Tag: editing

Correctly Using Beats in Dialogue

Correctly Using Beats in Dialogue

Use beats in your dialogue to anchor your characters in their settings, control pacing, and tell the complete story.

Evaluating Writing Feedback Advice

Evaluating Writing Feedback Advice

Bad feedback will ruin a wonderful story. Learn to recognize bad advice.

Give Your Scenes a Purpose with Scene Goals- author toolbox

Give Your Scenes a Purpose with Scene Goals- author toolbox

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Don’t leave your readers wondering, “Why are we here?”

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Use scene goals to keep your chapters off the chopping block

As an editor, I’ve seen first chapters that try to create an entire world, spill a character’s life story, introduce an entire cast complete with grocery list description, or rant about a social/political issue. What they seem to almost never do is start the story. A character sitting in a coffee shop thinking thoughts is not a plot. (yes, it’s almost always a coffee shop) You need scene goals.

Scene goals give your characters a reason to exist

Question 1: What does he/she want/need?

A character must want something at the beginning of the scene.

But wait? It’s the beginning of the story, she doesn’t have a problem yet.

Unless she sprung up wholly formed from the ground right before page one, we can assume your character already has a life, and every life has problems. If you don’t know what these problems are, then you need to work on your character’s backstory. Let’s consider our friend at the coffee shop. Rather than describe the setting around her, we need to give her a goal: her desire to eat her danish in peace.

What stands in his/her way?

This is the conflict. Stories must start with a conflict, right on page one, preferably in the first paragraph. This does not have to be the main conflict. It can also be implied.

For example, in the novel Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon, her opening line. “I’ve read many more books than you,” only hints at the main conflict, but it’s there. Yoon knows many people who will read her book will likely be avid readers, it sets up a conflict between the MC and the reader.

The statement makes a challenge, and just like on the playground, the reader’s initial instinct would be to say, “No way.” It also challenges the reader to investigate further to see if this statement is actually true.

Let’s move back to our coffee shop example. Something needs to prevent our heroine from enjoying that danish in peace.

The chatty best friend with some kind of man trouble? (yawn) Dig a little deeper.
Are the Avengers fighting outside? (better)

How do we reveal that conflict?

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Since the juxtaposition is pretty extreme, this sets a comedic tone. She could be pausing during her conversation to accommodate explosions, or struggling to spread the butter when the table shakes from the giant robot clomping down the street. Keep the focus on how the circumstances are affecting your main character, and how the main character is working to overcome that obstacle.

Now add emotion

How is the conflict affecting the character’s emotions? Is she annoyed by the Avengers? How do these emotions motivate her to react and respond? What do they drive your character to do? This is the beginning of your character arc. How a character responds to a motivation is the basis of their character. Emotion is the first reaction to any motivation. Make sure you do not ignore this essential element.

Where are we going?

Once you have a solid scene, complete with character motivation and conflict, we need to know how this scene relates to the overall plot. In other words, how does this scene get your character to their ultimate goal? For this, you need to have an outline, plot board, or even a summary of plot points. For discovery writers, this can be done after the first draft is finished.

Planning your scene- a template

What does this scene need to accomplish?

Beginning: What does my character want/need at the beginning of this scene?

Key elements

  1. Motivation: character’s need
  2. Conflict: what stands in the way?
  3. Stakes: what will happen if the character fails?

Body: Show character working toward this goal and struggling against the obstacle. Make sure the MC’s actions are consistent with her character arc.

Results: What changes? Possible outcomes:

Possible outcomes: Is the conflict resolved, or unresolved?

If the conflict is resolved, propel the reader forward by increasing tension.

Increase tension in a resolved conflict:

  1. Are new conflicts introduced? If so, how?
  2. Did solution create more problems? If so how?

If the conflict is unresolved, raise the stakes by adding complicating factors

  1. Has the situation gotten worse? If so how?
  2. Have the consequences gotten worse? If so how?

This will force your MC to regroup and formulate a new plan.

Dark moment/new question

The secret to getting readers to turn the page is ending your chapters with a compelling question or an “Oh crap!” reveal. This does not mean every chapter should end on a cliff hanger. (You will annoy your readers.)

If the scene’s purpose is formulating the plan, leave the reader with a sense of tension about the upcoming mission. If your scene’s purpose if increasing the stakes, drop the critical information close to the end of the scene.

In these scenarios, the reader will be asking, “What will happen next?” This will help propel your reader into the next chapter.

Make a plan for your scene, or your scene will fail

Planning your scenes with specific goals will help ensure each scene is an effective part of your story. Scene goals will give your characters a purpose and keep your story from wandering. They will increase tension, raise the stakes, and propel your readers to the very last page.

To continue hopping through other great blogs in the monthly #AuthorToolboxBlogHop or to join, click here.

Motivation-Reaction Unit

Motivation-Reaction Unit

Despite being decades old, Dwight Swain’s motivation-reaction technique is still relevant. Every time something feels off in the prose, the improperly constructed MRU is usually to blame.

How to Be a Good Critique Partner

How to Be a Good Critique Partner

Learning to give better critiques will not only make you more valuable as a critique partner, it will also give you a set of tools to evaluate the feedback you receive.

Writing mistakes ruining your prose

Writing mistakes ruining your prose

No matter how great your plot is, bad prose will sink it, fast.

Good writing must have a solid structure (plot, pacing, etc.), but if the prose is bad, nothing else matters.

What are the elements of good prose?

There are plenty of philosophies and rules about how to write the best prose. The prose is the voice of your story, the palette the author uses to paint the story. Good prose enhances and reflects the plot but never overwhelms it.

Good prose is invisible.

Imagine going to the cinema and trying to watch a movie while the projector clicks incessantly in the background. Good prose never draws attention to itself. It tells the story without interfering.

Good prose is simple and straightforward

Good prose must communicate an idea effectively. The most effective communication is the most simple. Good writing must always strive for the cleanest version, the simplest representation. Otherwise, the experience will feel false, and the reader will lose interest.

Mistake: Busy prose/Flowery Prose

There’s no need to overwrite. While this might be a symptom of a NaNoWriMo draft, there is no prize for putting in extra words that add nothing to the sentence. Keep it simple.

Example: The ambrosia of warming fragrances received me as I opened the door to the bakery.

Ask: Would a normal person say this in real life?

What are you really trying to say? “The place smelled like fresh-baked cookies” is a perfectly good line, and it isn’t going to elicit eye-rolling from your editor.

Overwriting is an easy trap to fall into. We are writers we want to create something beautiful, but the art comes in the selective use of color, the mastery of walking between what is there and what isn’t. Embrace the negative space. Keep your message clear and simple. This is key to effective communication.

Mistake: Restating what you have already said.

Example: I winced; heat rose to my face. I suddenly felt very awkward.

Here the author shows us that the character is embarrassed, and then she translates the action and spoon feeds it to the reader. Trust your readers to understand typical body language. “I winced; heat rose to my face” works on its own. Don’t retell the story. This is like watching a movie with someone who has already seen it, and after every important part he asks,” Did you see that?”

Mistake: Voice doesn’t match time period

Example: She found his company most vexing. Vs. He was asking to get bitch-slapped. 

Both examples give the same information, but one of them sounds contemporary and the other sounds like it was written 200 years ago. Make sure your prose matches your time period, and if you are writing a historical, a little flavor is plenty.

Mistake: Using contemporary concepts/ideas in a historical setting

Example: The sword hummed with electricity

This mistake is so common I even see it slip through in published novels. We all remember the Orc shouting about meat being “back on the menu.” (Not sure how many cafés there are in Mordor.) Putting words or ideas into a character’s voice that don’t exist in their world makes the experience feel false.

Fix: This sword hummed with a quiet power that raised the hairs on the back of my hand.

If this were a contemporary setting, we could easily say “electricity” but in this instance writing out the sensation of electricity allows the character to accurately relate the experience using words and concepts that are familiar to a medieval character.

The prose is the window through which your reader glimpses the story. Keep it clean

Plot structure, tension, and characterization are nothing without solidly written prose to carry them. As you edit your work, keeping an eye out for these common mistakes will help make your prose more effective at vanishing on that page and letting your story come through.

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