We all know the feeling.
You wake up early, refreshed and ready to head into the next scene of your Work In Progress. You grab your caffeine of choice (mine happens to be tea) and sit down in front of your computer.
Everything is fine until about an hour later. You read through what you’ve written and you’re ready to tear your hair out! What happened to those beautiful words that flowed through your mind during your shower? Why are your characters so…so…cardboard? Yes, cardboard!
You bang your forehead on your keyboard, sobbing. “I’ll never be a real writer!!!”
Okay, maybe I’m being a little melodramatic. Or maybe not. First drafts are – yes, we can say it – awful. But that’s okay! Look at that scene again….
I wrote 700 words this morning. It was the beginning of a scene for my next Love Inspired book that I had labeled “action leading to Twist 1.”
Here, let me give you a sample:
“blah blah blah pigs blah blah blah mud blah blah blah father blah blah blah money…”
Do you see what I see? No action! No movement – unless you count the pigs wallowing in the mud (and I don’t). It’s just my hero, Samuel, and the pigs. There isn’t even any dialogue.
Seven hundred words of boredom. Blah blah blah.
Unless you like pigs.
But I’m not giving up. The first draft – no matter how horrible it might be – is necessary. I’ve dumped what I want the scene to look like onto my computer screen. I’ve given my ideas shape. There is something there…which is much better than nothing.
I can’t revise words I haven’t written, and revising is what makes the writing sing.
So how do I fix this scene?
First of all, the biggest problem is that Samuel is alone. The whole scene is introspection, with a few buckets of pig slops thrown in.
When our characters are alone, nothing happens. Think of the last time you had a moment to yourself and write it out as if it’s a scene in your book.
Jan swished the tea bag in the cup of hot water, hoping that would make it brew faster. She flipped the newspaper open with one hand and read the headline. “Mayor Urges More Spending on City Center.”
Exciting, right? Unless someone walks into the kitchen at that moment and starts a conversation. Then we have some spark. Some interest.
There is a time for our characters to be by themselves, deep in introspection, but this scene isn’t it. Remember that this is an action scene. And it’s a lead-in scene.
What is it leading into? The first plot twist. So in order to write the lead-in, I need to know where I’m going.
What is the plot twist? I have that planned already – Samuel tells the heroine, Mary, that she should stop worrying about money. “Find some fellow to marry and let him worry about it.”
Yeah. Right. She responds to that suggestion about as well as you think.
So now I know what I need to do to fix this scene. Since Mary is going to be key in the next scene, I need to bring her in here. Something she says or does will prompt Samuel to make that suggestion in the next scene that sends her off.
So instead of introspection, I need dialogue between Samuel and Mary. They can talk about the pigs, the mud, and his father. But they need to talk to each other.
Okay, I can hear some of you already: “Plot twist?” “Lead-in?” “Action scene?” What is she talking about?
It’s time for a quick lesson in scene building 101. This is not a rabbit trail, I promise! I’ll come back to revisions in a minute.
How to build a scene:
1. Give it a purpose. Scenes aren’t just fluff and filler. Each scene has a role to play to move your story forward from the beginning, through the middle and on to the end. You, as the author, need to know what each scene’s purpose is. That will help you determine how the scene will play out.
2. Give it a beginning, middle and an end. Think of each scene as a mini-story within your book. Start by showing your reader who is in the scene, where they are and what they’re doing. Ramp up some tension that’s appropriate for this scene’s purpose. And then end with a hook…make your reader go on to the next scene with no thought of putting your book down.
3. Give it a main character. Each scene needs to have a main POV character, and your job is to show the scene through the character who is best able to convey the message of the scene to your reader.
Now back to revising my scene’s first draft. As I revise, I need to keep asking myself those all-important questions.
Another point to consider as I revise this scene is balance.
I tend to write scenes with a word count between 1200 and 1500 words. In my novels for Revell, the scenes tend to be longer, around 2200 words. Why is this an important detail to know? Because I want to build my scenes in proportions the same way I do my novel.
Most novels are in three acts, with Act One in the first 25% of the book, Act Two in the next 50%, and Act Three in the remaining 25%. I want my scenes to have that same kind of proportion.
So my balanced scene would be around 300 words for the beginning, 600 words for the middle, and 300 words for the end. Do you see the symmetry?
Okay. We have our three building blocks and our scene is balanced. How does it look now?
In the first 25%, I describe the physical setting: Samuel is in the barn feeding his pigs, the morning is pleasant, and he is happy to see Mary stop by the farm.
In the middle 50% of the scene, we have the conversation between Samuel and Mary.
They talk about the pigs, his farm, and her idea to raise money to support herself, her sister and their elderly aunt.
Then in the final 25%, we see Samuel’s reaction to the conversation and his lack of understanding of why Mary feels the need to support herself. She should just find a husband, right?
And the groundwork is laid for the next scene.
I have an assignment for you. Don’t worry, it’s a fun one!
Find your favorite book and read it again. This time, pay attention to the scenes as they unfold. Do they have the three building blocks of a good scene? Do they end with a hook?
Now, what can you do to make your writing sing like that?
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Winner announced in the Weekend Edition!
When she feels the pull of both home and the horizon, which will she choose?
Mattie Schrock is no stranger to uprooting her life. Even as her father relocated her family from one Amish community to the next, she always managed to find a footing in their new homes. Now as the Schrock family plans to move west from Somerset County to a fledgling Amish settlement in Indiana, she looks forward to connecting with old friends who will be joining them from another Pennsylvania community—friends like Jacob Yoder, who has always held a special place in her heart.
Since Mattie last saw Jacob, they’ve both grown into different people with different dreams. Jacob yearns to settle down, but Mattie can’t help but dream of what may lie over the western horizon. When a handsome Englisher tempts her to leave the Amish behind to search for adventure in the West, will her pledge to Jacob be the anchor that holds her secure?
Tender, poignant, and gentle, Mattie’s Pledge offers you a glimpse into Amish life in the 1840s—and into the yearning heart of a character you’ll not soon forget.
Jan Drexler brings a unique understanding of Amish traditions and beliefs to her writing. Her ancestors were among the first Amish, Mennonite, and Brethren immigrants to Pennsylvania in the 1700s, and their experiences are the inspiration for her stories. Jan lives in the Black Hills of South Dakota with her husband of more than thirty years, where she enjoys hiking in the Hills and spending time with their four adult children and new son-in-law.
Find her here:
And on Mondays at the Yankee-Belle Café: http://yankeebellecafe.blogspot.com