Writers: How To Arrange Your Scenes and Structure Your Novel

20 11 2018

Do you attend writers’ conferences? I did recently…

Not a conference in my location, mind you. This was held by the Oak Park library of Johnson County, Kansas USA, a rather well-funded facility hosting a well-run symposium. There were only two lecture tracks, but one author had done panels at the 2019 SFWA Conference in Pittsburgh. Cora Carmack flew in from Austin to talk writing.

She recommends Jack Bickam’s Scene and Structure. For her, many years of figuring things out on her own clicked together after having read this book.

Here are my notes from her lecture with added explanations.

A) Story Goal

1) What will a character do to restore their self-worth (“Get things right”, “Get back to Hobbiton safe in time for elevenses”). a) Self-worth is based on self-perception. i) The character goal is to restore their perceived original values and regain control of their environment.

2) A story raises a Question  a) every event is filtered through accomplishing the Goal.

B) Cause and Effect  1) Every specified element in a story must have later purpose  2) Every effect or event must have a cause tied to an earlier element.

C) Stimulus and Response  1) Stimulus MUST BE EXTERNAL  a) action or dialogue   2) Response MUST BE IMMEDIATE   a) if the response is illogical, that illogic must be explained internally (have the character reflect that maybe it’s not the right choice, but it’s the right choice FOR THEM because [add rationalization here]).

A plot is structured STIMULUS > INTERNALIZATION > RESPONSE

D) Scenes = Building Blocks  1) State the goal of the scene (“the 3 oclock meeting was to summarize the events for the boss”), 2) Introduce conflict/opposition (“Jimmy and Helen did not agree on the ramifications”)   3) FAIL TO REACH GOAL (“Meeting left us more confused and doubtful”)  a) The scene’s goal could be met, but the Story Goal must be made more difficult

E) SCENE STRUCTURE IS DIFFERENT FROM STORY STRUCTURE

F) SCENE Goals  1) Always from POV character  2) IMMEDIATE  a) Clear goal that both      i) relates to long-term goals   ii) raises the Scene Goal

G) Conflict Development  1) IS the scene   2) MUST be about the scene goal  3) Details the Conflict

H) HOW-TOs  1) Dialogue  2) Action  3) MUST BE VISIBLE  a) Non-POV characters can only respond to sensory data (even if telepathic or magical, still counts as sensory).

I) The Scene Ends In Disaster   1) MUst be a) a Straight Denial of the Goal or  b) YES, BUT (adding a complication) or c) NO, AND FURTHERMORE YOU LOSE THIS TOO.

THE CHARACTER MUST LEAVE EVERY SCENE IN WORSE SHAPE

Before writing a scene: Set goals, arrange escalating loss, and figure how it moves the story forward.

EMOTION >> THOUGHT >> DECISION >> NEW GOAL

Introduce these elements in this order:

Setting + Protagonist + Problem + Antagonist + Conflict + Goal

###

Reading this again, it clarified a lot of things needed for my first draft in NaNoWriMo. I’m at 10K words, and while I have two POV characters (slight burden), one has a goal he is concealing from non-POV characters (more difficult), whilehaving to delineate a magic system and backstory from a previous novel (eek).

I’ve laid out the novel elements well, I think. The problem is maintaining the POVs cause-and-effect while giving each character an arc.

Oh and I’m pantsing, which means I’ll be freaking out in another 10K words as the elements have to be amended.





Writers: 20 Tips To Improve Productivity

5 11 2018

From Daily Writing Tips.

He even quotes Zelazny.





Writers: What To Do When The World Sucks? Haruki Murakami says…

2 11 2018

Click here to find out.

haruki





Writers: Pay For Proofreaders

19 10 2018

I’m now fixing the typos and usage problems in “Lampreyhead”.

The problems got past multiple layers of readers and software.

When professionals say you should pay for a proofreader, they aren’t kidding.

I’m quite embarassed.





Writers: An Author’s Guide To Torturing Readers

15 10 2018

readers cartoon





What A Reader Or Editor Will Never Tolerate. And One Day Left For FREE Giveaway!

14 10 2018

I have read slush for George Scithers, the former editor of “Asimov’s” Magazine and “Weird Tales”, who was honored with two Hugo awards for editing. I listened to the man, learned a little, and through him met other editors. I learned something very basic that few beginning writers realize.
An enthusiastic reader is a forgiving creature. If you are writing zombie stories and the reader loves zombies, then the reader will forgive flaws in the story. An enthusiastic reader will forgive leaden pacing, flat characters, poor descriptions, even trite zombies.
A hopeful editor can be equally forgiving. If there is a nugget of an idea, an editor filled with hope can see the potential of this zombie story and show the writer how that story can be improved.
The worst such a reader or editor will say is “this is a bad story.” But they will probably still read it. Some of it.
What is the one thing a reader and an editor will not tolerate? What will keep a reader and editor from even turning past page one to even see if the story is any good?
Poor formatting. This includes poor grammar, typos, and wrong punctuation. For editors, this includes not following formatting guidelines.
Formatting, spacing, spelling, punctuation are all tracks that keeps the reader’s attention moving along the plot. Every time there is a slip, the reader is jolted from the plot and has to figure out what the author’s meaning. Enough jolts and even the most patient reader will get off the story before the end of the line.
For editors, not following the basic rules of writing and not paying attention to formatting guidelines shows that the writer lacks professionalism.
When I read slush for “Weird Tales”, they hadn’t started taking e-subs yet. Submissions came in by snail-mail in a stack about five inches tall. Each day. It was my job as slush reader to take that stack and reduce it to maybe one or two candidates to give to George for him to consider for publication. It amazed me how many writers had ignored the standard guidelines for “Weird Tales”. If these writers found the “Weird Tales” address, why didn’t they find the guidelines just above that address?
A good sixty percent of each day’s stack were in the wrong font, or had the wrong spacing, or misused English.
Reading these submissions was a chore and one easily relieved through first-round rejection. George was a gentleman and his rejection letters would provide a sentence of about the guidelines or about reading Strunk and White along with some encouragement.
Other editors, and almost all readers, would not have been so patient.
So guidelines and proper formatting will get you ahead of the bulk of your competition. Put your time in on the basics. Editors and readers will give your plot a chance.
Speaking of giving writing a chance….
Over ONE THOUSAND DOWNLOADS of “Fishtown Bloodbath”! Many readers are giving Lampreyhead his chance to shine. Download a free copy and get ahead of this morbid comedy curve.

Book-1-Fishtown-Pback





Writers: For Amazon and Goodreads Reviews…

13 10 2018

Reviewing on amazon





Writers: What To Learn From Marvel

2 10 2018

Clink on the Avengers for advice from K.T. Weiland.marvel-logoDos-and-Donts-of-Storytelling-According-to-Marvel-Series-Header





Writers: Packaging Your Work For Sale Through Amazon, Or “It Costs HOW MUCH?”

28 09 2018

Back when I produced a couple of movies, producers spent half their total budget on box art (yes, box art. It was VHS, then DVD). Design caught the eye and made promises about content. The slicker the design, the higher the expectation about the movie’s overall content. Back then, I learned three things:

  • Do not hire friends to do your art. It’s awkward when they screw up and you have to yell at them or threaten to sue.
  • Do not do it yourself. That will add months to your goal as you learn the software and research design basics.
  • It is worth saving up money to hire an experienced professional.

Through the writing of the Lampreyhead series, I listened to podcasts about self-publishing. Lindsey Buroker suggested hacking the cover designs of bestsellers. I did so and found the popular colors, fonts, elements, and compositions. I opened an account on 99Designs and put up my information.

I thought of Lampreyhead as being a Terry Gilliam satire of Paranormal Romance. Then I spoke with my writers’ group and found that no, Lampreyhead was much darker even than Terry Gilliam. I had first wanted a spoof cover much like Ash from “Evil Dead” with weapon held high, but I was told the series is a bit too grim for that.

Okay, from art design I already knew that all characters needed distinctive silhouettes. Harry Potter is slight with a wand, Harry Dresden had his gun and hat, Anita Blake had great hair, etc. Ned lived in his hoodie and cargo shorts, so he already had a distinctive figure. Based on my research into covers, I concluded I needed rich purples, reds, and golds. I needed a silver metallic font with serifs. Bare abs attracted attention while still being true to Ned’s vocation.

Artists submitted spec designs and I took them to my friends on Facebook. One design stood out, a design I wouldn’t have considered. Instead of a strong pose, Ned looked dead at the viewer. This struck my friends as arresting and moody, so I approved it.

Beware 99Designs. It takes a 30% cut of what you pay the artists. So when I had a regrettably long “oh could you add this” list, I became more trouble than I was worth, and the artist didn’t return my emails for Covers 2 and 3. I do not blame her. She did a great job.

She did send me Photoshop documents of the cover, so I got an artist from my on-line writers group to modify Cover One to make Covers Two and Three. There was a communication glitch and I did not get all the changes I had wanted, but the price was great.

By this time, I was hearing from podcasts that most authors did basics on Photoshop and made their own covers. I bought Photoshop Elements and cropped to make the three Kindle covers.

Total cost so far: $1200.

Advertising is going to add to this outlay.

I will probably have to pay a web designer to make a new home page. I need an aggressive email sign-up drop and WordPress sites don’t seem to do that.

So…I’ll have some info about that next week. We’ll learn together.





Writers: Editing The “Lampreyhead” Series

27 09 2018

I always saw Thomas Hayden Church as Ned “Lampreyhead” Winter.thom-church-int

 

As I’ve stated before, writing beginnings and endings is fun, but connecting them is The Long Night Of The Soul. Book One went reasonably well because I’d had months to mush an outline around in my head. I wrote Book Two in the middle of a Mid-Atlantic winter and between the cold dark and a lack of outline, I had a slight melt-down over the frustration. An old friend from high school, Randy, basically said “get over yourself”, which gave me the kick in the butt to complete that draft. I outlined more thoroughly for Book Three, so with the  confidence gained from Book Two and sensing the finish line I typed “END” on the three books at 90K words in about ten months. Not the output I would have liked, but 8K words a month is a personal best.

I submitted Book One to my face-to-face writers’ group. They pointed out my usual issues with weak verbs and skipping details. I discovered that I write with an audiobook in mind, so I kept attributing thoughts to distinguish them from narration. The “he thought” attributions became tedious. Chuck Pahluhnik challenges his students to write without any attributions at all, least of all internal ones like thought, considered, pondered, etc. I deleted those and wow, what a difference.

I have not established an editing method, so I piecemeal at this point. What I do:

·         Replace spoken attributions (said, shouted, etc) with physicality.

·         Include smells and textures because most writers skip those, and for me those senses bring me into the story faster. I think Elmore Leonard liked three sensory details per page. If your style is lusher, then add details as needed.

·         Proof the character voices. I cast friends and actors to play roles when I write. This helps keep voices and behaviors believable. The protagonist Ned is a challenge. How would a centuries-old, multi-lingual, blue-collar wuss speak? What analogies or cultural references would he use?

·         Modify descriptions to highlight moods.

My writers’ group prioritizes artfulness and emotional depth. One member described Lampreyhead as “a romp”. Which works for me. I have no expectations beyond basically entertaining the reader. By Book Three, I presented the draft to only one member, because he was faster and I think he “got” what I’m trying to do.

He is also a veteran of Odyssey, Clarion, and James Gunn’s Workshops. He is very good at not only finding problems, but proposing solutions.

I keep a file with continuity information. The names and formula for the vampire prototypes are in there, as are magic words. I may need an excel spreadsheet in time or to actually use the Scrivener I bought.

That’s right. I did all this in Word. Three or four characters per book at 30K words, so I didn’t really need anything complicated.

So what did I learn?

  • Outline.
  • Keep encouraging people near by.
  • Tailor your expectations to your capabilities.
  • Trust that next time *it will be easier*.

That was editing. While editing, I went to 99Designs and found a cover artist. I’ll describe the packaging process next time.

 








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