On this blog every Tuesday and Friday I write about story techniques, structure, and/or publishing. Comments and questions are welcome. I also have a personal blog, Amy Deardon, on which I write about a variety of topics purely as they catch my fancy.

I've written one novel, A Lever Long Enough, that I'm honored to say has won two awards. In my life BC (before children) I was a scientist who did bench research.

My book, The Story Template: Conquer Writer's Block Using the Universal Structure of Story, is now available in both hard-copy and e-book formats. I also coach would-be novelists and screenwriters to develop their story. YOU CAN CONTACT ME at amydeardon at yahoo dot com.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Eliminate Writer's Block when Writing the Scene

Stories are made up of scenes. Whether you are a planner or a pantster, a little preplanning before diving into the scene helps to eliminate writer's block. Here are a few basics I like to settle: 1. Why do you want to write this scene? This scene must advance the story by having your character do one or more of the following: (from most to least external): * pursue an action * make a decision * reach an insight Write down, very specifically, why you need to include this scene in your story. 2. Who will be in this scene? Generate tension by giving characters separate goals that are mutually exclusive. These goals can be overt and external (swim from the shark) and/or subtle and hidden (plant a seed of doubt in a rival's mind). You may even have mutually exclusive goals within the same character: the boy knows he must kill his rabid dog, Old Yeller, whom he loves. Write down your scene's guest list, and then figure out what each character wants at this particular moment in the story. 3. Where and when will this scene take place? Now, ponder some alternatives: for example, a breakup scene may occur quietly in a restaurant, but how about a noisy hockey game, or a conference room in which the characters can only pass notes to each other? Now, close your eyes and imagine the setting. Write down some unusual details you might be able to use. And this is important: describe the details the way your POV character would describe them. 4. Map out the scene. Scenes are best structured in a GOAL/CONFLICT/DISASTER type format. The POV character walks into the scene, and will actually think his goal either at the beginning of this scene or, better, at the end of his last one: Jim knew he needed more money, he deserved it, and he wasn't going to be a wimp any more. He was going to walk into his boss' office and ask for a raise. This statement focuses the reader so he knows for what to look out. The conflict portion takes the majority of the scene. Obstacles can be both external (physical blocks, other people) and internal (lack of knowledge, overcoming emotion). The ending, except for a few specialized circumstances, should be a yes but or no and furthermore: YES Jim, you can have a raise BUT you must work an extra 10 hours per week. NO Jim, you cannot have a raise AND FURTHERMORE you are fired. Rarely scenes can be ended with a YES for a specific effect. Any scene ending with a NO can be deleted without consequences, since by definition it isn't pushing the story action forward. Write down your scene goal. List as many internal and external obstacles as you can -- you don't have to use all of these, but they're mighty helpful if you hit writer's block. Finally determine how your scene will end. 5. A great trick if you're stuck is to WRITE ONLY THE DIALOGUE. Add in the other stuff later. * Hope this is helpful. I'll be writing about sequels on Friday.

1 comment:

  1. Good advice, Amy. I especially like #s 3 & 5, which should prove helpful to me in practice. And #4 is a constantly needed reminder.

    Re 3: Yes, it think it's helpful to imagine myself in the scene--I think I do that rather automatically but not as vividly, perhaps, as I could if I slow down to develop the scene in my imagination more than I usually do. Si I think using imagination as a specific, consckiously applied technique to help add vividness to scenes.

    Re 4: Yep, conflict, so important. I want everyone to get along, so I tend to write one nice big tea party, scene after scene.

    Re 5: For difficult scenes, it seems to me, a plan would be to write the dialogue, then add in a few setting details and also, importantly some body language descriptions, especially facial expression and gestures.