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: 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.

 





Writers: How I Wrote My Novella Series

26 09 2018
blueberries cake chocolate chocolate cake

Photo by Abhinav Goswami on Pexels.com

selective focus photography of people having a toast

Photo by ELEVATE on Pexels.com

CAKE OR BEER? IN TIME, I SHALL HAVE BOTH.

The three books of “Lampreyhead” are now uploaded on Amazon. A year ago, I started writing Book One. Through last Winter and Spring, I wrote Books Two and Three. I hired a cover artist, then had to hire another, and learned formatting for CreateSpace (RIP, now merged with KDP) and Kindle.

Part One! The Writing!

Peering from this site banner is Ned Winter, the protagonist of my new series “Lampreyhead.” Ned is a failed vampire prototype. The approved vampire prototype, Dracula, brought three separate bites with three separate nights of sexual ecstasy. Ned fastens on for three days straight, bringing a three-day long orgasm.

I had this “vampire prototype” joke floating in my head for almost twenty years. I wrote two  “MAD Magazine” style short stories where Lampreyhead was like Jerry Lewis’ Nutty Professor character, then set him aside. I wanted to write a novel about him, but the character wouldn’t work for a longer piece.

The problem with an over-the-top character is that once started, there is no room the nuance needed to sustain a longer work. The style and tone wear the reader down and eventually the humor becomes boring. To make a series, Ned needed a character arc.

I tore down the old Lampreyhead and built a new one.

I started him in modern Philadelphia USA because I know and love this area. How did her survive the centuries? How else? He’d been a gigolo since the 1400s, keeping a low profile from the church and the law. I needed him to be an underdog, so I held to the most oppressive myths regarding vampires: no silver, no sunlight, all holy objects causing spiritual agony or physical injury.

Then I took away most of the vampire perks. No transformations beyond turning into a seven foot parasitic fish. No control of lesser animals. Ordinary hearing and sight. I started feeling sorry for him, so I kept him notably stronger than humans.

For me, the big question regarding vampires is this: why would they be any more accomplished than humans? If I could live forever, would I become a violin virtuoso? Would I even pick up a violin? I lived for six years in a house that held the entire Great Books Series and I had no interest in broadening myself. I think I represent most average humans. So I made Ned not so much a slacker, as someone who settled into a decades long routine. He had no ambitions, but he also had to survive, and the birth-death cycle of mortals broke his heart.

Heart? This vampire has a heart? Yes, unlike the other prototypes, Ned has emotions.

Which gave his story a great new dimension. Most people worry about whether God exists because they see no conclusive proof. All Ned has to do is go past a church and he can feel God’s existence, but God Doesn’t Like Ned. Centuries of this knowledge would wear on a guy.

So I had a sympathetic character struggling to distract himself from his emptiness and wondering at the universe through The Fortean Times and astronomy.

I started the first book with a date. Ned has a date with an affluent, debauched woman. Ned would be well-practiced at concealing his transformation through an absolutely dark hotel room. Because he’s compassionate, he would prepare room service to have food and water ready at the door for “after care”. I threw in some lingerie, but the scene didn’t have much purpose beyond titillation.

Ned then goes to his usual diner to sit all night reading magazines. His routine is interrupted by an old friend and fellow prototype, a character of particularly gruesome nature, Gustav.

Gustav serves three purposes. He gives the reader an idea of what a horror Ned could have been and could still become. Gustav provides information that transforms Ned’s life. Gustav is a toddler with a fanged, prehensile umbilical cord. I love Gustav.

This brings Ned to a journey that is part horror and part slapstick.

Here was the problem: this left callow Ned to process these events on his own. Ned had no moral compass beyond “do as little harm as possible and survive.” He lacked the ability to distinguish Evil.

Remember his date? He still had her phone number. So I had him call her.

That’s how a throwaway character became the protagonist’s confidant for 90K words and still going strong. To grease the skids, I rewrote so that she saw Ned transform during their date. Why wouldn’t she freak out at seeing Ned attached to her? I made her a thrill-seeker also looking for answers through the supernatural.

My favorite TV show has always been “Kolchak”. One of my second favorites is “X-Files” but ONLY the “Monster of the Week” episodes. I wanted to do MotW books where Ned encountered and fought the rest of the vampire prototypes (now called the Formulae).

My research showed that a series needs a plot arc for it to be satisfying for the reader. I’ve tried to split the difference. Ned fights pretty cool vampires while picking up clues about Satan, Hell, the Apocalypse, and Magick, with an eye towards his future development.

Next time, the Editing Process.








%d bloggers like this: