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.

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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?

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

Writing balanced action scenes

Writing action scenes can be extremely challenging due to their chaotic nature, the pacing, and the possible lack of firsthand knowledge. It’s also very easy for action to overtake a scene to the exclusion of the characters and story. Below are some tips to writing strong and balanced action scenes.

Man with Sword

Do NOT write an entire action scene as blow-by-blow description

This becomes tedious and confusing for the reader and slows the pace. Action must be balanced with description, exposition, internal dialogue, and emotional reflection.

Strive for clarity

If the reader can’t understand what’s going on because it’s too chaotic, they will likely miss the point of the scene. Use simple language and shorter sentences. Be clear about who is involved, where it happens, weapons/powers used, risks involved, and consequences.

Focus on the experience, not the individual action

Use all five senses to describe the action. Don’t rely solely on visual and physical elements. Tastes, smells, and sounds are important factors in action scenes. Make the character connect with and react to the devastation going on.

Know the purpose of the scene and write in a way that fulfills the purpose

Why something is happening is just as important, or more important than, what is happening. Makes sure the WHY is clear during an action scene so the reader knows what to pay attention to and absorbs information relevant to the purpose.

Pointing a gun at someone

Avoid the passive voice

The characters are involved in the fight scenes, it’s not happening to them as passive bystanders. The scene should be told through the character’s experience. For example, “Alan was punched by Greg” is a passive description while “Greg punched Alan” is an active description. In the first example, something HAPPENS TO Alan while in the second description Greg actively TAKES action.

Use action scenes as opportunities to explore a character’s motivations and goals

Why do they fight or make the choices they do in the scene and what is the source of that action or decision? Guns are pulled at pointed at people for no reason. It may be a panicked reaction in the moment, or a lifestyle that breeds that type of reaction as instinctual. There are also consequences to taking action. Does the character consider the consequences first, or are they too in the moment to think beyond it?

Make action unique

Use different settings (going into a gunfight from a stairwell presents different challenges than bursting through a window). Vary the number of people involved (a one-on-one fight will play out much differently that two groups battling). Change the tempo (a chase scene has different pacing than a single explosion). Give them different weapons (a spontaneous fight using items lying around has a very different feel than fighters trained to use particular weapons). Create different goals for each scene (rescuing someone requires different types of action than wantonly killing everyone in the room).

Integrate action into a story to drive the plot forward, improve characterization, and provide excitement.

Posted in books

Stereotypes in Character Devlopment

What are Stereotypes and why should you be careful when using them?

StripedShirtWomanStereotypes

A character that is so ordinary or unoriginal that they seem like an oversimplified version of a person, class, gender, etc.

Why should you avoid this?

Stereotypes are rarely accurate. Not only can they be offensive, they make for poor characters because readers can guess exactly what they will think, do, say, or respond. That’s boring.

Straight stereotypes lack depth and are predictable. Readers immediately think they already know how their story will go because they feel like they have already met this character and read their story in a dozen other similar stories. Your goal as a writer is to surprise your readers with new and unique characters and stories.

Should you NEVER use a stereotype?

OSC quote stereotypesStereotypes develop for a reason

High school for example: there are jocks, cheerleaders, nerds, emos, skanks, etc.

  • At this age, being defined and having a “label” provides safety and confidence (“self” on some level)

Now think about the adult workplace: there are brown-nosers, slackers, workaholics, gossips, etc.

  • You have a wider variety of personalities, but there are always those few in nearly every workplace that fit “the mold”

How do you use this the right way?

Start with a level of stereotype to instantly familiarize readers with the character’s traits…then delve deeper, expand on what is on the surface. You still have to be careful with starting out an introduction with a stereotypical portrayal because it can turn readers off if they think all they are going to get is a stereotyped “blah” character, i.e. the handsome and charming billionaire out to sweep Miss Innocent off her feet.

Make it clear from the beginning that even if this character exhibits stereotypical behaviors, the reasons behind them are deep and layer, and there are consequences for the way the act or live. Hint at complexity so your readers are left wanting more and searching for the truth rather than sighing and thinking, “I’ve already read this a hundred times before.”

SURPRISE YOUR READERS

If you want to hear the full discussion now, listen to “Episode 5: Creating a Character with Depth” on #WritePublishRepeat Podcast.

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Posted in books

Writing a Character With Depth: Where to Start

Characters can make or break even the best of ideas, but where do you start when building great characters?

It might depend on what type of writer you are. Here are a few options for getting started.

Character Profiling

Invisible Cast

Start with the basics: Who is your character?

  • Create a character profile sheet and be as detailed as possible
  • Physical characteristics
  • Eye/hair color, weight, height, etc.
  • Personality traits
  • Happy, gloomy, morose, optimistic, etc.
  • Likes/Dislikes
  • Fears/Dreams
  • Talents/Goals
  • Secret or otherwise
  • Flaws (We’ll talk about this on in more depth later)

Start with a picture

Car Man Head in HandsInstead of starting from scratch, find a picture you think is interesting and describe what you see. Go deeper than how they look.

  • What motivates these characters?
  • What are there goals?
  • What are they afraid of?
  • How did they end up in this situation?
  • What emotions are they dealing with?
  • Where will they go from here?

Start making a list of character traits that will help bring them to life.

The key with the beginning stages of character development is to get to know your characters, find out what problems they are facing (there MUST be a problem), and what the first stage of their journey looks like.

If you want to hear the full discussion now, listen to “Episode 5: Creating a Character with Depth” on #WritePublishRepeat Podcast.

Posted in writing tips

Creating a Protagonist with Depth: Part 1

Where do you start when you want to create a really great character?

That’s a question that any writers, bot new and established, ask. There’s no black and white answer, but this series will offer up tips on creating strong characters that are layered and offer readers a reason to connect and share their story.

Today, I’ll start off with two popular options for getting started on Character Development.

Option One

Character ProfilingCharacter Traits

  • Start with the basics: Who is your character?
    • Create a character profile sheet and be as detailed as possible
      • Physical characteristics
      • Eye/hair color, weight, height, etc.
      • Personality traits
      • Happy, gloomy, morose, optimistic, etc.
    • Likes/Dislikes
    • Fears/Dreams
    • Talents/Goals
      • Secret or otherwise
    • Flaws
    • We’ll talk about this on in more depth later

Option Two

Start with a Picture

Instead of starting from scratch, find a picture you think is interesting and describe what you see. Go deeper than how they look. What motivates these characters? What are there goals? What are they afraid of? Start making a list of character traits that will help bring them to life.

Take a look at these two characters and tell me what they’re afraid of, why someone might be afraid of them, what they love, what they dream about, what their favorite flavor of ice cream is, or even what their secret fears are. Most of what you come up with you won’t actually use, but it will help you understand them.

I’d love to hear what you come up with for these two characters, so feel free to post your ideas in the comments! And don’t forget to come back for the next installment of Creating A Protagonist With Depth next week.