SCAFFOLD SCENES–Part One

Scenes are basic building blocks of narrative. A scene can be defined as a story episode rendered fully and dramatically in order to make the reader feel she is present and witnessing the action in real time. In effective scenes, things happen and the world shifts. Secrets are discovered. Adversaries are confronted. Revelations arise. Decisions are made. When you write–especially when you rewrite–you should know what each scene accomplishes in your story. Ask yourself what function it serves. Effective scenes do more than one thing at once, but a quick inventory will help you stay on track and in action …

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MAKING HEADLINES!

I learned one my favorite writing “tricks” from Charles Dickens, who often published his novels in installments. He used chapter headings, or, what I call headlines. Open OLIVER TWIST to Chapter 6 and read: Oliver, Being Goaded by the Taunts of Noah, Rouses into Action, and Rather Astonishes Him. Or Chapter 32: Of the Happy Life Oliver Began to Lead with his Kind Friends. But page forward to Chapter 33: Wherein the Happiness of Oliver and his Friends, Experiences a Sudden Check. And near novel’s end: The Pursuit and Escape. When I’m writing my first draft, I aim for scene …

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ACTION———-OBJECTIVE!!!!!!!

Writers have much to learn from actors. Actors are trained to take action in every scene. They have a main objective–win a first date, force the bad guy to show his hand, sweet-talk the doorman, seduce a rival’s hubby–and they pull out all the stops to achieve it. The objectives in each scene build toward the big story objective. If the big story has the requisite conflict, you’ll find conflict in every scene–in the form of obstacles that stand in the way of the actor achieving her goal. Obstacles may be environmental, intrapersonal, and/or interpersonal. For now, let’s focus on …

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QUOTE OF THE DAY–TRUE CHARACTER

Today’s writing quote, one of my favorites on character, comes from Robert McKee’s powerful book STORY: Substance, Structure, Style, and the Principles of Screenwriting. “TRUE CHARACTER is revealed in the choices a human being makes under pressure–the greater the pressure, the deeper the revelation, the truer the choice to the character’s essential nature.” Whether you are writing a screenplay, novel, play, or memoir, I believe the quote holds true. Think about people close to you, think about yourself, think about your characters–and now make a quick list of defining, revelatory choices made. What was the context of the choice? What …

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POWER OF CONNECTION, DISCONNECTION

It took me most of my life to realize I use a conversational style in my household that I call “passing ships”. (Actually my husband pointed it out.) I  talk on the move, beginning a question on one side of the house and finishing it on the other. A bad habit, and I’m working to correct it. It is especially interesting because each week I spend hours on the phone talking with clients and I love giving them my full attention. No double-tasking, no daydreaming, just my full attention. And yet I’ve been lazy with my family.  I thought about …

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QUOTE OF THE DAY

This from Robert Olen Butler’s book FROM WHERE YOU DREAM–The Process of Writing Fiction: “What we need always to be in search of is the way in which a character’s yearning is manifested. Stories are driven forward by causality. All plot comes from the character’s trying to get something, to achieve something, wanting, desiring, longing for something. The complications ensue from the drive of those yearnings and the attempt to get around the impediments and difficulties that thwart desire.”

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DANCING FORM

Today’s wise quote comes from Lisa Dale Norton’s great book SHIMMERING IMAGES: A Handy Little Guide to Writing Memoir. This particular quote applies nicely to structuring fiction as well as nonfiction. “When you get to the structure stage of composition, you have to be willing to allow the two sides of your brain to dance together, sometimes being led by the logical, I have a structure la di da side and sometimes being guided by the hey let’s let this stuff float around and show me the meaning side. That requires a leap of faith that unnerves many. And I know that. …

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LOOSEN UP WITH SLAP, BAM, MUZZY, GLOVES…

In the 1970s, poet Kenneth Koch inspired school children in Manhattan to create verse freely and joyfully. To help them associate words and sounds he began with an onomatopoetic word–buzz–and asked them to come up with words that sounded like it–fuzz, fuzzy, muzzy, does, gloves, cousin. He also made noise! He smacked a chair with a ruler and asked them to put the sound into words–hit, tap, smack. He had them close their eyes and listen again and decide what word best recreated the sound. Whack! Snap! Cat!  Koch encouraged them to hear the most accurate word regardless of its meaning. Pap! …

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FIRST DRAFT, SECOND DRAFT, THIRD DRAFT!

Writing a book is a long and demanding endeavor. It is best accomplished by breaking the process into doable steps. These include dreaming, brainstorming, researching, outlining, and drafting. I am always surprised when writers are surprised by the concept of drafts. I know many writers and not one of them has penned a novel or memoir in one sitting–or even in one draft. Most writers confess to a minimum of two, usually three, and sometimes many more drafts. I suggest you aim gently for three drafts: the first being the rough and wild draft, the second being the editorial revision, the …

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BASICS OF WRITING CRAFT IN A NUTSHELL, WHETHER AS PRIMER OR REMINDER:

In a nutshell: Viewpoint – The person and perspective from which your story is told. In the simplest terms the choices are 1st person (I), 2nd person (you, rarely used), limited 3rd person (he, she, as in a central character or protagonist), and 3rd person omniscient (sometimes defined as a godlike viewpoint, shifting between and encompassing the viewpoints of multiple characters). Viewpoint is also referred to as point of view, POV, and/or viewpoint character. Summary – The efficient accounting of events in a story that otherwise are not rendered fully in a scene. Story-telling with the emphasis on the telling …

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