tweak the base to suit major plot points -> develop main powers/beasts that provide conflict between two or more groups -> develop rules for powers/beasts that keep winning from being too easy -> develop goals for each opposing group -> develop individuals goals that clash with others/the group -> develop individual power/beast uniqueness that needs to develop, etc.

In every genre there is a logical progression to worldbuilding and every element added should impact the characters and story in a meaningful way.

Incorporate details like region, weather, local plants and animals, etc. into a story to make it feel more real to the reader.
Posted in books, creative writing, writing, writing advice, writing thoughts, writing tips

Going beyond familiar story structures

Most of us are familiar with the 3-act structure, the hero’s journey, and the classic structure. They work well for many stories, but occasionally another structure is better suited.

When choosing the structure of your story, don’t immediately go to the ones you’re familiar with

Classic: Consists of 4 main sections.

1) Begin with conflict, or throw the character into a bad situation as soon as possible. This might include a life or death situation, the protagonist meeting two love interests back to back, discovering dangerous secret powers, etc.

2) Nearly all actions or choices make matters worse. Don’t give your character a break through this section. Pile on complications and conflict.

3) The hopeless, dark moment. Convince the reader the story might not end well with deep, emotional conflict that doesn’t have an easy solution.

4) Let the hero succeed. Once you’ve put your character through the ringer, give him the spark of inspiration or light at the end of the tunnel that leads them toward a satisfying ending.

In Media Res: Start in the middle of something.

It doesn’t have to be a gun fight, but it does have to have conflict and grab the reader’s attention. The HOOK is extremely important in this structure. It then follows a pattern of rising action, explanation/backstory, climax, falling action, and resolution.

The Hero’s Journey: Begins with a call to adventure/action.

The MC then meets a threshold where their transformation begins. The MC then faces challenges and tribulations, meeting a mentor and one or more helpers along the way. The MC then faces an abyss/dark moment that symbolizes death and rebirth. They should have some kind of revelation at this point that spurs real transformation and leads to atonement. The character then returns to regular life.

Seven-Point: The seven-point structure is similar to the 3-Act structure

It has added structural elements the writers is expected to follow more closely. It consists of: The hook, plot turn 1 (and introduction of conflict), pinch point 1 (apply pressure to protagonist via antagonist usually), midpoint (MC responds to conflict with action), pinch point 2 (more pressure that makes achieving the goal less likely or harder), plot turn 2 (story turns toward resolution), and the resolution (the climax).

Snowflake: Start with one central idea and add to it.

Once you have your central idea, keep adding more ideas until you have a full plot arc. This structure is based on expansion of a central theme or idea. It starts very generally and becomes more specific as the details are developed. This can be very structured (start with one sentence, expand to a paragraph, summarize each character, etc.) or be approached more fluidly.

Three-Act: Based on Greek storytelling/theater.

Specific plot elements happen in each act. Act 1: Introduce characters and setting, present the inciting incident. Act 2: Introduce a problem that grows more complex as the story progresses. Act 3: Raise the stakes, characters face challenges and growth, protagonist finds a solution.

Disturbance/Doorway: Something disturbs the character’s regular life early in the story.

Doorway 1 pushes the MC further into the story. There is no turning back once it happens. Doorway 2 brings the MC to the final battle. Again, there it no return, and it often leads to disaster before a resolution is reached.

Five Milestones: Focuses on five main plot points and leaves the detail to be more flexible.

1) The setup introduces characters and the world.

2) The inciting incident introduces the main plot concept.

3) The 1st Slap sets the stakes and introduces the larger plot. The conflict is usually external at this point.

4) The 2nd Slap makes everything worse by adding more layers of conflict and barrier to the MC reaching their goal.

5) The climax should be tied to the inciting incident and wrap up the plot arc in an exciting and memorable way. It should then naturally flow into a resolution.

Narrative: Focuses mainly on story and plot.

It is less restrictive on when and where story/plot elements occur. It also uses the Fitchean Curve of crises driving the rising action to the climax, then falling action leading to the resolution. Exposition is limited and the story focuses more on the action and crises.

For some film examples of unorthodox story structures, check out this list!

Posted in books, creative writing, reading, writing, writing advice, writing thoughts, writing tips

The problems with second person narration and directly addressing the reader

I’ve been reviewing a lot of writing samples lately for the ghostwriting company I train writers for, and I’ve noticed a trend of using sections of second person narration and directly addressing the reader quite frequently.

While second person narration can be used effectively, it’s generally not ideal for commercial adult fiction. Directly addressing the reader can be used sparingly, but it is often jarring and pulls the reader out of the story by reminding them that they’re reading a book.

Second person narration is when the story is told in the voice of an onlooker (the reader). “You are not the kind of guy who would be at a place like this at this time of the morning. But here you are, and you cannot say that the terrain is entirely unfamiliar, although the details are fuzzy.” Jay McInerney’s Bright Lights, Big City

Directly addressing the reader is when the narrator “breaks the fourth wall” and speaks to the reader directly using YOU. “Good. Now I know I can trust you. You’re curious. You’re brave. And you’re not afraid to lead a life of crime.” Pseudonymous Bosch’s The Name of this Book Is Secret

Why these are rarely used in fiction:

Directly addressing the reader is NOT a replacement for an omniscient POV. This is often used to remind the reader of something (Now, I told you this wouldn’t have a happy ending) or tell the reader what will happen next (If only she had known the cable was lose, she wouldn’t have climbed out onto it.) If a story is not being written from an omniscient POV, this is incorrectly breaking out of the POV and is jarring to the reader. Choose a POV and stick to it.

They break suspension of disbelief. It’s very difficult for a reader to suspend disbelief and feel they are immersed in the story when they are being asked questions, told direct information, or reminded that they are being told a story.

Both are extremely difficult to use correctly. To make these techniques work, they have to be done consistently throughout the story, to avoid startling the reader every time they are addressed. Few stories are suited to constant commentary from the narrator and can frustrate and tire the reader.

The use of YOU reminds readers of children’s fiction, blog posts, and self-help books. The Tale of Despereaux has a wonderful narrator voice that explains difficult words and concepts to young readers and helps them understand the story. When adult readers are directly addressed, many feel they are being condescended to or instructed on how to read or enjoy the story. Both can be major turnoffs for readers.

It is difficult to develop characters and a story that suits second person narration. The narrator is limiting to watching from a distance with second person narration. Even when omniscient, the reader never truly gets inside the characters’ heads and feels less involved in the story.

Second person narration is difficult to maintain in pieces longer than a few pages. Second person narration is tiring for readers to read. It feels like they are being asked to answer questions or be actively involved in a story rather than enjoying it as an observer.

For a list of more things readers don’t like, check out the link below!

Posted in books, characters, reading, romance, writing, writing advice, writing thoughts, writing tips

Creating memorable Meet-Cutes

One of my favorite meet-cutes is from You’ve Got Mail when the main characters meet Meg Ryan’s bookstore and Tom Hanks is explaining his complicated family situation. It leads so well into Meg Ryan realizing who he is and that his mega chain bookstore is going to put her out of business.

What is a Meet-Cute and how they can best be developed and utilized in romance?

The meet-cute is when a future romantic couple meets for the first time.

The purpose of a meet-cute is to set up a burgeoning relationship.

Meet-cutes often use awkwardness, embarrassment, or hostility and should hint at potential conflicts or barriers to the relationship as well as show the nature of the relationship. The meet-cute should also set the tone for the story.

Forms of meet-cutes include:

Bad first impression: sparks embarrassment, hostility, misunderstanding, etc. This provides immediate conflict, dislike, or intrigue.

The twist: gives one character the upper hand and presents a conflict.

The odd couple: presents differences that could be either complimentary or antagonistic depending on the situation.

While it’s okay to use a tried-and-true meet-cute (i.e. literally bumping into each other), it’s important to make it unique.

Try a unique location (car accident, painting class, etc.)

Have one character do something unexpected (doesn’t help the other up after a fall)

Involve a unique item (onions cascade off a grocery store display and hit the other’s foot)

Force the characters to interact in an unusual way (assigned seating at a movie separates one from a group due to buying tickets too late)

Bring them together during an emergency (fire alarm, witnessing a mugging, etc.)

For a little meet-cute inspiration for future projects, check out these real life stories!

Posted in books, creative writing, publishing, writing, writing advice, writing thoughts, writing tips

Matching personal writing style to each subgenre

Adapt personal writing style to a project’s genre/subgenre is an important step in getting the right tone and mood for a book. Let’s take a look at the basics styles of several popular romance subgenres.

Each romance subgenre has specific stylist elements

Contemporary Romance: tone ranges from semi-sweet to borderline edgy/dark; mood ranges from serious to light and fun depending on the story; word choice involves mild to moderate graphic descriptions of sex and violence; wordiness is moderate and scene specific; syntax is largely casual but may change when the scene calls for it.

Paranormal/Fantasy/Sci-Fi: tone is more serious and edgy; mood also tends to be more serious but can have lighter elements; wordiness is more elaborate to accommodate heavier description and worldbuilding; word choice is more complex and subgenre specific, may use profanity and have moderate graphic descriptions of sex and violence; syntax varies widely depending on the topic and scene.

Sweet/Clean: tone is lighter and sweeter but can have more serious elements; mood is softer and gentler, drawing on hope and love; wordiness varies from simple to moderate, depending on the topic and scene; word choice is mild and avoid profanity or graphic descriptions of most things; syntax ranges from casual to semi-formal.

Religious/Spiritual: tone is lighter and more “pure” but can have more serious elements; mood is softer and gentler, drawing on hope and optimism; wordiness varies from simple to complex depending on the topic, may be more elaborate to communicate beliefs/ideals; word choice is mild and avoid profanity or graphic descriptions of most things; syntax ranges from semi-casual to somewhat formal.

Erotica: Edgier/darker and more serious tone, but may have lighter or humorous tone; more indulgent, high emotion mood; word choice involves more graphic descriptions of sexual topics and encounters, uses profanity more freely; syntax and wordiness vary based on the scene but lean toward snappier wording and casual syntax.

Romantic Suspense: tone is edgier/darker and more serious; mood is high emotion and intense; wordiness leans toward concise and snappy, but can change depending on the scene; word choice ranges from moderate to graphic descriptions of sex, violence, and profanity; syntax is more serious and formal, but can vary based on specific scenes.

New/Young Adult: tone is ranges from light to more serious/dark depending on the topic and age of the characters, NA is edgier and deal with more serious topics in most cases; mood tends to be high emotion and ranges from moderate to intense; wordiness tends to be concise and snappy with specific scenes being more complex; word choice is dependent on the topic, but YA tends to have less profanity and graphic content while NA is more open to both; syntax varies from casual to serious depending on the topic, but YA leans toward less complex structures.

Historical: tone is more serious and formal; mood is also more formal and proper, though lighter elements and humor are also used; wordiness is more complex and elaborate, relying on proper and formal speech patterns; word choice is specific to the time period and region, and ranges from formal to colloquial; syntax is more complex and detailed, putting more emphasis on the construction of the phrases and sentences.

For more information on writing styles, check out this helpful article!

If you want to see what classic writer your style compare with, learn about the style of some writing greats here.

Posted in books, creative writing, date shark series, eliza carlisle mystery, someone wicked this way comes, the arcane wielders series, the destroyer trilogy, the handbook series, wicked hunger, writing, writing advice, writing thoughts, writing tips

Creating consistent and engaging tension that will keep the reader’s attention

Tension is key to keeping the reader interested!

Tension is what keeps a reader interested in the progression of the story. If the reader doesn’t feel any concern about how the story will end, they will lose interest. Below are some tactics for creating tension.

Character-related tension: When developing characters, there must be points of tension built into their character arc. This often includes goals they will struggle to reach, important consequences or stumbling blocks they will face, personality traits that lead to choices that hurt themselves or others, or backstories that create barriers to success.

In my Destroyer Series, Libby Sparks knows her inquest will reveal secrets she been trying to keep hidden her entire life. In the chapter leading up to inquest, her thoughts are consumed with what will happen once she’d revealed, and whether she’ll survive the night.

Opposing goals that create tension: A single character may have opposing goals (high profile career and stable family life), or multiple characters may have opposing goals that interfere with the other person’s goals (both want the same partner or job). This doesn’t have to be just in the form of the protagonist/antagonist. Characters involved may go back and forth between the two roles.

Sanford and Dahlia have opposing goals in the opening of Life & Being. Sanford is determined to reconnect with Dahlia and warn her of increased police activity on campus after witnessing a suspicious exchange between and another student. All Dahlia wants is to be left alone with her secrets until she can escape her father and his ever-tightening control. Their goals start to align once they both start to realize nothing either of them believed is actually true, but their early opposition creates a great deal of tension between them on all levels.

Raise the stakes: As soon as a character reaches a milestone, present a new complication to reaching the next one. There should, of course, be lulls between points of tension to give the reader a break, but the overall tension should continue to rise as the story progresses toward the climax. When outlining, be sure to pair every step toward development with a stumbling block.

Eliza Carlisle can’t get a break from the stakes being raised in any the mysteries she’s involved with. After spending five years in hiding, she comes to New York to attend culinary school (a major milestone for her!) only to realize she’s moved into the most bizarre building in the city. Just as she makes peace with the fact that she can’t afford anything else, a neighbor turns up dead.

Question-related tension: Never make the path to success or the HEA so obvious that the reader never questions it. Problems and complications should push the reader to ask how the character will resolve or overcome a challenge. A unique story arc should always have the reader questioning how the characters will reach the end, even if they “know” it will end happily.

Everything Kate says or does creates questions for Sam in Torino Dreams. Her past is a mystery, as are her sudden disappearances. Even when she finally begins to open up to Sam, more questions arise about how she can possibly survive what’s coming after her and her adopted son.

Tension though internal/external conflict: Most stories need a balance of internal and external conflict. As a character overcomes an internal conflict (establishing self-confidence), present an external one (a parent is diagnosed with an illness). Allow flaws and weaknesses to complicate the character’s path of development by letting them make bad or hurtful choices. This forces them to reevaluate themselves and their goals or priorities. External conflict takes the story out of the character’s hands, briefly, and puts the focus back on the story arc.

In The Crazy Girl’s Handbook, Greenly faces both types of conflict in order to keep the tension (and laughs) going. Argeeing to babysit her nephews puts her face-to-face with blind date she bailed on, thanks to her sister’s games. She not only has to battle her own self-perceptions and fears about relationships, the universe seems out to get her with one mishap after another, including Roman’s angry ex-wife.

Remove filler to improve tension: Evaluate scenes for their relevance and importance. Lulls in tension are important, because they give the reader time to process and think about the characters and story between points of tension, but if a scene is merely filler and accomplishes neither tension nor contemplation, it will only slow the tension to the point that readers might lose interest.

Withholding information to create tension: Only give the reader as much information as they need in a scene to understand it. Hold back enough to urge them to keep reading and get to the next scene. This is especially important with revealing backstory or mystery/suspense elements.

Uriah and Claire spend almost the entire Twin Souls series dealing with withheld information. Their tribe’s myths and legends are a part of their heritage, but they discover step-by-step that most of what they grew up believing are either lies or have been twisted to mislead. The reader leans bits and pieces along with them, unraveling the mystery of Claire and Uriah’s bond one page at a time.

Time-related tension: Putting a deadline on a goal creates an overarching tension. Don’t just set a deadline and forget about it, though. Find ways to remind the reader of the deadline AND what’s at risk if the deadline isn’t met.

Date Shark Eli Walsh is put on a deadline when his friend Ana discovers he’s falling for the woman she asked him to help by acting as her dating coach. If he doesn’t fulfill his promise to Ana, she’ll end her friendship with him and make sure Leila cuts him off as well.

Wicked Hunger, book 1 of Someone Wicked Series

Use pacing to improve tension: Be aware of pacing when considering tension. A scene only needs to last as long as it takes to relay information and provide character/story development. Start and end with action in each scene and skip the day-to-day elements that don’t add anything. Also, match the scene length to the type of tension. High tension scenes tend to be shorter and more explosive, while scenes that reveal something slowly are usually longer and build progressively.

The Someone Wicked This Way Comes Series is filled with tense battles and moments of contemplation while Zander and Vanessa Roth struggle to control their frightening powers and learn the truth of where they came from. Where the battles are intense and concise, the moments where they’re investigating or exploring their love interests give the reader time to take in the information more slowly.

Posted in books, editing, writing, writing advice, writing thoughts, writing tips

Why dialogue is more than just characters talking to each other

The purpose of dialogue is to advance the plot, communicate information, develop character voice, illuminate the theme, provide conflict, and/or change the direction of the plot.

Dialogue can be used in a variety of ways to accomplish these goals.

Be evasive

Direct Q&A between characters can get boring very quickly. Sidestep answers, be roundabout with explanations, create mystery, and make the reader question what’s being said. Dialogue is a great opportunity for teasing out information and leading the reader toward an idea without expressing it directly.

Use silence

When a character needs a moment to consider what they’ve been told, use exposition to allow for internal thought, emotion, or observation. This is a great opportunity to add sensory details and flesh out the scene. Study how people talk and use natural pauses as opportunities to expand on what’s being discussed.

Make it a confrontation

Confrontational dialogue exchanges can convey a great deal of information without being lengthy. These types of exchanges give hints and lead the reader toward ideas and conclusions rather than openly telling them. Take this excerpt as an example of confrontation in dialogue:

“I know who you are,” Charles said.

“You know nothing,” John said.

“You’re that doctor.”

“If you don’t mind, I—”

“From Hopkins. You killed that woman because you were soused. Yeah, that’s it.”

This example gives the reader information about John’s past and the fact that many people are aware of what he did. It also gives a glimpse into his personality and how he feels about the situation and being known mainly for his mistake. The reader gets a few specific details about the event, but not enough to know the whole story. This exchange builds conflict and reveals important information.

Polish later

Just like it’s often a challenge to come up with the right response on the spot when in a conversation, getting the responses right in dialogue can also take time. Don’t be afraid to write out the dialogue to get the basic structure down, but come back later to fine tune and tweak.

Dialogue resources

If you struggle with punctuating dialogue properly, this is a great resource!

Studying dialogue from movies can also help writers improve their dialogue and use is more purposefully. Check out this fun link of great dialogue scenes from movies!

Posted in books, characters, reading, romance, writing, writing advice, writing thoughts, writing tips

Crafting scenes that stick with your readers

What is a scene from a book or movie that has stuck with you? Why did it connect with you? For writers, recognizing and evaluating these scenes is a great learning experience!

There are several important elements to crafting an impactful scene:

concept-1868728_1920Purpose

Every scene should have a purpose (advance the plot, reveal something about the character, or provide information about the overall plot). The purpose should be able to be condensed into a one sentence summary. Scenes with no clear purpose are filler and should be cut or rewritten.

Point of View

A scene needs to be told from the most impactful point of view. Usually this is whoever is most impacted by the events of the scene. If emotion isn’t coming through in the scene, reevaluate whose POV it’s being told from. POV is often tied to the purpose of the scene: Who will learn the most? Who will change the most? Who will react more strongly? Who has the most to lose?

The High Moment

Scenes within a story should mimic the overall story structure: beginning, middle, climax, end. The high moment uses elevated emotion, action, or revelation to impact the character(s). The high moment should come at or near the end of the scene and it should be something that produces a reaction. The high moment reveals the purpose of the scene. The character should learn something, either about his or her self or the other characters, that affects their perception or choices.

Emphasizing Conflict

Every scene needs some form of conflict: inner, outer, or both. The conflict needs to have meaning, not be pointless arguing. Conflict should get progressively worse throughout the story, increasing the stakes. Keep this in mind while planning scenes and make sure there is an overall progression. Scenes with mostly inner conflict won’t be as explosive, but should increase the overall tension.

portrait-1634421_1920

Showing Character Development and Change

Every scene should demonstrate some form of character change. The change may be subtle, but it needs to show development and growth of the character, or show backsliding behavior. Whatever happens in the scene should have an impact on the character, eliciting change on some level. Change should match the character and the event. One character may see an event as not a big deal, while the other sees it as a huge problem. They need to react and change according to their perceptions.

Staying on Point

Scenes should leave out all the boring and non-important details. Life may be filled with the mundane, but scenes should not be. If the info, actions, or dialogue doesn’t pertain to the purpose of the scene, cut it. Start in the middle of a scene, with action of some kind, and leave out the movements in and out of the scene. Only insert backstory when it doesn’t slow the present scene.

Strong Beginning and Endings

The beginning and ending should not only be strong, but should be related in some way. This may be theme, symbolism, situational, a specific action or piece of information, etc. Tie the beginning and the end together in a meaningful way that relates to the purpose of the scene.

Adding Details

Find the right balance of details to create a full scene without bogging it down. Descriptive details should be pertinent to the action, help create mood and tone, or accentuate the dialogue. Details should use all relevant senses to create a full picture of the setting, the characters, and the emotion. Details should reveal something. A clenched fist shows anger, fidgeting conveys unease, food and clothing choices set the stage and reveal preferences, etc.

Evaluating Scenes

Whether you’ve watched Dead Poet’s Society or not (if you haven’t, you should!), this scene is a powerful one: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j64SctPKmqk

What is one thing about this scene that sticks out to you? What impression does it leave and why?