Friday, December 30, 2016
Until I started writing Bloody Hollow Summer, I had only a surface knowledge of what scenes in a novel should accomplish. I thought, Well, something is supposed to happen here, so I'll just put my characters someplace and have them do something and say something. I soon had a bunch of boring, lazy, worthless so-called "scenes" that a twelve-year-old might have written.
I believe I've said this before, but this writing stuff is hard.
After many revisions (ongoing, perhaps until I'm old and gray -- oh, wait, I am old and gray) I am learning the importance of writing scenes that serve a purpose.
Every scene in a novel must work toward something. A good scene should move the story forward and engage the reader. It should highlight character motivation, enhance setting, foreshadow future events, complement the tone of the story, or add some other important element to the whole. Obviously, a scene shouldn't just be there for the heck of it, or just so the characters can talk about what they had for breakfast.
Even though the rules of writing are broken for any number of good reasons, there are patterns which have been proven successful with regard to creating scenes. Those who have been doing this writing thing for a long time advise that scenes that open with long, involved descriptions, history or backstory, are a distraction. Avoid launching a scene with paragraph after paragraph of narrative. If a particular setting, or pertinent information about a character's thoughts or intentions contribute to the action of the scene, keep the summary short, no more than 2 or 3 quick paragraphs, if possible, and then get quickly to the action.
Good scenes should incorporate 3 elements: The point-of-view character must have a clearly-defined goal, must face obstacles and conflict in order to achieve that goal, and must face disaster because of that goal. These 3 elements should lead naturally to 3 more scene points which are called the sequel: An emotional follow-through, a dilemma for the character, and a decision which involves new goals. This 3-part sequel allows the reader to absorb what has happened in the scene.
Scene endings are the perfect place for cliffhangers, surprising revelations, and emotional turmoil. The ending of a scene should always involve a promise of further compelling situations.
Building a novel takes almost as many tools building a house, just in different forms. That, I think, is what makes us writers unique. We have to use tools that nobody but another writer can see. We have to build something from nothing.
It's a hell of a job, but somebody's got to do it.
"There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed."
Friday, December 16, 2016
Editing means to change passive words to active, being mindful of repeated words and phrases, and eliminating unnecessary adjectives and adverbs such as very, quite, so, just, really, and suddenly.
It means determining if you've allowed confusing pronouns to disrupt your story. For instance, you have two male characters in the scene performing two actions simultaneously, and you've referred to both as he instead of using one or both characters' names. Your reader can become confused -- is John trying to push the car out of the mud, or is it Steve? Which he is in the car steering?
Are your dialogue tags necessary --you know, that he said, she said thing -- or could you put one character to work, as in "This doesn't look right."? Harry is speaking, but instead of he said, you could identify him by writing Harry looked perplexed in order to identify him as the speaker. You can place the action (looking perplexed) either before or after Harry speaks.
Editing also refers to that fine tuning you do for typos, misspellings, punctuation, missing words, extra spaces. It refers to combing through the manuscript for awkward phrasing and sentence length variation.
Revision is looking at the big picture and tweaking the structure of the whole novel, if necessary. This is the big deal here. This is cutting the fat, involving character, plot, sub-plot, the story world or setting, theme, and style. It's when you examine scene and chapter issues, removing whole sections that don't belong, or adding specific, vivid details in all the right places.
This is when you decide whether there's excessive exposition -- telling instead of showing. Or that certain paragraphs aren't advancing the story, but have slowed the pace when the plot should be moving along more quickly and clearly. You might find that you have to cut whole passages of empty narrative or dialogue.
Are your characters well-drawn, or are they stereotypes? Is the plot too complicated, or so simplistic that it encourages your reader to throw the book aside (or across the room), turn off the light, and go to sleep?
Revision is when you ask yourself if the story makes sense. Is the plot compelling, does the prose flow smoothly or is it choppy? Is there enough to keep your reader interested and anxious to know what comes next?
Although there are writers who can edit and revise their work during the actual writing process, most polish their work after the manuscript is completed because it's the first time the material is seen as a whole, and any missing or weak elements will be more apparent.
But if you just can't resist making changes as you go along, use a notebook. Keep pen and paper beside your computer, a notebook, file cards, or writing pad, and make notes while you compose. You can implement your own particular system for this, noting chapter and scene, sentence, or entire passages you might want to change or delete. At the end of your writing day, or at the beginning of the next, organize your notes in order of importance, then go back to work and write like your brain is on fire and words are the only way to put out the flames.
"One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven on by some demon whom you can neither resist or understand." George Orwell, on writing a book.