SCENE AND SEQUEL


SCENE AND SEQUEL

Nattalie Bright

At a writer’s conference held on the campus of WTA&M University in Canyon, Texas, award-winning author Dusty Richards talked to us about scene and sequel when plotting. This is the method that he used to write his popular Byrnes Family Ranch series.

Scene structure = goal, conflict, disaster

Every scene starts with:

  1. character
  2. the viewpoint character
  3. what does he want to accomplish in the confrontation that about to happen
  4. a stepping stone to the big-picture story goal

The story goal in the scene can be stated through dialogue beforehand, internal dialogue through character thought, or stated in the opening line of the scene.

What happens next is the sequel. The pattern of sequel is:

  1. emotion
  2. quandary
  3. decision
  4. action

More on scene and sequel next week.

Follow us all month long as we blog about Story Plot. Happy writing!

 

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The Perfect Story


The Perfect Story

Natalie Bright

Generations of parents passed down bits of wisdom to their offspring in the form of stories before he could write those stories down. “Tell Me a Story” gave way to “Read Me A Story”; a long-held family tradition.

The story holds our attention because of conflict. At the core of every story are three basic plots for conflict.

Man against Man

Man against Nature

Man against Himself

The story that holds our attention whether it’s a blockbuster movie or bestselling book, contains a form of all three.

 

 

Punctuation and Dialogue


Punctuation and Dialogue

Natalie Bright

 

Short pause: Commas.

Medium pause: parentheses, semicolon, em dash.

Long pause: period, question mark, exclamation mark, colon.

  • A readers’ reaction to punctuation is involuntary.
  • Remember to always create a new paragraph for each change of a different character speaking and keep the punctuation inside the quotation marks.
  • If you are using a dialogue tag, then use a comma inside the quotation marks before the tag. Use a period if you are not using a tag after.
  • If the action or dialogue tag comes first, a comma goes after the tag and a period falls inside the quotation marks at the end. If the period or exclamation mark punctuates the main sentence, then it falls outside the quotation marks.

For your writing reference library, add THE CHICAGO MANUAL OF STYLE.

DIALOGUE FOR KID LIT


DIALOGUE FOR KID LIT

Natalie Bright

 

When the critique group works on my kid lit stories, I remember how annoying it sounds when I read the work out loud with every bit of dialogue having a “said” after or before. That is normal for most books targeted to beginning readers.  Every spoken line needs clarification and an origin as to who said what. The same rules apply for kid lit as it does for adult, as in ‘said’ is an invisible word.

Most children’s stories are heavy with dialogue. Kids do not like a lot of narrative. Fill the pages with white space. Short sentences, short paragraphs and pithy bits of talking. Chapter books are very important to beginning readers, but remember chapters are short as well.

Don’t use your word count for empty words that do not move the plot along. For example, the phone rings:

“Hello,” Jenn said.

“Hello, Jenn?” Todd asked.

She answered, “Yes, this is Jenn. Is that you, Todd?”

People do not talk in long sentences, especially here in Texas. Make your dialogue ring true for the era and for the setting of your book.

Read your dialogue out loud. Is it believable for that age of character? On occasion my critique partners will point out that my twelve-year-old character would never say that word, for example, and they are always right. Stay true to the age of your characters.

Since I write historical westerns, I have to be careful about modern day lingo that can sneak into my writing. I have caught myself using “give me call when you get there.” (Ugh.)

Still having trouble? Go to a local gaming center or sports facility and listen to kids talk. My office is right next to the high school, and my son and his friends sometimes stop by to hang out and grab a Dr. Pepper from the fridge I keep stocked. Honestly, I have no idea what they’re talking about most of time. It’s amazing how fast they can move from one topic to the next and everyone seems to keep up with the conversation, except me. Their use of slang terms are more than interesting, and highly educational, to say the least.

Happy writing, and thanks for following WordsmithSix!

Natalie

 

Dialogue Tags


Dialogue Tags

Natalie Bright

Dialogue is spoken communication between characters. The purpose of a tag line is to let your reader know which character is speaking.

Most commonly used dialogue tags:

Said

Asked

Yelled

Hollered

Whispered

As a reader, we hardly notice the tag lines. “He/she said” is boring, and our eyes are used to reading said. We want to know what’s between the quotation marks.

Seriously, can a person “screech” or “Sigh” or “acknowledge” words? Can you “laugh” a sentence? Instead use descriptive words to create motion or response in your characters. Over use of anything besides “said” can be annoying. Think of how you can use narrative in place of tag lines.

One of the best resources for an explanation of dialogue is the book WRITING REALISTIC DIALOGUE AND FLASH FICTION by Harvey Stanbrough. I highly recommend this book as an addition to your writing reference library.

Here’s an example from Mr. Stanbrough’s book:

She approached him cautiously. “Come on now, Baby,” she cooed. “You don’t want that knife. What are you going to do with that?”

He swung the knife in a wild arc. “I just can’t stand it anymore!” he exclaimed. “I’ve had it?”

If you read the same passage above out loud omitting the tag lines, it reads the same. In fact, we might even say that the tag lines of cooed and exclaimed are somewhat annoying. You could add a he said or she said if you want, but the action and narrative helps us know who is talking. The imagery is still the same no matter what tag lines you use.

Happy writing and thanks for following WordsmithSix!

natalie

LISTEN TO YOUR CHARACTERS


LISTEN TO YOUR CHARACTERS

Natalie Bright

 

A discussion at a writer’s workshop led by Jane Graves, an award-winning author of contemporary romance, changed the way I think about writing.

Her advice was to, “Hone in on the one thing that speaks to you. Freshness and originality comes from what you can imagine.”

Are your characters waking you up at night? Do their conversations light a fire in your gut? What do they want? Who are they?

I know this may seem abnormal to most folks, but my characters have complete conversations. I have no idea where they are or even who they are, but I know without a doubt that what I’m overhearing is important to my work in progress or something I’ll be writing in the future. My writing took on new meaning and depth when I started listening to what they were saying.

My big dreams were to be an award-winning romance novelist, but the words in my head were mostly kids, more specifically children who lived in the Texas frontier of all places. In the beginning of my writing journey, I pushed the voices out of my head and tried to create romance stories. The whole creative process was a chore; I hated the characters, the dreary plotline, and the editing process seemed like torture. What made me think that I’d ever be able to write a novel?

Janes’ words got me to thinking. What I’ve been obsessed with since a very early age, besides writing a book, is history and stories set in the Old West. Everything about that time period fascinates me and I consume historical fiction and nonfiction like air.

Believe me I’ve tried to change the ages of my characters so they’d fit a publisher’s specs, follow the advice of my husband who said if I’d write a marketable romance it would be easier to sell, and considered the ideas of a well-meaning editor who insisted I add a werewolf to make a western tale marketable. The writing process wasn’t fun anymore until I finally gave in the voices inside my head. I haven’t looked back since.  You are unique, and only you can write the story that needs to be told. Have confidence in your abilities and story-telling instincts. Have confidence in your characters. Let them show you the way.

 

LET’S TALK BOOKS: Outlander by Diana Gabaldon


LET’S TALK BOOKS: Outlander by Diana Gabaldon

Natalie Bright

In keeping with our January theme of characterization, I’d like to discuss Claire, the main character of the Outlander series by Diana Gabaldon. I’m late to the party, but admittedly Book One in the series is next to impossible to put down. I’ve been reading every evening instead of writing over the past week. So much for the New Year’s word count goals.

As far as characters go, Claire is not that complex or memorable. She doesn’t really leap off the page, even though the book is written in first person POV. She has likable qualities; beautiful, smart, always wants to help and heal, faithful wife who loves her husband. The guilt she feels about loving two men in different centuries makes for great internal conflict.

Last night I realized her flaw. Claire never does what she is told which always results in something bad. And the consequences are the worst scenario, the worst possible outcome that adds a surprise plot twist and keeps us reading. Gabaldon does an excellent job with story hooks.

SPOILER ALERT

Jamie tells Claire, do not go the Geilie’s house. “I dinna want ye anywhere near her…” he says. Jamie has to leave to accompany the Duke. Of course, Claire is summoned to the witch’s house through deception. We suspect it’s a lie. We know she shouldn’t go, but Claire grabs her healing herbs and of course, the consequences are horrific.

I was so angry at Claire! Why can’t she just do what she is asked? What an idiot! I felt the same frustrated, anger experienced sometimes with raising two teenaged boys. Wow!  It surprised me how much I am invested in this fictional character’s journey.  Now that’s powerful characterization.

Are you reading OUTLANDER by Diana Gabaldon? I’d love to know your thoughts…

 

Cardboard Characters


 

Cardboard Characters

Natalie Bright

One of the most difficult tasks for a writer is to create fictional characters that seem real and believable to the reader. I love books in which characters seem to jump off the page and ones that remain in my head long after the book is closed.

Much Like Cardboard

Are your characters more like cardboard; stiff, emotionless, without personality? They have names and faces, but they are just on the surface of your story and nothing more. The solution: dig deeper into your character’s motivation.

As an author, you must torture your characters. It is impossible to reveal deep character feelings and personalities without applying deep, intense pressure. The ways in which they react to that pressure reveals their temperament and psyche.

Using Character Profiles

Complete character profiles on both your protagonist and your antagonist. There are many great example forms available online.

Don’t stop at the name. Create a birthdate, a history of where they were born, family description, dominant characteristics, weaknesses, and physical limitations. Create historical events for your character that might have happened in their life such as school’s name, college, children’s names, etc.

Write A Letter

Many of my author friends write a letter in first person POV from their character. Don’t think; just free write. Let them reveal their secrets, desires, fears, self-image.

This trick worked great for me on the story I am working on now. My main characters are a young mule-skinner and a Comanche brave. I am alternating chapters between their points of view. I want to show the contrast between how very different their worlds are, yet they are both sixteen-year-old boys. They each wrote me a letter about their different worlds. One holds a great hatred for his father, and the other resents the physical limitations he has to live with. Now I have something to build upon and add the conflict. At this point, writing is more fun than work.

Keep moving forward and thanks for following WordsmithSix!

CHARACTER


CHARACTER

Natalie Bright

 

“What is character but the determination of incident? What is incident but the illustration of character?” HENRY JAMES

 

As David Morrell reminds us in his book LESSONS FROM A LIFETIME OF WRITING, plot and character are intimately related. Every character that comes on scene has interaction with your main character and will establish a relationship with that main character. Your protagonist will interact with each of those minor characters in some way, and their actions and dialogue move the plot along. Is that relationship from the past or a new one? (Be sure to add Morrell’s book to your writing reference library.)

According to E. M. Forster, main characters are multidimensional. They surprise us, they are complex, and they are difficult to describe succinctly. They are defined by who they are.

The iceberg theory is a style of writing coined by American writer Ernest Hemingway. “The dignity of the movement of an iceberg is due to only one-eighth of it being above the water”. Same is true for characters and their stories. What is obvious to the reader implies a much larger truth and depth. That is why the majority of your character profile will never appear in your story, but you know your characters intimately. As one workshop instructor explained, the writer should know what is in the main character’s closet.

What does your character want, and what obstacles can you throw in their way to prevent them from achieving that goal?

Characters & The Five Senses


Characters & The Five Senses

Natalie Bright

 

The main character Hassan in the movie The Hundred Foot Journey, is a culinary genius whose talent propels him to a world-renowned chef.  The title refers to the distance between Hassan’s family who relocates to France because of a tragedy and opens an Indian restaurant across the road from a traditional French restaurant. I have watched this many times, and I always tear up at the same scene.

The Power of Taste and Smell

One of my favorite scenes is the perfect example of how the power of taste and smell can be used to create powerful emotion.

While sitting in his darkened, closed restaurant overlooking the Paris skyline, Hassan hears a young co-worker on break. He raises his head, pauses, and then slowly rises from the floor. The young man is eating. “Do you want some?” he asks.

As Hassan dips pieces of fried bread into the dish, the young man explains that his wife cooks the traditional Indian way on an open fire in the courtyard of their apartment using spices from their homeland. Tears well up in Hassan’s eyes and you can see the emotion and internal conflict on his face. His mother, who had died in a fire, was the one who had taught him the use of spices. The family’s relocation from India to France had been a struggle of cultural differences. All of this is visible as Hassan buries his face in his hands and sobs. You understand the conflict that is going through his mind. There is no dialogue. He doesn’t voice his pain, but you know. It is a very powerful scene triggered by smell and taste.

INCLUDE THE SENSES

Characters should experience several of the five senses in every scene. This pulls your reader into the emotion and setting and reveals the conflict that the character is experiencing. During the editing process, I find it’s easier to deliberately focus on enhancing the five sense during one pass. As I read every scene, I think about the reality for that character. What more can be revealed? For example, the smells of food, the sounds of nature, the feel of satin fabric, etc. Dig deep into the slightest, most minute detail of what that character is experiencing. Maybe it’s good as written, but maybe it can be better.

Here’s Your Homework

Think of your favorite movie and watch a scene that triggers emotion based on any of the five senses. If you have a particular scene in mind, be very specific with your search terms to find it on YouTube.

Watch the scene several times. Now, turn off the video and write that same scene. Be descriptive about the senses that trigger the emotion. Fill your pages with emotion and rewriter the scene.