Tuesday Writing Tip – Sorting Through Your Scenes

My muse Molly is plotting just how she's going to get that tasty piece of washing off the line:)

My muse Molly is plotting just how she’s going to get that tasty piece of washing off the line:)

I’m currently going through the scenes of a much edited and rewritten YA manuscript.

There are so many things I like about the manuscript and so many things I don’t – and publishers I have submitted it to have pretty much reacted in the same way.

I keep coming back to the fact that I think the main issues with it are plot related.

I tend to complicate things with lots of small pieces of action and sub plots. I think it stems from an unfounded paranoia that you need lots of twists and turns to stop teen readers from getting bored.

Instinct, and the reading of other great YA novels tells me that if I have characters and circumstances teens can relate to, this is what I really need.

So for now I’m going with that – and trying to get rid of complications that don’t need to be there.

When I look at each individual scene I can convince myself that every scene needs to be there – they all have a purpose.

But when I look at the overall plot, I realise that some scenes are not moving the story forward or really developing my main character – they are just a plot device to show the reader something I want them to know.

So I’m going back to looking at what really matters in this story – and I think this is going to give me a guide to which scenes really don’t matter – which scenes don’t need to be there.

To do this, I’m looking at what I think are the essential elements.

To identify these, I’m looking at the main plot points as identified by screenwriting guru Syd Field – which seem to work just as well for novels (You can read more about Syd’s theories in his Screenplay and The Screen Writer’s Workbook)

Syd Field’s Main Plot Points

 1.  The inciting incident – the thing that starts the story

2.  Plot point one (occurs near the end of the first quarter of the story.) Plot point one is the moment when the main character takes on the story problem and decides to do something about it. This decision changes the character’s life.

3.  Midpoint reversal – As the name suggests, this occurs halfway through the story and is something that takes it in a new direction.

4. Plot point two – this happens about 3/4 of the way through the story. This is when the main character makes a conscious choice that they can no longer cope with the way things are and something has to change.

5.  Climax – this is where the main character confronts the problem/villain once and for all in the ultimate showdown.

Do you find your plots have a tendency to become too complicated? What do you do to simplify them?

Feel free to share your tips and suggestions in the comments section of this blog.

Next week, I’m going to talk about scene sequences and rising tension.

In the meantime, happy writing:)

Dee

TUESDAY WRITING TIP – MAKING A SCENE

At the moment, I’m deeply immersed in my YA thriller trilogy, The Chat Room. I have written the first draft of the first book, The Secret Life of Mindy Palmer and a rough outline for Book 2, In Too Deep and Book 3, Beyond Truth.

What I’ve realised recently is that I need to know exactly what’s happening in Books 2 and 3 so that I can drop the appropriate clues and foreshadowing into Book 1. It’s not enough to have a rough outline for each book, I have to know what’s happening in each scene.

A scene is basically a piece of conflict, a snapshot of an event that impacts the character’s life and consequently, their story. It has to either move the character towards their overall goal or demonstrate how that goal has changed.
As the book progresses , the scenes should show increased conflict for the main character – this is what is meant by ‘raising the stakes’.

SORTING THROUGH THE SCENES

So what I’m doing now is going back and doing a scene by scene breakdown for each of the three books and here are the steps I’m following to try and create a trilogy with continuity, rising tension, high stakes and well placed clues.

1.    I have written each scene on a separate system card.

2.    I have written the scenes for each book in a different coloured pen to differentiate them from each other

3.    I have laid all the scenes out on the dining table so that I can follow the progress of each book and monitor tension, slow spots and where I need to put in more clues and foreshadowing, or perhaps another twist or alternative point of view.

4.    I have looked at the scenes in each individual book to make sure they are active, appear in a logical sequence and have rising tension.

5.    I have organised the scene cards in sequence for each book so that I can look at the overall shape of the plot (the plot arc).

MY SCENE CHECKLIST

These are the things I look for in my scenes and they form the basis of the summary I write on each scene card:

  1. My main character’s goal and motivation in the scene
  2. What stands between them and their goals – obstacle/conflict
  3. How will they overcome this obstacle
  4. What changes in this scene for the character?
  5. Why does this scene need to be there?
  6. Deeper layers of meaning – eg character’s emotions and attitude, foreshadowing, clues, themes, subplot

SCENE SUMMARY

Once I have my scene cards worked out and the order of events, I type everything up on a scene summary. This is just an A4 sheeti/sheets where I list the scenes in order.

The scene summary also contains any information I might need to add like secondary character reactions and sub-plots, setting information etc.

The scene summary is more portable than a stack of scene cards or a computer, so it’s something I can take with me and mull over while I’m waiting at the dentist, the school etc – wherever I have time to do some extra thinking, but not necessarily writing.

Scene summaries and scene cards are easy to add to.

If you have Scrivener, you can do this process on the computer, but I must admit, I like to see all the scene cards laid out in front of me and be able to physically move them around.

If you’d like to delve deeper into scenes, you might want to check out this link to a post about Writing the Perfect Scene. Thanks to my good writerly friend, Sheryl Gwyther for sending this great information my way so I can share it here.

Happy reading and writing:)

Dee

P.S. Don’t forget to check back here for Friday Feedback. 

INSPIRING YOUNG WRITERS

Today I spent time with a group of year 7 students talking about my favourite subject, writing.

They are hard at work writing for the Write across Victoria competition.

I was there to talk about plotting and story and how to UNMASK great characters.

We discussed the fact that every story has to have a strong beginning and hook the readers in and every story starts with something happening for the main character which makes it a day like no other, and changes their life or who they are.

We studied plot arcs and looked at rising tension in stories and the fact that ‘post it’ notes do fall off a page when you hold it up to show the class.

But one of the most important things we discussed was the fact that writers have to ask a lot of questions

  • Who is the story/action happening to?
  • What is happening?
  • Why is it happening?
  • When is it happening?
  • Where is it happening?
  • How is it happening?

We talked about writing and where you get story ideas from and all the fun things about writing. I walked out of their classroom thinking, these are all writers. They have enquiring minds, good ideas and they ask a lot of questions.

I felt truly inspired by them and I hope they gained something from sharing my experiences.

Thanks to M Healy’s class at Braemar College.

Feel free to ask any more questions about writing or your stories in the ‘comments’ section of this post.

Happy writing:-)

Dee

TO PLOT OR NOT TO PLOT – TUESDAY WRITING TIP With Kate Forsyth

From my posts on this topic, you’ve probably realised that I’m a plotter, but that’s not the way every writer creates. And as I keep saying there is no right or wrong way to write – it’s what works for you.

Today I’m thrilled to welcome Kate Forsyth, the author of 23 wonderful books. She’s going to tell us what she thinks about plotting.

TO PLOT OR NOT TO PLOT – THAT IS THE QUESTION with Kate Forsyth

To me, there are two parts of writing. There’s the wonderful enchantment that overcomes me sometimes, when words tumble through my head faster than I can write, when every word rings true as soon as I catch it in my net. And then there’s the hard slog of writing when every word is dug out of obstinate rock.

To me, good writing seems so effortless, it is as if the reader was making it up as they go along, as if every word and every happening in the story is inevitable. I never want to be seen striving for effect – I want the architectural girders of the story to be hidden. E.M. Forster, one of my favourite writers, says a writer should be like God – ever present and yet invisible. However, to write that well is hard.

It is all too easy to lose your way, which is why having a plan of what you are writing can help you be a more focused and effective writer.

I always tell my writing students:

  • To write without a plan is like going on a journey without a map
  • Never start a novel with a blank page!

So I plan the novel out before I start writing – I fill pages of my notebook with jotted ideas, questions, possible adventures, character sketches, maps, and drawings. I sketch out a plot line, with key scenes, obstacles, and revelations , before I write a single word. Often there are large gaps – places where I have only a question mark. I’m happy to have these gaps – its often where the most marvellous discoveries are made.

For example, in ‘The Wildkin’s Curse’, I knew I wanted my heroes to set out on a perilous quest to rescue a wildkin princess from a crystal tower. That line, that image, was the very first seed of the book. I wrote up a plan, I assembled my cast of characters, I developed their personalities – all the while thinking, ‘How?’ How will my heroes rescue the princess in the tower?

I began to write the novel, I wrote the first few chapters, but still I had no answer. Many of my novels are about rescuing someone from a tower or dungeon (maybe this is a result of spending years in hospital as a child, staring out the window and daydreaming). I’ve had characters climb high walls, I’ve had characters flying winged horses to the rescue, I’ve had characters spin a rope from a strand of silk.

I wanted to do something different. I wanted whatever it was to have some deeper, symbolic meaning in the book, a kind of thematic structure.

But I could not think what. So one morning I am walking in the dawn (I always walk when trying to solve a problem), thinking to myself, ‘How? How do they rescue her? How?’

A raven took to the air, startling me, and one long, black feather fell from its wing right in front of me. I bent and picked up the feather, and thought, ‘a cloak of feathers. Perhaps it could be a cloak of feathers that was damaged in the past and must be mended? Perhaps they need to find seven feathers? Each with its own symbolic meaning that would relate to the action of the book. A feather from a raven, symbol of death and wisdom. A feather from an eagle, symbol of majesty and power. A nightingale feather, symbol of love …’

I walked faster and faster, my head on fire with ideas, and by the time I got home, I had the entire plot of the book worked out. This kind of serendipitous discovery has happened in every single book I’ve written.

I’ve learnt to trust that, no matter the problem in the plot or the story, the answer will come. All I need to do is work and write and daydream, and let it happen.

When it does happen, it raises all the hairs on my arm, it makes me catch my breath … yet it cannot be forced. It’s like a gift from the universe, and all you can do is be grateful for it.

Thanks so much for visiting, Kate. So wonderful to hear your valuable insights. I too, am a ‘walker’. In fact, I think my dog could very well be one of the most ‘walked dogs’ in Australia – not that she’s complaining. I find walking is so great for free my mind from the clutter of other distracting thoughts and letting the answers to my plot dilemmas come.

Happy writing and plotting everyone.

Dee:-)


<a href="http://twitter.com/home?status=Currently reading ” title=”Click to send this page to Twitter!” target=”_blank”>Tweet ThisTweet This!

HOW TO MIND MAP YOUR STORY – TUESDAY WRITING TIP

Before I even start plotting, I mind-map my story. It’s kind of like ‘free writing’. It’s a chance to get all those random thoughts out of your head and onto paper.

For me, it has two benefits:

1.  It relieves some of the clutter in my brain and helps me to work out where my story is going.

2.  Random thoughts lead to more random thoughts – mind mapping allows my mind to roam free. It helps me understand who my characters are and what their place is in the story. It helps me to understand why things happen and how they occur.

I always start a book with an idea. The idea can come from all sorts of places; news articles, songs, music, people, objects, kids, dialogue, animal behaviour, plants, flowers, pretty much anywhere.

To show you how this all works, I’m going to use the mind map I had for my YA novel, Letters to Leonardo. The book tells the story of a boy who gets a letter from his dead mother on his fifteenth birthday. Okay, so I knew what the book was going to be about. I wrote this in a sentence in a balloon in the middle of  a very large piece of butcher’s paper.

Then I asked myself the following questions:

  1. WHO is the boy? WHO is his mother?
  2. WHERE has she been for the last ten years?
  3. WHAT is the main character (Matt) going to do now that he knows she’s not dead?
  4. WHEN is the story taking place?
  5. HOW is Matt going to find his mother? HOW is Matt’s mother going to come back into the story?
  6. WHY has Matt’s mother been absent from his life?

When I asked myself these questions, all sorts of answers popped into my head and I wrote them on the butcher’s paper.

I also kept asking myself another important question, over and over again WHAT IF?

  1. WHAT IF Matt’s mother wasn’t dead?
  2. WHAT IF she came back into his life?
  3. WHAT IF she had something wrong with her?
  4. WHAT IF he discovered that she wasn’t the person he wanted her to be?
  5. WHAT IF there was a reason that Matt’s dad had lied to him for the past ten years?
  6. WHAT IF Matt was artistic?
  7. WHAT IF Matt wrote letters to someone to help him try and make sense of it all?
  8. WHAT IF Matt couldn’t trust anyone living?
  9. WHAT IF Matt wrote letters to his dead idol, Leonardo da Vinci?

I wrote the answers to these questions in little blocks of text around the main idea. When I thought I had all my ideas down on the butcher’s paper, I put circles around them. Then I used arrows to link the stories together. I use different colours for different story threads. Below is a simplified diagram of how I created Letters to Leonardo. You can see how I have separated the story threads, which often end up being the themes.

Here’s a simplified version of my brainstorming for Letters to Leonardo.

Letters to Leonardo brainstorming diagram

You probably won’t use all of the brainstorming bubbles in your book, but they can be a great place to start your plotting.

Hope you have found this useful.

Happy writing.

Dee:-)

* * * ON THURSDAY AT Deescribewritng – “Where Do I Start My Story?”

MY AMAZING MAY GIBBS ADVENTURE DAY 25

You might have guessed by now that my writing is totally out of control.  An idea can strike at any moment and I find it impossible to say, “Go away I’m busy, come back another day”.

And guess what? I had one yesterday. No sooner had I finished the first draft of one book when an idea, character etc appeared in my head. Needless to say, this new ‘brainwave’ kept me awake till around midnight then woke me again at 4.00am.

The good news is that it’s all plotted out now as you can see from the attached diagram, so now I can put it away and go back to my editing, phew! And the idea will be there waiting for me when I get back and have a chance to focus my attention on this new story.

You might not be surprised to find that it was inspired by the gorgeous Sophie and our lovely day out in the Roma Street Parklands yesterday.

Today was the last of my workshops at the State Library of  Queensland. The workshop was titled from Portrait to Prose, and I used Letters to Leonardo to demonstrate how art can be used to inspire writing. We went to the Library’s Bipotaim exhibition and developed character profiles from photographs, then we went to the art gallery and developed characters from paintings.

This workshop was attended by a group of kids who had taken time out from their school holidays to be there, and they were very enthusiastic and happy to talk about their writing and the sorts of things they write.

May Gibbs’ Literature Trust’s Judith Russell came to the workshop and then we lunched at the Avid Reader where we became Avid Eaters and Avid Readers. A great way to round off the day.

Off course I had to check out Glen’s masterpiece for the day, and when I got home there was plenty of emailing and blogging to catch up on.

Brisbane and my May Gibbs Fellowship has been so inspiring, but I must admit I’m getting edgy to see my family. Only three more sleeps.

Happy writing.

Dee:-)

HOW TO BUILD DRAMATIC TENSION – TUESDAY WRITING TIP

Before I start writing, I mind map to work out who my characters are and what's going to happen to them.

I’m a plotter. I work out who my characters are before I begin writing. I decide what’s going to happen to them, and how it’s going to happen. I’m not one of those people who starts with an idea and then meanders towards the end.

I’m currently working on the first book in a YA psychological thriller trilogy, and as I headed towards the end of my first draft, I realized that I had perfectly followed the map I’d designed before I started.

I had taken my MC to all the places I intended to take her, but my story still seemed to lack dramatic tension.

That’s when I realized that I had lots of interesting things happening in the story, but it lacked two major ingredients that were kind of related.

1.            It lacked a strong climax; one where my character had been placed in extreme danger, where the stakes were so high that the reader would wonder if she’d survive.

2.            I had threatened danger, but I hadn’t put my character in harm’s way enough.

Your story can having engaging characters, powerful themes and an interesting story line but if it lacks dramatic tension, it loses the reader.

To build dramatic tension, you need to put important questions in the readers mind. Will the main character survive this event? How will they survive it? You must lead your reader to the brink, make them think there is no way out for the MC; that they can’t possibly survive this. Then it’s up to you, the author to work out how they do.

So after discovering that my story was ‘interesting’ but not mind blowing, I went back to look for dramatic tension.

If things aren't working in your story, go back and re-plot. Using sticky labels allows you to add things and change the order of events.

To do this, I returned to my original plot diagram and realized that although I had increasing action, I had hinted at danger, but not put the character in a situation that she might not survive.

I don’t think it’s ever too late to go back and re-plot parts of your story. Or to look at each scene and decide whether it really moves the story forward. Does it put your main character even further in danger? Does it make the risk of failure more deadly?

After going back and asking myself the sorts of questions I wanted to be in the mind of the reader, I re-plotted the climax of my story and raised the stakes for my character. The result was, more dramatic tension into my manuscript.

Happy writing.

Dee:-)