Checklist for writing a scene

When it came to my novel, I honestly didn’t think I’d have to do that. But, here I am, the stage of my novel where I am going over each scene, and I am “killing my darlings.” I want to keep most of the scenes, but I have a criteria I go over that may tell me otherwise.

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clapper-board-1420048I didn’t realize until I was a young adult that some scenes in a movie didn’t make it into the final cut. Today we have DVDs where we can see the parts of the movie the director cut and left on the editing room floor.

When it came to my novel, I honestly didn’t think I’d have to do that. But, here I am, the stage of my novel where I am going over each scene, and I  am “killing my darlings.” I want to keep most of the scenes, but I have a criteria I go over that may tell me otherwise.

If a scene doesn’t fit the criteria, slash. It’s gone.

I don’t actually trash the scene, I just put it in a folder called “unused material.”
  • Is it a scene or sequel?
    A scene has a goal, a conflict, and a disaster. A scene that is a sequel has reaction, dilemma, and a decision. Both are okay, but it’s good to know which is which. Read Randy Ingermanson’s article Writing the Perfect Scene for more details.
  • What is the conflict?
    If no conflict exists in the scene, either find a way to rewrite it into the story or cut it.
  • What is the purpose of this scene?
    A scene can have several purposes: introduce a character, build suspense, establish a mood, create a resolution, and on and on. If you can’t figure out the purpose of the scene, cut it.
  • Do you have a consistent point-of-view? Would the scene be improved by changing the point-of-view?
    I wrote some scenes from the viewpoint of my antagonist. However, I felt they were to “on-the-nose” so to speak. No subtext. So I rewrote the scenes from the viewpoint of another character in the same scene, and I felt the story became more effective. Why? Because it created suspense and mystery for my antagonist.
  • Are you using sub-text in the action and dialogue of the characters? Are you avoiding on-the-nose writing?
    Instead of telling what the characters are doing and saying, pay attention to what they’re NOT doing and saying. They may say one thing, but really mean another. It’s what is going on beneath the surface. Here’s a great article about using subtext.
  • Does your character do something surprising?
    Keep your readers on their toes by surprising them with your character’s reactions. In each scene, the character should do something unexpected.
  • What emotion is the character feeling at the beginning of the scene? Does he or she have a conflicting or contrasting emotion by the end of the scene?
    If the character is laughing and playing around at the beginning of the scene, is she pissed off at the end of the scene? May sure your characters express a range of feelings and moods throughout the scene.
  • Does your character have expectations at the beginning of the scene that contrast with  what happens during the scene?
    If your character is expecting to win a competition at the beginning of scene, show him or her losing. Or something else unexpected. Or maybe the character expects to lose and ends up winning by cheating or something else. Surprise the reader.
  • Are the characters only talking in this scene? If so, does it move the story along?
    Your scene may only be a conversation, but it better move the story along.
  • Does your scene have a beginning, middle and end? Does it seem like a mini-novel?
    If you consider them a mini-story, then you’re more likely to write stronger scenes. C.S. Lakin talks about scene structure in her article.

I have a file in my Scrivener document called “Tool Box.” It has several lists to use for keeping my novel in check. One of those tools is a Scene Checklist. I review a scene using all of the above criteria. I hope you find it helpful.

Fiction Writing Workshop: Action Scenes

kick-fighting-1528974

He extends his sword and then utters these words:

“My name is Inigo Montoya, you killed my father, prepare to die.”

The most memorable part of this fight scene are these words. But why?

To find the answer, I wanted to know more about writing effective fight and action scenes. My novel has several of these scenes, so I did some research to maximize their punch.

I found some great articles on the web and as I read them, I kept coming across some recurring themes.

  • Action scenes in books are different than action scenes in movies. A blow-by-blow fight between characters doesn’t come across as exciting on the page as it does on the screen. Describing every detail bores the reader.
  • Action scenes must further the plot. They should do this in both movies and books.
  • Action scenes must advance characterization. Why is the protagonist fighting? The fight, the action must relate to the character’s goals.
  • Action scenes should increase the suspense, the tension and up the odds. Writer John Rogers says, “… this is one of the reasons The Matrix still holds up, and the sequels are two of the most boring movies I have ever, ever, ever seen.” I have thought the same thing over and over since I saw those last two movies.
  • Action scenes should be unique and have interesting settings. One fight scene looks like another. An interesting setting can make it more memorable.

I also found some contradicting advice. Writer K.M. Weiland says:

“Make sure you use [dialogue] to your advantage by breaking up descriptions of action with story-advancing (and perhaps scintillatingly witty?) dialogue.”

While writer Alan Baxter says:

“There is no dialogue while fighting. It never goes like that. You don’t have time, although there may be a few sharp words but no conversation.

Remember Montoya’s famous piece of dialogue? It’s totally appropriate. It had been repeated throughout the story and when he finally finds his father’s actual killer, it’s thrilling. Also, he says it before the fight begins, so it serves as a war cry.

Both of the writers I just quoted suggest using short sentences and one or two word pieces of dialogue. Good advice for fight scenes.

Here are the excellent articles:

Writing exercises:

  • Comb through your story or novel and analyze each fight or action scene. Does it develop character? Does it advance the plot? Is dialogue used appropriately? Does it create suspense?
  • Find a favorite novel and go through it looking for action scenes. Do they work? Could you improve upon them?
  • Do more research and find more articles on writing action scenes. Do you see recurring advice? What other tips can you find for writing these scenes?

See other Fiction Writing Workshops from this blog.

Support Self-Published Writers and Small Publishing Houses

printing-press-1181030.jpgAs I plan my reading list for 2016, I want to include several self-published writers and small, independent publishing companies. So far I plan to read the following:

The Final Quarter

football-1437517I am down to the last 25% of the current draft of my novel which I’m now calling Ziggurat Reach. Whether that is a working title or a final title, I don’t know.

I know what is happening in the last part of my novel. I am building up to the story’s climax and all the characters have finally gathering to one place–the ziggurat, in case you’re wondering– and a lot of things are about to happen.

Here are some thoughts on what I’m trying to accomplish and how I’m feeling as I’m writing this week:

  • Each character has a goal he or she is in the process of fulfilling, and I’m figuring out ways the goals will be finalized in this last quarter.
  • K.M. Weiland has said she wrote more than one version of the climactic scene. I think I may do that.
  • Scrivener has been a godsend in motivating me to get moving on this novel.
  • In my next draft, I have a whole new subplot I’ll be writing. At this point, it’s outlined in Scrivener, but I’ll be composing first drafts for those scenes after I finish this draft.
  • Saving up to buy some ISBN numbers. Deciding whether to break the story down into four mini-novel episodes. The first one would be free. I would also offer the novel as a whole for a cheaper price than buying the three remaining mini-novel episodes.
  • Still deciding whether to use Smashwords or Amazon or both (at different times).

Well, tonight I’ll be toiling away on novel. Maybe I’ll go to my favorite coffee shop, Heine Brothers in Northfield area of my city, Louisville, Kentucky.

Books on writing I read in 2015

Every year I try and read a couple of books on the writing craft. I know that’s not everyone’s cup of tea, but,  honestly, I love reading stuff on how to write fiction. Here is what I read in 2015:

2940151898539_p0_v3_s192x300Planning a Novel, Script or Memoir
by Hank Quense
Quense offers practical tips on how he writes his novels. What I want is something I haven’t heard before, and that’s what I got with this book. At the beginning, he suggests the reader to just take what he or she needs. Good advice. Not everyone thinks the same way, and, also, who wants to read the same thing over and over?

9780985780401_p0_v1_s192x300Structuring Your Novel
by K.M. Weiland
Weiland shows how to make the most of using the three-act structure as you write your novel. She has become sort of an online tutor/mentor to me because books like this one answer my questions about writing fiction.

51QhpMsap6L._UY250_Your Guide to Scrivener by Nicole Dionisio
Scrivener is a program to help writers organize their projects, both fiction and non-fiction. I can’t praise the software enough. There are dozens of books out there to show the writer how to use Scrivener, and I picked this by Nicole Dionisio. I admit I selected because it was the cheapest ebook on the subject I could find. But it’s all okay, because she did a great job and the book is short, so you can learn Scrivener quickly.

Science Fiction and Fantasy I read this year and why I did or did not like them

9780316246620_p0_v6_s192x300Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie
Genre: Science Fiction; Space Opera
A starship, thousands of years old, has been dismantled and its memories downloaded into one of its mechanic beings that seeks revenge. First of all, the narrator of this story is the starship who cannot distinguish gender, so every character is male, although some of them are actually female. This makes the story both clever and confusing. Clues exist to should which are female, but then the question arises: does it really matter?

9780374104092_p0_v2_s192x300Annihilation by Jeff VanderMeer
Genre: Science Fiction
Series: Southern Reach #1
Area X has been cut off from civilization for years and everyone who goes in either disappears or goes insane when they return. While I enjoyed this well-written episode in this series, I felt unable to really care about the characters. I can see why this series is popular, but I probably won’t read the rest of the books in it.

9780804137256_p0_v2_s192x300Armada by Ernest Cline
Genre: Science Fiction
One day, teen nerd Zach Lightman sits in class bored to death and the next he finds himself fighting off invading aliens and asking, “How did I get here?” It seems every science fiction book, movie and tv show of the past several decades have actually been training modules for earthlings to fight off the nasty lizard beings heading toward earth. It’s very similar to Ender’s Game and strangely enough, that’s the whole point. I loved, loved, loved Cline’s novel Ready Player One, and even though I get what he was doing in Armada, I thought it lacked something. Not a bad read, but don’t go into it expecting Ready Player One.

9780812976823_p0_v2_s192x300The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell
Genre: Urban Fantasy; Horror
A young woman finds herself in the middle of a war between two groups of mystical humans. This ended up being one of my favorite reads in 2015. It’s quite long, but I enjoyed the well-developed characters and storyline that is pieced together with each chapter. And the ending nearly killed me emotionally. Mitchell is the author of A Cloud Atlas, which I have not read, but I’ve heard The Bone Clocks is better.

9780316217583_p0_v2_s192x3009780316334686_p0_v2_s192x300Cibola Burns and Nemesis Games by James S. A. Corey
Genre: Sc
ience Fiction; Space Opera
Series: The Expanse (#
4 xand #5 respectively)
I will just go ahead and admit this series is currently my favorite in the SF genre. A new tv series based on these books just started on the SyFy channel, which is no surprise; these novels were meant to be adapted for the screen. The last installment, Nemesis Games, is probably my favorite along with the first book in the series. What makes NG special is the revelation of the backgrounds of the main characters. Finally. In the first four books, their histories were only hinted at, but this volume shows more about why they are the way they are. And it’s a pretty epic Apocalyptic story that turns the series in a whole new direction.

9781481455923_p0_v9_s192x300City of Bones by Cassandra Clare
Genre: Urban Fantasy; Young Adult Fiction
Series: The Mortal Instruments #1
Clary Flay is a teen girl who finds out she has a supernatural background. This is the first in a series that falls into the Young Adult Urban Fantasy genre, to which the Twilight series belongs. I’ve never read Twilight. But I did like this book. A movie was made of the book a few years ago and now there is a television show based on the books.

9781482567434_p0_v2_s192x300Days Gone Bad by Eric A. Asher
Genre: Urban Fantasy
Series: Vesik #1
Damian Valdis Vesik is a Harry Dresden type modern day wizard who fights the local supernatural bad guys. Okay, I wanted to like this book more than I did. It had great dialogue, characters, and action scenes but I could not figure out who the antagonist was in this novel. The characters are reacting to situations, but I wasn’t sure why. I feel the author should have made the bad guy more tangible. The reviews for the next book in this series are positive, so I’m going to give it another shot because, overall, Asher is a good writer.

2940045438209_p0_v2_s192x300Dreamlander by K.M. Weiland
Genre: Fantasy; Urban Fantasy
Every time Chris Redston falls asleep, he wakes up in a different reality where he is a messiah figure everyone wants to kill. That would put a cramp in anyone’s day. This ended up being one of my favorites for 2015. Weiland has written several books on the craft of fiction writing, and all her skills are obvious in the execution of this story. If you like swash-buckling adventure, romance and fantasy, you’ll enjoy Dreamlander.

9780545284141_p0_v2_s192x300False Prince by Jennifer A. Nielsen
Genre: Fantasy; Young Adult Fiction
The setting is a Middle Earth type world where an orphan boy named Sage is kidnapped and used to replace a prince who’s gone missing. Although I’ve classified this as Fantasy, there is really no magic in this novel, just a great story.

9780544336261_p0_v4_s192x300The Giver by Lois Lowry
Genre: Science Fiction; Young Adult Fiction
I read this about 20 years ago when it first came out and after seeing the 2014 movie, I became inspired to read it again. Having gained twenty years of sorrow and joy, I appreciate this book more. The question of “Why is there pain?” causes more people to lose their faith in a supreme being, causes many people every year to take their own lives, causes the lonely and hurting to fall into the depths of hopelessness. But pain in life is necessary. This book shows why.

9780765381323_p0_v3_s192x300Lock In by John Scalzi
Genre: Science Fiction; Murder Mystery
A mysterious disease causes a portion of the world’s population to be locked in their bodies, unable to move. Technology is created in which their consciousness is transferred to robotic bodies so they can interact with society. Chris Shane is one of the disease’s victims who finds himself solving a murder in his robotic body. This novel was obviously written to be adapted for television or movies, but that’s okay. It’s a fun read.

9780452296299_p0_v1_s192x300The Magicians by Lev Grossman
Genre: Urban Fantasy
Series: The Magicians #1
Quinten Coldwater finds himself enrolled in a secretive school for magic. This book has been described as “Harry Potter for adults” and I would say that is a fair assessment. It’s a little dark at some points, and too be honest, the protagonist is kind of hard to like, but overall a good read.

9780553418026_p0_v3_s192x300The Martian by Andy Weir
Genre: Science Fiction
In the not too distant future, astronaut and botanist, Mark Watney, finds himself accidentally stranded on Mars after his crewmates took off during a sandstorm. The book and the movie follow each other as closely as possible, but the endings are executed slightly differently. If you liked the movie, you’ll love the book as it goes into more detail. Also, the author is fantastic at making the scientific infodumps seem comprehensible.

The_Maze_Runner_coverThe Maze Runner by James Dashner
Genre: Science Fiction; Young Adult Fiction
Thomas wakes up with no memories and finds himself in a strange prison-like environment. Too make things worse, everyone blames him when out of the ordinary things begin to happen. I finally got a chance to read this. I enjoyed it. If you like The Hunger Games or the Divergent series, you’ll like this one. Movies based on this book series have been released–seems like that is the case for many of the books I read in 2015.

9780316198363_p0_v1_s192x3009780316198387_p0_v1_s192x300The Spirit War and Spirit’s End by Rachel Aaron
Genre: Fantasy
Series: The Legend of Eli Monpress (#4 and #5 respectively)
You know how you get sad at the end of a book because you’ll miss the characters so much? That’s me and this series. I finished the last two books of this series and now I’m sad that there are no more stories about Eli Monpress and his associates.

9781468132335_p0_v1_s192x300The Unraveling by Hugh Howey
Genre: Science Fiction
Series: Wool #4
Post-apocalyptic tale of humans living inside an enormous silo and the rewriting of history by the winners. The author originally wrote this in five parts and then put them together in one volume. Eager to read the last book soon.

Whoa, an epiphany in writing dialogue

116564_6429In one of my favorite books on graphic design, The Non-Designer’s Design Book, Robin Williams presents the concept of being able to name something so that you can own it. A person may recognize good design in a poster or a brochure, but not be able to know why it’s good design. In her book, she claims to present four basic design elements to master–contrast, repetition, alignment, and proximity–so that a potential graphic designer will understand why an item has good design.

The same thing sort of just happened to me when it comes to writing dialogue.

Author K.M. Weiland recently posted an article on her blog, Get Rid of On-the-Nose Dialogue Once and For All. In this article she presents three ways to make boring and obvious dialogue more interesting by including subtext, irony and silence. I already knew about these methods, but Weiland presented them in a simple way and even used one of my favorite–if subtle- scenes from the movie Gladiator as an example. Now I feel like I can own these methods when writing dialogue for my own fiction and point out when they are and aren’t being used in novels I am reading.

Weiland has great resources for honing your fiction writing skills. Check out her website for writers.