On Outlining & Writing Scenes

Photo courtesy of Creative Commons & koalazymonkey.

One of the first things I learned after I start writing (seriously, anyway) was to manage the scenes within my writing. The advice I’ve received from professors, classmates and other writers is to make an outline of scenes and only scenes. If you use that outline the right way, it proves to be pretty invaluable. My favorite way to do this is to write each scene (or anticipated scene) on an index card. While writing, you can shuffle these cards around and figure out where each scene fits the best.

Last semester, one of the required books for my novel writing course was Sol Stein‘s “How to Grow a Novel: The Most Common Mistakes Writers Make and How to Overcome Them.” He knows what he’s talking about. I recommend picking up the book if you’re looking for help.

Stein also recommends the index card/outline method when in a predicament with your scenes. He poses questions to consider when revising scenes, all of which are extremely helpful. According to hi, writers should ask themselves the following questions when revising/re-thinking scenes:

  • Which character in the scene do you have the most affection for? How can you make the reader feel affection or compassion for that character in this scene?
  • Is there a character in the scene who threatens the protagonist subtly or openly, psychologically or physically?
  • Is the point of view of the scene that of the character who is most affected by what happens in the scene?
  • Is the scene described in terms of the action that takes place?
  • Is each scene visible throughout so that the reader can see what’s happening before his eyes?
  • Does the ending thrust the reader into the next scene? Does the reader long to find out what happens next?

Examining each scene takes a while, yes, but doing so is also one of the most solid steps in the right direction. You’re finding the right arrangement for your scenes, continually building from one to the next and tossing your readers into them. This is one of the major goals, in my opinion—keeping readers interested.

[Do you use the index card method when planning scenes in your writing? Is it keeping you organized? Let me know how it works for you.]

The “What is Plot?” Series: Plot Structure (Part Three)

Photo courtesy of mpclemens.

This week in the “What is Plot?” Series, I’d like to take a look at plot structure. Any ideas regarding the structure of plot can be traced back to something known as Freytag’s Pyramid.

What is Freytag’s Pyramid?

Developed by Gustav Freytag, a Nineteenth Century German novelist, Freytag’s Pyramid is a diagram that analyzes the common patterns that exist in the plots of stories and novels. It looks like this:

As you can see, the pyramid divides stories into seven main sections:

  1. Exposition: Where the scene is set. Characters and setting are introduced and description and background are provided. Here, the characters are in a stable situation.
  2. Inciting Incident: Where something happens to jump-start the action. A single event usually takes place, signaling the beginning of the main conflict (complication). The world the characters are in is upset.
  3. Rising Action: Where the story builds and gets more exciting. The situation involving the characters should get progressively worse as a direct result of their actions. The point here is to create an atmosphere of suspense that will draw readers into the story.
  4. Climax: The moment of greatest tension in the whole story, often the most exciting event that occurs. The rising action builds up to this point, and the falling action follows it. It’s important to note that the climax and the events leading up to it should never summarize the plot or offer clues to the outcome of the story. The climax should never be a complete surprise. reader should be familiar with with what’s been happening to that point, but shouldn’t be able to, forgive the expression, put two and two together.
  5. Falling Action: Where events happen as a result of the climax. We know the story is going to end soon. This is where all of the “loose ends” of the story are tied up and taken care of.
  6. Resolution: Where the main problem/conflict of the story is solved.
  7. Denouement: The end of the story. Any remaining secrets or questions are solved or explained here. Occasionally, the author will leave readers thinking about the theme of the story or the future of characters.

[Do you chart your story progress based on Freytag’s Pyramid? How does it work for you? Share in the comments. I’m curious!]

Writing Prompt: An Irrevocable Decision

Writers block, defined as “a usually temporary condition in which a writer finds it impossible to proceed with the writing of a novel, play, or other work,” is a plague that we’ve all dealt with at one point or another in our writing careers. Ideas are hard to come by sometimes. Ideas are like fireflies; they flit in and out of mental vision, but they are hard to catch.

Keeping this in mind, a writing prompt will be offered here every Sunday (in different formats, of course). The length of what you write is your decision entirely. It is my hope that these prompts will spark creativity and kickstart the writing process.

This week’s prompt: A teenage boy wants to be part of the “in” crowd, so he has a computer chip implanted in his brain that makes him popular. He soon finds out that popularity comes with its own set of problems, and he tries to get the chip removed. He finds out that removing the chip is impossible because he signed a non-revocable contract for a lifetime of wearing the chip.

[How did this prompt help you? Please feel free to let me know in the comments below, or send an email!]

This Week in Links: 8/22/2010 – 8/28/2010

Photo courtesy of Creative Commons.

I subscribe to quite a few interesting RSS feeds in the book/writing niches. Perhaps you do as well, but in any case, I’d like to share my starred links from this week:

Monday, August 23, 2010:

Tuesday, August 24, 2010:

Wednesday, August 25, 2010:

Saturday, August 28,2010:

(Late) Quotes Corner: Stephen King

With such plagues as writers block and lack of motivation constantly lurking around every corner, quotes from other writers (who have most likely dealt with these same problems) can be a saving grace of sorts for the rest of us. Hence the reasoning behind the creation of “Quotes Corner.”Certain weeks may be themed (by author), while others may be random.

Writers need inspiration, and need it often. It is my hope that you’ll find some here.

  • “Fiction is the truth inside the lie.”
  • “No, it’s not a very good story – its author was too busy listening to other voices to listen as closely as he should have to the one coming from inside.”
  • “Talent in cheaper than table salt. What separates the talented individual from the successful one is a lot of hard work.”
  • “The most important things are the hardest things to say. They are the things you get ashamed of because words diminish your feelings – words shrink things that seem timeless when they are in your head to no more than living size when they are brought out.”
  • “We make up horrors to help us cope with the real ones.”
  • “If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.”
  • “The road to hell is paved with adverbs.”
  • “Books are the perfect entertainment: no commercials, no batteries, hours of enjoyment for each dollar spent. What I wonder is why everybody doesn’t carry a book around for those inevitable dead spots in life.”
  • “If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot.”
  • “The scariest moment is always just before you start.”

Work-in-Progress Wednesday: 8/25/2010

Photo courtesy of Creative Commons & blimpy.

It’s been a couple of weeks, but I can finally get this theme, a little something I like to call “WIP Wednesday” off the ground. As I mentioned a few weeks ago, I wanted to take a day out of the week to report on the progress of my own writing, novel work or otherwise.

What I’ve Been Doing

The last time I did a substantial amount of work on my novel (or any work at all, rather) was at the beginning of May when I was trying to reach the 40-page limit for the final portfolio of my novel writing class I was taking. Over the past couple of months, I took some steps in what I consider to be the right direction as far as research and outside reading goes.

  • Re-reading “Columbine” by Dave Cullen. The first time I read the entire thing in two days (his portrayal of that entire incident was just so amazingly well done); this time, I’m taking my time, highlighting/sticky-posting things I think may be beneficial in working on my own story. Much of what I’m focusing on with this is character traits. It’s hard to develop a calm, cool, and collected psychopathic killer. The shooters at Columbine are tremendously helpful in that respect. I am not modeling my character after them, really, but taking clues instead. The book is also helpful in that it explains the aftermath of a school shooting tragedy. In that respect, it’s all about world building and any help I can find, I’m grateful for.
  • Researching Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. I think this is almost a must when writing a story like mine. I’ve always thought tragedy and PTSD run hand-in-hand. Again, thanks to Dave Cullen, I’ve found some great resources on the matter. I’ve done my own research and am waiting to hear back about an “interview request” of sorts with a few Psychology/Counseling professors at UW-Milwaukee and Mount Mary College.
  • Researching Psychopathy. This one is a bit more difficult to deal with. As with anything like this (PTSD included), there are varying level pf degrees and just an incredible amount of information to sift through in general. It’s been fun, though. Mount Mary offers a graduate level course in psychopathology. I’m entertaining the idea of taking it, possibly next summer. This is something that I plan to ask about when/if I hear back about the aforementioned interview requests.
  • Researching Bibliotherapy. I haven’t gotten too far into this just yet. Writing as healing is an interesting subject. I’ve been sifting through the book “Writing as a Way of Healing” by Louise De Salvo. I’ll be reading the entire book (probably twice!), and I recommend it. I’m looking forward to researching this and for a few reasons beyond the scope of my novel.

Where I’m At

This past Sunday, I finally, with encouragement from the #amwriting community on Twitter (I recommend taking a look there. Such wonderful encouragement!) and some other close friends, I tackled the revisions for my six chapters that had been sitting around since the end of May. It wasn’t easy. Revisions never are. A few of the chapters needed little work, which I’m still very happy about. Many of the issues dealt with the passage of time between the shooting and the time the police arrived at my main character’s apartment. It’s something I’ve been struggling with lately, but I think I’ve gotten it to a point that makes more sense and that I can be happy with.

Writing forward. I won’t lie…it scares me. Even though I have basic outlines for future chapters, I still always feel a bit lost. I know it’s all part of the process, but sometimes I think it’s enough to keep me from sitting down to actually write. I’m getting through it, though. If I can force myself to sit down and start writing, after the first page or two, I feel fine.

On Monday, I sat down and finally, for the first time since sometime last spring, met my daily goal of 1,500 words. My goal tends to stretch between 1,000-1,500 words, and I keep it that high because it forces me to work.

I started chapter seven. Right now, it’s sitting at thirteen pages and I have a feeling that I’m nowhere near being done with it. At the very least, I expect it to run another five pages, which will make it the longest chapter I have thus far. I’ve already marked areas that need work. I’m excited to get back into this.

Progress.
Finally.

World Building in a Novel

Photo courtesy of Creative Commons & karindalziel.

Time and place are part of setting, which, according to Donald Maass “many novelists seem to think of [setting] as something outside of their story.” He says many of us just want to deal with it as quick as we can and then be done. It’s true. While I’ve gotten better at setting within my own writing, I don’t necessarily like to  have to think it through and implement it. I’m guessing a number of us would prefer to think setting didn’t exist sometimes.

But, setting (time and place included) does exist. As Maass says, “Every story has a context. It’s there whether you put into words or not.” Right. So, why not just, excuse the expression, suck it up and write it?

When we write a novel (or any type of story), we’re creating an entirely new world. Many times we use snippets from the real world, but most of what we write is completely new to us. That’s the power of imagination, after all. The things we create in our writing live and breath and influence each other.

World Building

When I think of world building, I think of a 3D model of my novel world. I see it in puzzle pieces and as I work through the novel, that puzzle is slowly put together. What is world building, though? Maass defines it this way: “It is a disciplined method for creating a convincing alternate time and place.”

Science fiction and fantasy writers are considered the best when it comes to world building and for obvious reasons. They’re constantly creating an entire world and even character races out of absolutely nothing. Donald Maass described it better when he said, “…building breakout time and place starts with the principle that the word of the novel is composed of much more than description of landscape and rooms. it is milieu, period, fashion. ideas, human outlook, historical moment, spiritual mood and more. It is capturing not only place but people in an environment; not only history but humans changing in their era. Description is the least of it. Bringing people alive in a place and time that are alive is the essence of it.”

Creating a setting/building a world that readers will remember after they’ve finish reading your work takes work. It’s more than characters, description, and dialogue. Scenes factor in. Which leads me to this…

[Do you have a formula for your own world building? How does your process work? Discuss it in the comments.]

The “What is Plot?” Series: Types of Plots (Part Two)

Photo courtesy of mpclemens.

Welcome back for the second part of my series called “What is Plot?” This week we’ll have a brief talk about the seven main types of plots. It can be a bit (read: a lot) of extra work to actually find out how many there actually are. Why? Because it depends on how all of them are categorized.

As I mentioned, most writers learn, through the process of writing, of course, that seven main plots exist. They may sound alike because they tend to overlap a bit. It is these seven plots that are generally made new by every writer. That is, they find new ways of using the plots, making them them feel just that—new.

The seven main plots are:

  • Man vs. Nature
  • Man vs. Man
  • Man vs. Environment
  • Man vs. Machine/Technology
  • Man vs. Supernatural
  • Man vs. Himself
  • Man vs. God/Religion

Because one of those seven plots has to be chosen, the creation of an interesting and original story is completely in the hands of the writer. How a writer guides his/her plot is one of, if not the, biggest factor in determining the quality of a piece of writing.

Related Post(s): The “What is Plot?” Series: Definition & Categories (Part One)

[Which plot type(s) do you find the easiest to write? Do you have advice for other regarding plot types? Feel free to share in the comments.]

Writing Prompt: 4 by 1+

Writers block, defined as “a usually temporary condition in which a writer finds it impossible to proceed with the writing of a novel, play, or other work,” is a plague that we’ve all dealt with at one point or another in our writing careers. Ideas are hard to come by sometimes. Ideas are like fireflies; they flit in and out of mental vision, but they are hard to catch.

Keeping this in mind, a writing prompt will be offered here every Sunday (in different formats, of course). The length of what you write is your decision entirely. It is my hope that these prompts will spark creativity and kickstart the writing process.

This week’s prompt: Write a story (of any length) using all of the following at least once: doctor, roll of film, stairwell, telephone.

[How did this prompt help you? Please feel free to let me know in the comments below, or send an email!]

This Week in Links: 8/15/10 – 8/21/10

Photo courtesy of Creative Commons.

I subscribe to quite a few interesting RSS feeds in the book/writing niches. Perhaps you do as well, but in any case, I’d like to share my starred links from this week:

Sunday, August 15, 2010:

Monday, August 16, 2010:

Tuesday, August 17, 2010:

Thursday, August 19, 2010:

Friday, August 20, 2010:

Saturday, August 21, 2010: