Sunday, September 02, 2007


Okay, so continuing on with Ben's story. I have the opening scene cut down so hero and heroine are interacting in chapter one instead of chapter two. What used to be Chapter two is actually scene two in chapter one.
The book starts out in Ben's point of view. He's in a mall parking lot when a child approaches him needing help. Basically the mother passed out from dehydration and the child found Ben to help. Mother and child are passing through town. So I had the scene set where Ben rushes across the parking lot to help the mother. Scene is in his perception. So we're seeing and feeling everything Ben would feel, think and experience in this scene. This is maintaining a purist Point of View. I stay in one person's head the entire scene. Only during a scene or time break do I switch POV, and I always have at least a few pages in a scene.
Scene two is the heroine waking up and meeting the man who helped her. She has trust issues, and those come out immediately. I try to end not only each chapter with a hook, but each scene. I even try to fashion my prose so the first page of the manuscript ends on a hook....even if it's only six lines of text. I've done this with every novel and received tons of positive feedback through contests on my hooks before I was published. Hooks are a good way to keep your reader reading. Don't give them any reason to want to set that book down.
Incidentally, how I craft my scenes is using Dwight Swain's Scene/Sequel technique. His book, Techniques of the Selling Writer is, in my opinion, a must-have for any fiction novelist wanting to have solid scene structure. Every scene we write needs several reasons to be there. That advice came from my author mentor, Margaret Daley. She also has some wonderful examples of character charts on her site.
Right now, Randy Ingermanson..who created the snowflake method of plotting, is doing a teaching on synopsis on his site. He also has a section where he discusses Scene and Sequel. Here's a link to his scene structure article, based on Dwight Swain's techniques.
So yesterday I polished the first two scenes. Then I went through and decided to up the stakes. In the prior version of the scene, I hadn't added in setting details. For some reason, I nearly always layer that in last. Mostly because I have to figure out time lines and need to decide what season the story starts in. In this story, one of my major disasters is a hurricane. So I needed the story to start about three months before hurricane season starts. So in addition to layering in setting details, I layered in sensory details. I usually always incorporate sight in my first draft because I have to see the scene play out before I can write it out. What I did last night was go in and sprinkle in details (never too heavy, nor too much at once) using other five senses. In this case, the point of view character's senses. I write it in deep point of view so the story doesn't have a narrated feel to it. In other words, when the little girl got close to Ben, he smelled a scent of strawberry in her hair. But I didn't write it like this: "Ben smelled a hint of strawberry in her hair." Writing it that way is "Telling." You want to show the reader through the POV character's senses. So you just simply say it since we know we're in Ben's mind and body. A slight breeze ruffled her hair, lifting hints of strawberry with it. Or something like that. So you just write it as Ben is experiencing it. By the seems that I just said just and actually, nearly all the time, you can remove words such as "that" and "just" and "actually" and "nearly" and "it seems" etc. LOL! It tightens your writing, gives sentences more punch, and cuts down on wordiness and unnecessary prose. Some other "telling" words are: "He heard"
"She saw"
"He watched"
"She felt"
"She smelled"
"She wondered"
Just describe what they're feeling, wondering, thinking, etc. in a direct sentence. You'll cut down on italics that way too, and anchor your reader deeper in point of view which will hopefully help them to feel like they're an ancillary person in your scene, experiencing, seeing, feeling, etc. everything your point of view character is. As much as you can put them "in" the scene, the more it will rivet them there. And if you do it well, they'll feel as though they are the POV character. So write the scene as if you're a robotic camera inside the point of view character. Don't tell the scene. Let it play out as if onstage.
I got off on a tangent there. Back to upping the stakes. After I layered in sensory and setting details (a sentence here or there is all because a little goes a long way. Sometimes less is more.)
In the opening, Ben was casually shopping. He'd picked up some items, deodorant, shampoo type stuff from the drug store near the mall. I know what's in his bags, but the reader doesn't necessarily know that. They're not going to care what's in the bag unless it's crucial to the scene. So in the initial scene, I had him leaving the store at closing time. Sure, there was tension when the little girl ran up to him saying her mommy needed help. A sense of urgency was present in sentence one because I always spend a lot of time on my opening line. I like it to immediately make the reader sit up and! in addition to hooking them from the onset with trouble, I try to use my first sentence or two to leave them with at least one question. In this case, the scene starts with the little girl saying something like, "Hey, Mister! My mommy needs help." or something similar. That immediately puts tension on the page because Ben sees panic the the little girl's eyes and doesn't see her mother anywhere around. So he's having this internal monologue like, "He scanned the parking lot for the mother. No car propped with its hood though." See, it works like that because the reader knows stat whose  POV the scene is in. I don't have to say, "Ben didn't see a car with its hood propped though." See the difference? And if I wanted to deepen the POV more, I could actually take out the part about Ben scanning, and just put what he's seeing without actually telling the reader he's seeing. But in this case, the way I wrote it in the book, I used the name of the town and the actual location, so the reader would know the setting without me having to slow the intensity of the scene by a chunk of setting detail.
About upping the stakes. The second pass through the scene, I thought, how can I add tension to every page? How can I make this worse than it already is? So I made it very hot outside. That adds tension because the mother is passed out in a hot car, and we all know how easily the inside of a car can heat up. That can be lethal to people and especially to children or babies. So as a side note....never, never, never leave an infant or child in a hot car...not even for a few minutes. my soap box and back into tension. I wasn't satisfied with that aspect of tension. That ups the stakes for the heroine, but what about for Ben? So I start asking questions. Why was he at the mall? Where was he going afterward? Initially, I just had him between deployments with nowhere in particular to go. He could be at the beck and call of the damsel in distress. LOL! But that feels entirely too contrived. So I have him stopping off at the mall, hoping he'll make it by closing time because he's on his way to the airport to pick up his brother with Down Syndrome. Furthermore, I can up the stakes because if he doesn't leave in the next few minutes, he won't make it in time to meet his brother who is traveling unattended.
Furthermore, to increase tension more, I can have his brother have panic attacks with change, or airports, or fear of being left alone or abandoned, etc. Lots of stuff I can throw at Ben to cause stress in the moment. LOL! So he feels torn between an emergent situation and his brother at the airport.
So my challenge to you today with this plotstorm is go through a scene you've already written and ask yourself: How can I make this worse? Is there tension on every page? Every paragraph? How can you up the stakes for your character? Something has gone wrong for someone. Something has upset their life or their plans for the day. Just when they think it can't possibly get does. How?
Maybe there was another child in the heroine's car that wandered off? How about that, huh? Or maybe the infant...who can't wander missing? We've just upped the stakes significantly.
Or maybe not since I'm writing for LI and not LIS. LOL!
You'll just have to get the book to find out. He he he he. But of course, the editor has to agree to buy the book first, which means I need to finish the chapters. So I'm off to do just that.
I hope this has helped to enrich your scenes. I'm saying nothing new here. Nothing I haven't learned from someone else. Lots of great resources for writers out there. When you have a scene that really rivets you, study it. Pick it apart. Find out why. Find out what works. When you meet a character who sticks in your mind for months or years....find out why. Go back and read to determine at what point that character was endeared to you. Find out what the author did to make that happen.
Then make it happen in your own writing, with your own story and your own characters and plot. Happy writing! Let's all step it up to the next level. Strive to make it better than the best it can be.
More next time,

Cheryl Wyatt   Gal. 2:20   Pouring my vial of words over Him.

A SOLDIER'S PROMISE~ Steeple Hill Love Inspired~ Jan. 2008
A SOLDIER'S FAMILY~ Steeple Hill Love Inspired~ Mar. 2008


Kaye Dacus said...

Not a comment on the post, just dropping by to say "HEY YOU!" It's been way too long since we've chatted. Hope everything is going well!

Hope Chastain said...

Thank you, thank you, thank you!!!!! I needed all those reminders. Maybe it'll help with my entry for the Conflict of Interest contest at ehq! :-)