Tuesdays with Story
February 24, 2017
Tuesday evening at Barnes & Noble
A big crowd for us, 14 writers gathered to critique the work six of their fellows. Here’s some of their comments:
- Pat Edwards (Call & Refuse) . . . The group gave Pat a lot of good ideas for enhancing the chapters. Hannah noted the change in voice once the exercises were introduced. John and Jerry thought a clear arch of Pat’s own journey would help the readers identify with her story. The group discussed how to make the example people’s stories more relatable and real.
- Amber Boudreau (chapter 12, part 2, The Dragoneer) . . .
Amber submitted the second half of Chapter 12 of the Dragoneer to the group. Pat wanted a bit more showing between two characters during a particular piece of dialogue, but otherwise seemed to like it. Kashmira noted a repetitive phrase and suggested ending the chapter earlier because it had a good hook and would want to make people turn the page. So really, it was the second half of chapter 12 and chapter 13 that got reviewed.
- Eva Mays (chapter 9, Dhuoda) . . . Regarding chapter 9, Rebecca suggested “sprout” as a more dynamic word than “grow”. Tracey gave the group a lesson in the anatomy of a sidesaddle. Most people approved of changing Ludovic’s name to Hludowig, to avoid confusion with his son, Lothar.
- John Schneller (chapter 9, Final Stronghold) . . . Final stronghold chapter 9 received several good suggestions. As these concerns occur regularly, greater effort needs to be applied. Problem: The large cast of characters along with minimal internal thoughts and explanations. This result in difficulties identifying POV characters, a full understanding of the scene dynamics, and full characterization of those in the scene. Efforts at tight writing and protecting subtlety may be winning the battles, but losing the war. The battle plan will be reevaluated. Thanks for all the constructive thoughts!
- Millie Mader (poem, rewrite, “Divorce”) . . . Some of the word choices could be changed. I’m working on them—and grateful that there aren’t too many. Thanks for taking all this on — Millie
Who’s up next
March 7: Jack Freiburger (poems, “Nostalgia I” and “Nostalgia II”), Tracey Gemmell (???), Jen Wilcher (chapter 3, Hogoshiro Chronicles), Nora O’Reilly (chapter 7, Bill McCormick’s Bliss), Judith McNeil (short story, part 2, “Options”), Kashmira Sheth (???), Mike Austin (???), and Jerry Peterson (short story).
March 21: Rebecca Rettenmund (???), Pat Edwards (chapter, What to Pack), Amber Boudreau (chapter 13, part 2, The Dragoneer), Hannah Marshall (poems), Eva Mays (chapter 10, Dhuoda), John Schneller (chapter 10, Final Stronghold), and John Stephens (chapters 2).
For March, it’s John Schneller, and April, Nora O’Reilly. Send them your good stuff.
How to build a fictional world
It’s not easy, but it can be done and done well. Last week, WPR’s show To The Best Of Our Knowledge looked at that subject. If you missed it, you should call it up on your computer and give it a listen. Here’s the link: http://www.ttbook.org/book/story-worlds
And here’s the promo: “In this show, we explore storyworlds – the fictional universes that continue to enchant us. Like the ghostly supernatural realm in which Abe Lincoln’s dead son, Willie, finds himself and the surreal Pacific Northwest town of Twin Peaks, the home of some damn fine coffee.”
From Cheryl Stayed -What advice do you have for beginning writers?
- Write a lot. But do it on your schedule. This might be every day. It might not be. The point is not to follow other people’s rules but to make your own. Then follow them.
- Don’t be in a hurry to publish. Be in a hurry to become the best writer you can be.
- Find the work that moves you the most deeply and read it over and over again. I’ve had many great teachers, but the most valuable lessons I learned were from writers on the page. Study the sentences your favorite writers made until they live in your bones.
- Find your tribe and honor it. Become friends with other writers. Exchange work. Talk shop. Ask them questions about how they write. Tell them about how you do. This will make you feel less alone and you’ll share a bond with people who know what it is you’re up to on a core level. Be happy for them when they have successes. You’ll be glad they’re happy for you when your day arrives.
- Do your homework. If you want to publish your writing, research what that means. There is so much information available about everything you want to know. It’s your job to seek it. Don’t expect anyone to hand it to you. Apprentice yourself to the craft and the profession.
- Be brave. Write what’s true for you. Write what you think. What about what confuses you and compels you. Write about the crazy, hard, and beautiful. Write what scares you. Write what makes you laugh and write what makes you weep. What what makes you feel ashamed or proud. Writing is risk and revelation. There’s no need to show up at the party if you’re only going to stand around with your hands in your pockets and stare at the drapes.
- Be humble. Other people might be right when they tell you this or that isn’t really working in your manuscript. Listen to them. Challenge your attachments to the things you’ve written. This can be a painful process, but it almost always improves your work.
- Don’t believe that you have to “know someone” to get published (or get an agent or win a prize). Nothing good that has happened to me as a writer happened because I knew someone. Everyone in the lit business is looking for poems and stories and essays and books they love. This doesn’t mean dumb things don’t occur, that there is no such thing as this leading to that because so-and-so knew so-and-so, but beautiful things happen far more often than most people seem to believe. Make people fall in love with your writing. That’s how you get published.
- Be strong. No one is going to ask you to write. Many people will tell you not to. Don’t listen to them. If you want to be a writer, be a writer. You don’t need permission. If you need permission let this be it. I give it to you. Now go.
8 Common Problems When Trying to Troubleshoot a Scene
Here are eight of the most common problems I encounter when figuring out how to troubleshoot a scene. Inevitably, one or more of these is at the root of the issue. Once you identify it, you’re halfway to fixing it.
1. The Scene Is One-Dimensional
The troublesome scene I talked about in the opening paragraph was fundamentally problematic because it started out as a very one-dimensional scene. It was a scene late in the book, full of revelations about things I’d been hinting at for most of the plot. But now that the time had come to reveal them, I found myself staring at a chapter full of talking heads. There was no life, no zest, no movement, and no visual interest. Just three character sitting around gasping and going, “Uhhhhh, I understand everything now!!!” Riveting.
You can run into this problem in many different types of scene. Whether your scene is all talking, all sword-fighting, all to-being-or-not-to-being, or all kissing, chances are you’ve got a one-dimensional scene on your hands.
If the only thing happening in your scene is characters talking, consider adding another dimension.
2. The Scene Lacks Forward Momentum
Whenever I find myself stuck on a scene that’s going nowhere, the first thing I do is stop and ask myself, “What does the character want?” The POV character’s goal is the foundation of good scene structure. It’s what drives the plot forward, keeps things literally moving, and sets up the rest of the necessary structural interplay.
That was another problem I faced in my troublesome scene: what did the characters want here? What did they want other than to just sit around while the pieces clicked together for them? As soon as I engineered a goal, I instantly had a sense of forward momentum with the characters moving toward something, rather than just sitting around waiting for the revelations to hit.
3. The Scene Proceeds Unimpeded
After you’ve realized your character’s scene goal, the next step is to make sure his path to that goal isn’t unimpeded. Conflict—in the shape of an obstacle to that goal—spices up any scene. The character needs to go talk to someone else? Too simple. Stick in an obstacle. Perhaps someone else wants to talk to Character #2 too—and the protagonist doesn’t want Character #3 around to hear all these important revelations he was about to unload on Character #2.
Elements such as the need for secrecy can easily add new layers of conflict to any scene.
4. The Scene Lacks a Resolution
To truly move the plot, every scene must be cohesive unit unto itself. It must have a beginning, and it must have an end. If the characters don’t end the scene in a different space—mentally, if not physically—from the one in which they began the scene, then you can deduce one of two things about your scene:
- The scene is completely nonessential to the plot and can be pulled.
- The scene hasn’t ended yet.
The character’s relationship to her scene goal must change in some respect from the beginning of the scene. Either she conquers the obstacle and gets what she wants, or fails and is worse off than ever. Most often, she will encounter a “yes, but… disaster,” in which she may gain the scene goal only to encounter new complications that must be dealt with in the next scene.
(read the complete article at https://www.helpingwritersbecomeauthors.com/troubleshoot-a-scene)