Showing posts with label sequel. Show all posts
Showing posts with label sequel. Show all posts

Sunday, September 22

10 Rules for Writing a Sequel




In the past I’ve shared articles I thought were particularly insightful about what makes a story a good story. This time I'm sharing a video from PSA Sitch.[1]

IMHO, Sitch is excellent at analysis and I love the quirky style of his video creations. I don’t agree with everything Sitch says, but he makes several insightful points about the nature of an entertaining story -- or at least one specific type of story. I highly recommend his video.

I hope PSA Sitch doesn’t mind my doing this, but in what follows I list some of the insights he shared in this video, ones that made me excited about this wonderful, magical, thing we call storytelling.[2]

I’ll provide a more detailed discussion, below, but here’s an overview:

(BTW, everything I write in this article is specifically about sequels.)
At the end of your first story, your hero has gone through his arc, he has achieved his goal (your particular story’s version of the holy grail) and returned to his community and used what he discovered, his prize, to make it better.  
In your next story your former hero needs to be knocked down a few notches, he needs to be ordinary-ish again. The new, younger, hero finds him, rescues him, and in so doing the former hero is symbolically reborn. The former hero and the new hero head off on an adventure together. As they adventure, the former hero teaches the younger hero and this creates a bond between them, one that makes them both better. Stronger. At the end of their adventure they achieve their goal (their partnership was essential for this) and reinvigorate their community.
So, let's get started!

10 Things That Make an Sequel Worth Reading


1. Fall from grace. 


In a sequel, if the series character, the former hero, doesn't have a fall from grace there can be no character arc. If there is no character arc, if the hero of the first story never changes, the protagonist -- and therefore the story -- will be boring.

At the beginning of the sequel, the former hero has lost his way. We need to knock the former hero off his pedestal, we need to humble them. We need to bring him down to the level of the ordinary person. In the first book, at the end, the old hero was larger than life. Back then, he found the holy grail and saved his community. Now he is just like you or I: ordinary.

2. Make the fall from grace realistic. 


As we know from real life, the older one gets, the more life experience one has, the greater the chance that bad things will happen to us. We lose people we love, the world changes in ways that seem to exclude us, and we have aches and pains in assorted places.

Sitch warns against making this fall from grace too big. But if you want a big event to topple the former hero, make him react to it in a way that is consistent with core aspects of his character.

For instance, if hypocrisy really bothered the former hero before his fall then it should still bother him.

Perhaps his one true love died and he now sees the world as a hostile place.

But the thing that brings the former hero down doesn’t have to be a big tragedy. The world -- the real world -- is chaotic. Bad things happen to good people. Sometimes the things that batter us are big and horrible and sometimes they are multiple and small. And the more the character hurts, the more they become afraid of the future and fear the unknown. [3]

In the beginning of the sequel, the former hero has become disillusioned. He doesn’t want to take risks because he knows what the cost might be.

3. The former hero, even in his fallen state, needs to be recognizable. 


Have remnants of the former character, the qualities that made readers admire him, peek through even though the former hero is a pale version of his former self. Sure, we need to scuff him up a bit but we still need the audience to reconnect with the character, so we need him to be recognizable.

The call to adventure.

In the sequel, the former hero (the protagonist of the series) will initially reject the Call to Adventure.

The former hero has become discouraged, perhaps even cynical. The new hero is the one who needs to come in and reignite the old hero’s zest for life and, with that, his willingness to face his fear and fight for what he loves.

4. Redeem the former hero. 


When the former hero finally accepts the Call to Adventure he is, in a sense, reborn. Back in the day, he used to hit the mark (literally and figuratively) but then he began missing AND he stopped caring.

Hope is reignited. Eventually, the new hero is able to create a spark of hope or ambition or caring in the former hero. (I write more about this, below.)

Thinking about this in a mythic sense, the new hero is the son and the former hero is the father. The new hero (the son) comes along and revivifies the former hero (the father). Again -- and Sitch stresses this -- this redemption, how it is accomplished, should be related to both the main arc of the story and the reasons for the former hero's (the father’s) rescue/redemption.

The new hero -- the child -- breaks down the old structures of society represented by the father (the former hero) and literally 're-forms' them bringing together what came before with what exists now. Essentially, he creates (re-creates) the world.

5. Have your former hero become a mentor to the new hero.


Have your more experienced and slightly tarnished former hero become a mentor to the new hero. At first this mentoring might be reluctant. The new hero might be very similar to the former hero, to how the former hero was like when he was younger.

6. Give your former hero a consistent philosophy/worldview. 


This is perhaps the most important thing to get right. The former hero must have had a purpose. Yes, sure, he has lost sight of this purpose over the years. He has become cynical and no longer believes in anything

Let's talk about what it means to have a purpose. To have a purpose, a character needs to believe something. They need to have a (even a very simple) worldview.

Sitch gives the example of Spiderman: With great power comes great responsibility. That is his guiding light.

This is an aside: This principle doesn't just apply to heroes/protagonists, it applies to any character that has significant pagetime in your novel. Even antagonists. (Perhaps especially antagonists!)

Take Thanos, the villian from Marvel (this is Sitch’s example). Thanos believed that half the population of the universe had to die to prevent starvation and war. While we understood his goal and even sympathized with it -- who doesn't want to end starvation and war?! -- but the means he was using to attain this goal was evil. But his philosophy/worldview was consistent and understandable and it was a bit part of what made him a great character.

A worldview doesn’t have to be something abstract. 


Having a well developed worldview is great, but it's not for every character. You could just give your character something to care about. For instance, having a child immediately gives life purpose because when you’re a parent you have this small person to take care of. Their survival and well-being becomes your purpose.

7. The new hero’s actions should be what saves/redeems/resurrects the former hero.


The former hero teaches the new hero what he knows. He teaches him his philosophy of life as well as whatever skills his has.

This transfer of knowledge serves two purposes. It bonds the characters, makes them a unit. They become mentor and apprentice.

8. The former hero needs their worldview reaffirmed.


I thought that Sitch made an especially interesting observation here. When one person teaches something to another person, and if whatever you teach them helps them to succeed, then it validates your philosophy. When that happens it feels good! The fact that they were able to pass along something valuable gives that character a sense of worth. This is part of the former hero's redemption. This gives them the courage to face their fear of the unknown and risk everything one more time.

(This could be part of an upswing just before the heroes execute their final plan and race to the finish.)

9. Flaws are important.


Don’t be afraid to make your hero a bit flawed. Perhaps the old hero isn’t happy to see their apprentice succeed. Perhaps we see a bit of jealousy lurking in the depths of the former hero’s heart.

This could be one reason why the former hero wasn’t thrilled to mentor the new hero in the first place.

10. Make your new hero incompetent.


At the beginning of your story, when you first introduce the new hero, make him incompetent.

Also, don’t give the new hero a coherent worldview, make them confused. They don't know what they want to do with their lives, they feel like they don't fit in anywhere.

Why? One reason is that it gives the former hero something to teach, something for them to bond over.

Also, your new hero needs an arc. This means he needs to struggle in the beginning. The way that is done is to put your new hero in situations with characters you've created, characters you've designed to make sure your new hero is NOT going to have an easy time.

What makes a great story? Conflict. Why? Because it forces your characters to struggle. If your characters don’t have to work to overcome obstacles, then when they finally achieve their goal it won't mean anything.

Okay, that's it! Do you have a tip for writing a riveting sequel? Please leave a comment! I’d love to hear from you!


Notes:


1. Spider-Man DESTROYS Star Wars on Wokeness. As you can tell from the title, Sitch includes a couple of political themes in his critique, but the bits about how to tell a great sequel stand on their own.

2. I would just like to say that all the good bits in this article were taken from Sitch’s video. However, inevitably, I’ve filtered Sitch’s bits of wisdom through my own fallible and idiosyncratic understanding of story. So, if the point I made seemed good to you, the credit goes to Sitch. If, on the other hand, it seemed a bit off, blame me.

3. I'll have more to say about this later, but the solution to this is for the former hero to face his/her fears, to confront them head on. Perhaps he/she will succeed in this at first, but probably he/she will fail a few times before he/she succeeds.

4. A Call to Adventure might occur off the page (or the screen). For example, a very short story might begin after the Call to Adventure.

Credits:


"Writing with a fountain pen." Photograph by Aaron Burden over at Unsplash.

Wednesday, June 21

Creating Effective Transitions

Creating Effective Transitions


Transitions are tricky. In a scene you write in the moment, recording your character's thoughts, feelings, actions and—most important of all—desires. In those times when you're immersed in the scene writing can seem effortless.

Transitions, not so much.

I'm not saying it's unclear what I need to do in a transition. At least, speaking generally. I know where I need to start (the disaster that ended the previous scene) and where I need to end (the viewpoint character's new goal) and what I need to do in between these two points (emotion --> thought --> decision --> action). But, still, these are general guidelines that allow for a LOT of flexibility.

Today I'm going to talk about how to create effective transitions between scenes.

(BTW, if you’re wondering what a sequel is I talk about them in Scenes, Sequels, Sequences and Acts.  For more about scenes and sequels I also recommend Dwight V. Swain's book, Techniques of the Selling Writer and Jack Bickham's Scene & Structure.)

Simple Transitions and Sequels


Jack Bickham tells us there are two kinds of transitions: simple transitions and sequels.

I talk more about simple transitions, below, but basically simple transitions are what they sound like, one or two lines that takes you from one place/time to another place/time. For example, "At 10:30 Sarah was eating ice cream, three hours later she was dead."

Sequels are longer more complex transitions that link scenes together. At the beginning of a sequel the protagonist has been humiliated and defeated. Not only has he NOT achieved his goal, he has lost whatever progress he made. The question is: What does he do now? What is his next goal?

Transitions are about emotion.


All transitions should show the viewpoint character's emotion. (Scenes, on the other hand, are about CONFLICT.) Dwight V. Swain in Techniques of the Selling Writer states that emotion “unifies sequel and holds it together.”

During a sequel your protagonist is preoccupied with the emotional and physical aftermath of whatever disaster ended the previous sequel. Swain writes that for a character to be preoccupied in this way is “actually to be preoccupied with a particular set of feelings. If your girl runs out on you ... you feel hurt and angry. If your boss fires you, you feel angry and panicky. If your friend betrays you, you feel grieved and confused.”

“... until you decide what to do about the situation, your feelings can’t help but be the thing uppermost in your mind.”

In a transition you summarize, skipping anything that doesn't help communicate the viewpoint character's dominant emotion, that doesn't help show his or her reaction to the disaster at the end of the preceding scene.

The Dominant Feeling


Let's talk a bit more about that last point. Think about the particular transition you’re writing. What is your character’s dominant feeling? Is it hate? Love? Fear? Desperation? Dread? Whatever it is, this will give you the unifying theme. For example:

Lily blinked at her computer and cringed. She would rather have a root canal than try to string words together coherently. Perhaps her ideas would flow more easily tomorrow. But when tomorrow came even the thought of writing felt like the blade of a knife.

In the above example I attempted to communicate the feeling of dread I've felt a time or three at the prospect of having to commit words to (virtual) paper. Lily was also dying for a big juicy hamburger and tired after a night of troubled sleep, but I didn't say anything about that because it wouldn't help express her feeling of dread.

Simple Transitions


Let's take a deeper look at simple transitions. As Jack Bickham writes in Scene & Structure, simple transitions cover either a change in time, a change in place or a change in viewpoint.

a. A change in time


Example: “It was the following Tuesday when they met again.”[1]

Example: Ruth flung her head back, closed her eyes and faced the sun, letting the heat dance over her skin. She wanted it to stay sunny forever. Alas, she lived in the Pacific Northwest. Fifteen minutes later it started to rain.

Transitions generally come between scenes and compress time. Chances are the protagonist has lost and lost big at the end of the previous scene. She must now figure out what to do and, as part of this, she will likely need to travel to different places, talk to different people. If we followed our protagonist around second-by-second our story would be very boring. So we need to summarize, condense. We need to figure out her dominant emotion and let that guide our choices.

b. A change in place 


Example: “At about the same time Joe met Billy another meeting was taking place on the other side of town.”[1]

Just as transitions compress time they generally compress space as well. When your protagonist goes to visit his friends you're not going to want to describe the car, the heat, etc. You only want to bring in what’s important for your story.

c. A change in viewpoint


Example: Dan smiled hoping his girlfriend, Jan, wouldn’t find out he’d made it to second base with her best friend. [New chapter] “Bastard!” Jan thought, looking at Dan, seeing his guilty smile.

Changes in viewpoint are straightforward. First you were telling the story through one character's eyes and now you've switched and are telling the story through another character's eyes.

Just make sure it's clear to the reader that the viewpoint has changed as well as whose viewpoint the story is now being told from. The writer doesn't want to confuse the reader so it's a good idea to do this in the first sentence and certainly in the first paragraph.

Transitions and Time


Recall that scenes happen in the moment, time unfolds second after second. Sure, time can slow down but there are no jumps, no gaps.

But if you wrote a story that detailed every single second of your protagonist's life you'd end up with a story bored any reader to tears!

We need to see characters live moment-by-moment when there is a burst of purposeful activity (i.e., a scene) but then we need to transition to the next burst. How we do this greatly affects the pace of a story.

Controlling Pace


New writers tend to write stories that need speeding up rather than slowing down, but here are the a few pointers for doing both. (Most of these points were drawn from Jack Bickham's book.)

How to speed up the pace of a story:


  • Where possible, remove sequels from between scenes.
  • Where it’s not possible to remove a sequel see if it would be just as effective if you used a simple transition rather than a sequel.
  • Can you cut some descriptions of emotion from your sequels?
  • Check the motivations and goals of your characters in the scenes your transition links. Is it clear what motives your main characters? What their goals are?
  • Can you raise the stakes in one or more of the scenes?
  • Can you make the disasters at the end of your scenes more dramatic?

How to slow down the pace of the story:


  • Cut one or more scenes.
  • Shorten one or  more scenes.
  • Reveal more of the viewpoint character’s thoughts.
  • Expand the sequels.

That's it for today! I'll talk to you again on Friday. Till then, good writing!



Every post I pick something I believe in and recommend it. This serves two purposes. I want to share what I like with you, and, if you click the link and buy anything over at Amazon within the next 24 hours, they put a few cents in my tip jar at no cost to you. So, if you click the link, thank you! If not, that’s okay too. I’m thrilled and honored you’ve visited my blog and read my post.

I've talked about Jack Bickham and Dwight V. Swain in my article and can wholeheartedly recommend their books. Yes, they say basically the same thing but I love reading authors who the same topic but from different perspectives. If you're wondering which book to start with I'd recommend Jack Bickham's Scene & Structure

Here's a quote from Scene & Structure:
MENTION WORDS SUCH AS STRUCTURE, form, or plot to some fiction writers, and they blanch. Such folks tend to believe that this kind of terminology means writing by some type of formula or predetermined format as rigid as a paint-by-numbers portrait.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

In reality, a thorough understanding and use of fiction’s classic structural patterns frees the writer from having to worry about the wrong things, and allows her to concentrate her imagination on characters and events 


Note:


1. The example for (a) and (b) were from Jack M. Bickham’s book, Scene & Structure.

Monday, August 11

The Structure of a Short Story: The New Plan

The Structure of a Short Story: The New Plan



So far our story has set a fairly quick pace. We’ve introduced the setting and the protagonist. We’ve introduced the protagonist’s allies and enemies. We know what the protagonist’s goal is as well as the obstacles to her achieving it. We have seen the protagonist devise a plan to make her goal a reality, act on it and fail miserably. Now it’s time to react to this failure, come up with a new plan and put it into motion.

Sequels


Now the pace is going to slow. The protagonist needs time to react to all that has happened. She needs to sit down, take a breath, regroup and reflect. 

Show the protagonist’s reactions to this loss, show her emotions--or lack of them. What happened? What didn’t go according to plan? Why? Going forward, what are the options? What are the outcomes/stakes for each option? 

Each of the protagonist’s allies might argue for a different course of action but, ultimately, the protagonist must choose between them or, even better, put forward a plan of her own, one that is bolder, more daring, than all the others.

In other words, now’s the time for a sequel. (BTW, for more about scenes and sequels see: Scenes, Sequels, Sequences and Acts & Jim Butcher on Scenes and Sequels.)

Scenes Like a Funhouse Mirror


Short stories often reflect the macrocosm as though in a warped funhouse mirror, speeding through certain parts--or only implying them--to dwell on others. (I think I picked the metaphor of a funhouse mirror because I’m reading Stephen King’s “Joyland.” Wonderful story.)

In my previous posts in this series I mentioned that short stories are different from novels but that they have the same important bits. And that’s true, but sometimes these important bits occur offstage: either before the story began or in the time after it ends.

For example, one of my favorite stories, Ernest Hemingway’s “Hills Like White Elephants,” is (or so I would argue) basically a sequel. There are two courses of action being discussed and the girl, the protagonist, must choose between them. 

I think that, often, literary short stories are sequels. The protagonist reacts to an event that occurred before the story began and the reader tries to figure out what the event was, as well as its significance, from how it affects the characters.

A note about the structure of a short story and how it often differs from that of a longer work


The crisis of the last section (First Complication) occurred more or less at the Midpoint of our short story, though if we were writing a novel this would occur earlier at around the 30% mark. 

 Note that the Midpoint isn’t a point, it’s a sequence that consists of several short fast-paced scenes, each scene running into the next with little pause for reflection. In each scene the protagonist tries to achieve her goal (the story goal) and in each something happens to deflect her. (see: Try-Fail Cycles)

In this sense, a short story is condensed. Where in a novel there would be ample time between the failure of the protagonist’s first attempt and her gearing up for her main assault, this span of time is telescoped in a short story. The protagonist of a short story has to adjust to the conditions of the special world, make friends and allies--as well as enemies--in a few short paragraphs rather than chapters.

Formulate a New plan


What follows are some of the stages/events that often occur after the protagonist’s first big failure. 

This list is not meant to be in any way canonical--when it comes to stories there’s no such thing--but thinking about these points has often helped me figure out why a certain part of my story isn’t working as well as I’d like.

 a. Emotion


At the beginning of the sequel, show the protagonist’s emotions. Show her emotional reaction to the failure at the end of the previous scene. Is she sad? Angry? 

b. Thought/Review


The protagonist reviews the situation and focuses on one or two aspects of the attempt as significant. These are the aspects the writer wishes the reader to dwell upon. This is where much of the protagonist’s character development will occur. 

For example, who does the protagonist blame? Herself? Her friends? The antagonist? I've found that heroic protagonists tend to blame themselves. Especially if one of their companions is injured in her attempt to achieve her goal. 

c. Anticipation/Reason


Show the protagonist anticipating what is to come. What can she do now? Have the protagonist--or her allies--think of two or three ways of achieving her goal. For each goal reveal what the outcome would be; what the new stakes would be.

d. Decision


Have the protagonist decide on a new path of action. The important bit here is that the writer clearly communicates to the reader why the protagonist picked one course of action over another. 

For example, continuing my example from last time, let’s say the protagonist’s goal is to stop her grandmother’s house from being repossessed by the bank. Let's say that our protagonist comes up with these three options:

i. Go to the mob and borrow the money. 

ii. Plunder the trust fund her father set up for her so she could go to college and become a doctor.

iii. Beg her cousin to let grams live with her. (The protagonist absolutely hates her cousin and the feeling is mutual.)

If the protagonist chooses (iii) then it shows the reader that she is willing to swallow her pride. That would tell us a lot about the protagonist's character. We would see that she would rather do something she absolutely hated rather than let someone she loved come to harm. 

If the protagonist doesn’t choose option (iii) that also tells us something about her. For example, if she chooses (ii) then she will achieve her goal--her grams house will be saved--but she will have sacrificed both her dream and her father’s dream to make it happen.

The question is: How much does the protagonist’s pride mean to her? Is she willing to give up her dream to save her pride?Her decision will tell us a lot about her. This, right here, is the nuts and bolts of character development. 

e. Action


Show the protagonist begin to act on her new plan. For example, let’s say that the protagonist has chosen to save her grans house by plundering the trust fund her father set up for her. At the end of the sequel we could show her getting in her car and leaving for the bank.

Next time we’ll look at the Major Setback and talk more about how the second half of a story differs from the first. Cheers!

Photo credit: Untitled by Thomas Leuthard under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0.

Monday, May 12

Scenes, Sequels, Sequences and Acts

Scenes, Sequels, Sequences and Acts


I finally published the first episode of my book on writing: Parts of Story: Plot!

To celebrate, and to say a big, huge, massive thank you! to my readers, if you subscribed to my email list before today then you should have received an email telling you how to download a free copy. You don't have to sign anything, there are no strings. I just want to give you the book for free. (Because all good things come to an end, this offer will expire May 26, 2014.) 

If you hadn't subscribed to my newsletter before today you can still get Parts of Story: Plot for free. Just subscribe to my newsletter and then contact me and ask for the book. 

Back to writing about writing ...


A couple of weeks ago I received feedback from one of my beta readers about my manuscript for Parts of Story. He said, "Great book! But I don't understand how scenes and sequels are related to overall story structure."

Oops! I corrected that before I published my book, but the more I thought about the subject, the more I wanted to expand on what I wrote. So ... blog post!

Jack Bickham: Scene & Structure


I just finished reading a terrific book on writing. I almost said "the best book on writing I've ever read" but there are so many great books on writing I couldn't possibly pick a favorite. At the moment, Jack Bickham's Scene & Structure and Stephen King's On Writing are definitely at the top of my favorites list, though for different reasons.

Although both Scene & Structure and On Writing seem to have been written with beginning writers in mind (though they have a lot to offer writers of every level of experience) the authors approach their topic—how to write—in very different ways. King focuses more on the art of writing while Bickham focuses more on the craft of writing. 

The Craft Of Writing


Let's get the definitions out of the way.

A scene is:


"A scene is a unit of conflict, of struggle, lived through by character and reader. It’s a blow-by-blow account of somebody’s time-unified effort to attain an immediate goal despite face-to-face opposition." (Dwight V. Swain, Techniques of the Selling Writer)

A sequel is:


"A sequel is a unit of transition that links two scenes, like the coupler between two railroad cars. It sets forth your focal character’s reaction to the scene just completed, and provides him with motivation for the scene next to come." (Dwight V. Swain, Techniques of the Selling Writer)

You may think it's odd that I raved about Jack Bickham's book and then used definitions from Dwight V. Swain's. Swain was Bickham's teacher, his mentor and his friend. Bickham is expanding on what Swain said, he's filtering it through is own understanding and experience, but it's the same system.[1]

A sequence is:


A daisy chain of scenes and sequels that has a beginning, middle and end and which is unified by an idea. 

An act is:


A daisy chain of sequences. Just like each scene and sequence has a beginning so does every act. A beginning, a middle and end. Acts, in turn, combine to form the major structural bones of a story.

The Three Act Structure


As we've just seen, scene-sequel pairs make up sequences, sequences compose acts and acts form the skeleton of a story.

How many acts? It doesn't matter. Three acts, four acts, two acts, one act, six acts, you name it. One of the most popular--and most useful--structures is the three act structure (or the four act structure that simply chops the second act down the middle to yield four equal parts). 

I'm not going to go over this structure in detail since I've stepped through it in my post: Story Structure (I've updated that post in my book).

Sequences and Acts


Typically, there are two sequences in the first act, four sequences in the second act and two sequences in the third act. (For more about sequences see, The Eight Sequences, over at ScriptLab.com.)

That's it! That's how scenes and sequels fit into acts. Of course that's the bare bones, the basics. In the future I want to go over the structure of scenes and sequels in more detail, as well as how scenes flow into sequels and vice versa. At the end of Scene & Structure Jack Bickham gives the structure of a complete (hypothetical) 50,000 word suspense novel. I won't go that far, but if you're interested I would encourage you to get ahold of his book and study it.

Good writing!

References/Notes/Links


1. Jack Bickham wrote: "This book is dedicated to the memory of Dwight V. Swain: writer, teacher and friend. Without him, I would have had no career as a novelist."

Saturday, April 12

Parts of Story: What Is A Scene?

Parts of Story: What Is A Scene?


Jim Butcher describes a scene as the place "where all the plot in your book happens. Any time your character is actively pursuing his goal [...] he is engaged in a SCENE."[2]

Dwight V. Swain writes in Techniques of the Selling Writer that a scene is a "blow by blow account of somebody's time-unified effort to attain an immediate goal despite face-to-face opposition."[1]

Jack Bickham in The 38 Most Common Fiction Writing Mistakes gives us a warning. He holds that one of the most important aspects of a scene is its continuous nature. A writer develops the "action between the characters moment by moment, with nothing left out; you follow the rules of cause and effect, stimulus and response. To put this another way: you make sure that you never summarize during a high point of conflict in your story."

What elements do these three descriptions have in common? I think it's this: a scene centers around an uninterrupted conflict between two opposing forces. One very important thing: in a scene there is no exposition. No flashbacks. No information dumps. The action is uninterrupted.

The goal of the scene is to draw your readers into the story, to capture their interest, to get them to ask not only what happens next but to wonder why it happened.

Here's how Dwight V. Swain sums up the core, the essence, of a scene: 

Goal --> Conflict --> Disaster

Let's look at each of these.

Goal


Every scene needs two opposing forces, a protagonist and an antagonist (or, more generally, an antagonistic force).[3] Each scene needs someone who wants something desperately as well as someone, or something, who is just as desperate to stop them getting it. 

The goal should be specific.


The protagonist should have a goal so specific you could take a picture of it. A desire for riches isn't a good goal because it's too general, too abstract. Wanting to win next month's million dollar lottery, though, is a fine goal. It even suggests ways to bring it about: buy lottery tickets! Or, if you're writing a crime story, perhaps the protagonist figures out a way to rig the lottery.

Instead of a character wanting to be rich, have them dream of graduating from Harvard Law at the top of their class. Instead of a character wanting love in her life, have her daydream of marrying Ernest Watly, the eccentric librarian who moved to town last year. Instead of a character wanting to travel, have postcards from locations all over the world taped to her walls and give her an abiding desire to see the Nazca Lines in Peru.

The goal should be clearly communicated at the beginning of the scene.


The protagonist's goal should be clearly spoken or demonstrated at the beginning of the scene. There are two things here: first, the goal should be clearly and simply expressed and, second, such expression should occur at the beginning of the scene. As I wrote that sentence it seemed too obvious to state but then I remembered all the stories languishing under my bed in which I didn't follow that advice. 

The scene question.


Every scene should, implicitly, ask the question: Will the protagonist succeed in achieving their goal?

In a scene, any scene, the protagonist sets out to do something. Something specific. Something concrete. But his efforts are opposed. The antagonist has a goal too, and she can't achieve that goal if the protagonist does. So there's a problem. There's conflict.

This is good because now we've created uncertainty. The reader is (hopefully) wondering whether, and how, the protagonist will circumvent the opposition and get closer to achieving their goal.  If so, we've created suspense. It is this opposition between the major characters, this uncertainty, that will create suspense and keep readers turning pages.

The protagonist (and antagonist) must want something desperately.


Dwight V. Swain in Techniques of the Selling Writer notes that characters, like people, have three kinds of wants: to possess something, relief from something or revenge for something.

P.D. James in her marvellous book, Talking About Detective Fiction, writes that "All motives can be explained under the letter L: lust, lucre, loathing and love."

Whatever the character wants, they must be willing to sacrifice quite a lot for it; possibly everything. Their sanity, even their life. Why? Because as a story progresses the opposition the protagonist faces must increase. At a certain point the protagonist's pursuit of their goal will lack plausibility unless they have a strong desire, and a strong motive, to achieve that goal. 

This is where character development is so very important. If what the character wants grows out of who the character is, out of their deepest desires and drives, then--when these drives are linked up to the goal--it will be plausible that the character will be willing to sacrifice anything to achieve that goal.

I'm going to leave off here. On Monday I'll finish this post and talk about the roles of both conflict and disaster in creating a scene.

(Note: This post is from one of the chapters of my upcoming book, Parts of Story, which I usually publish separately. But this particular chapter proved to be a bit thorny and was taking so much time I decided to post it as one of my three weekly posts. I'm sorry if that creates any confusion. Thanks for your patience as I (slowly) blog my book. Cheers!)

Links/References


1. Dwight V. Swain, Techniques of the Selling Writer.
2. Jim Butcher, Scenes, on Livejournal.com.
3. I didn't want to launch into an in-depth explanation of terminology at the beginning of this article since that would be akin to giving an information dump at the beginning of a scene! But I do have a few things to say. In my book this part will likely end up in a glossary. 
- "Protagonist" comes to us from the Greeks and simply means "chief actor." Today, we use the word to indicate the primary character in a story or the main actor in a play. That said, many stories are told through different points of view (POV). Each of these POV characters is the protagonist of their own story. In this way we could talk of a "story protagonist" and a "scene protagonist." I tend to shy away from using these terms as I think they could be confusing. 
- Like "protagonist," the word "antagonist" comes to us from the Greeks and means "opponent, competitor, enemy, rival"[4] and is used to refer to the nemesis or main rival of the protagonist; the character who stands between the protagonist and his goal. The antagonist often isn't evil or even bad (if they are then the antagonist is often called a villain). Strictly speaking, the antagonist is just someone who stands between the protagonist and their goal.
- The phrase "antagonistic force" refers to anything that gets in the way of the protagonist achieving his goal, whether human or not. Tornadoes, diseases, and so on, are examples of natural phenomena that have been used as antagonistic forces.
4. Antagonist, Wikipedia.

Tuesday, July 24

An interview With Jamie Sedgwick: Tinker's War Coming Sept 15th


Today I'm doing something different. Jamie Sedgwick is one of the first people to leave a comment on this blog and one of my first contacts in the indie community. When I heard he was coming out with a new book I knew I had to have him over for a visit.

1. Hi Jamie, it's wonderful to have you on my blog. I've chatted with you through blog comments so often over the last few years I feel as though I know you. Please tell those who might be meeting you for the first time a bit about yourself and your upcoming book, "Tinker's War.” 
Thanks for having me, Karen. Your blog is such a constant stream of information that I check it every day just to what’s news! You’re doing a great job. 
Tinker’s War is the sequel to my novel The Tinkerer’s Daughter, which is by far my best selling book. One reviewer described it as a: “…fabulous combination of YA, Elves, social issues and steampunk, I know go figure but it worked.” That about sums it up. My Tinkerer series is a fusion of high fantasy and steampunk, but clever readers will also find the influence of Japanese anime. 
I approached this series with the main character -a half-breed elven girl named Breeze- stuck in my head. I’ve always been fascinated by the social and cultural clashes over race, and I think this subject lends itself nicely to fantasy. That doesn’t mean it’s the overwhelming theme of the story, but it’s integral to the main character. Take this character and drop her into a frontier setting (like early 1800’s America), add an industrial revolution and a political coup, and you’ve got The Tinkerer’s Daughter. There’s a whole lot going on.

2. How long have you been a writer? What made you want to be a writer? 
2nd grade. I remember the day. I had an assignment to write a one-page story, and our teacher discussed the fact that some people did this for a career. I already loved to read but it hadn’t clicked yet that someone wrote those books. I started dreaming about being a writer that day and in a way, I still do. The reality of being a writer is that it can be real work, but it’s the best possible kind. 
3. I never know which term to use, independent author or self-published. In any case, are you indie and, if so, could you say a few words about why you made that choice? If you could do things over, would you do anything differently? 
I think those terms are two ways of saying the same thing, but I will admit that the self-published moniker brings a certain amount of baggage with it. I think Indie is a nice way to say self-published, but this term also implies that the author has done a lot of homework in the publishing process, whereas self-published draws up images of vanity publishers and people who will pay any price to see their work in print. I think the term Indie implies a certain degree of professionalism regarding editing, artwork, etc. In my case, it also means that I filed for a business license and started my own publishing company. 
I made this decision out of necessity. Sadly, I couldn’t get published, mostly because I couldn’t get a second glance from any of the literary agents out there. I still have several hundreds of rejections stored on my computer and in paper files; rejections for books that have gone on to sell thousands of copies. I may not be buying a new house and paying cash like some Indie authors out there, but I do feel a certain sense of validation from my experience. I’ve proven to myself that I can make a real business out of this, and my books that didn’t fit “in a competitive marketplace” might actually have some life in them. 
4. I noticed you've given your website, JamieSedgwick.com, a makeover. Very nice! Let me ask you, do you think every writer needs a web-presence of some sort, whether that be a website or a blog or simply a webpage with information about their books? 
Thank you! I’ve gone through a love/hate thing with my website over the last few years. I became convinced at one point that blogs would replace websites completely for writers, and I shut mine down. I assumed that readers would want personal contact with writers and nothing else would suffice. I was wrong. 
What I have learned is that the majority of readers do not go to your blog and they only glance at your website. Authors who sell thousand of books rarely have more than a couple hundred followers. Even authors who sell millions never seem to get more than a couple thousand followers. That’s a tiny fraction of their market. In fact, most of those fans seem to be other writers, rather than readers. 
However, readers do expect a website because they consider it a sign of professionalism. Anything less and some people assume you’re an amateur. So the website’s back, but I’ve made sure to keep it very simple and streamlined. Links and info… what more do you need? 
5. One person who has influenced me and my writing is Joss Whedon, Buffy was the first character I remember feeling was a take-no-prisoners kind of person who happened to be a girl. Who are your artistic influences? What authors or cultural figures have inspired you? 
Whedon is a genius, no doubt about it. I’m a huge Firefly fan and I remember seeing Buffy in the theater and kind of staring at it with my jaw hanging open. For me, it was pretty much the first urban fantasy. It was like the next generation of The Lost Boys and I knew then that it was going to be something huge. 
Literarily speaking, J.R.R. Tolkien was my first influence. I started reading fantasy very young and I found The Hobbit at age nine. I devoured it and reread it several times before moving on to LOTR. Of course, I branched out from there and I was probably influenced in some ways by most of the fantasy writers out there. Over time, I did find that movies started influencing my writing almost as much as literature. I love the rhythm of film, and the way the story moves through the acts and keeps our attention with all these little tricks. I keep trying to find a way to integrate some of that energy into my writing. I’m not sure if I’ve succeeded, only the readers can make that decision. 
6. The publishing industry has changed radically over the last few years, what advice would you give to a new writer? 
New is a relative term, I suppose. If you’re really, really new, don’t go Indie if you haven’t gotten some feedback on your work. If you’ve cranked out some work and you feel that you’re ready to face public scrutiny for better or worse, (and you have a thick skin) then go for it. Of course, it’s still not a bad idea to submit to agents and publishing houses. Your chances are one in a million, but who knows? You just might be that one. In that aspect, I’d say follow your heart. 
If you do choose Indie, this is my advice as of right now, but bear in mind this business is subject to overnight change: Write short! Some of the most successful writers out there are doing their books as a series of novellas. If you can capture an audience in thirty thousand words, then you can probably write a new book every month or two. Then you can combine those into a novel-length collection and sell that as well. E-book readers don’t seem nearly as concerned with word count anymore, they want regularity. They want a steady stream of new material. 
7. Here's a fun question -- or at least it's supposed to be! Someone asked me this in an interview and it was a lot of fun to think about. If you could live in one of your fictional worlds would you and, if so, which one would it be? 
That is a good question. My answer is Hank Mossberg, Private Ogre, without a doubt. The setting is San Francisco (which is located less than an hour’s drive from where I live now), but there’s a magical undercity in a cavern beneath the streets, and it’s home to all sorts of fantasy and fairy creatures. The series tries to capture the feel of a pulp/noir detective story and bring that into a contemporary urban fantasy. Elven gangs packing sub machine guns, goblins who are pixie-dust drug dealers, and a stony-faced ogre representing the law… seriously, how cool is that? I have a feeling I’ll be writing that series for a while. 
8. When is your new book, Tinker's War, coming out and where can folks buy it? Also, are you going to have print copies available for purchase as well as digital? If you are coming out with a print version would you mind saying a few words about which POD solution you chose and why? 
September 15 is the official release date for Tinker’s War. It should be available in paperback and Kindle at Amazon.com on that date. I’ve pulled my distribution from other vendors in order to partake in Amazon’s Select program. I’ll probably stick with them through this year, and then reevaluate the program’s value. 
All of my full-length novels are available in paperback as well as e-book, and I publish them through Createspace. There are pros and cons to every P.O.D. service out there, but I found Createspace to be very affordable. They also allow me a great deal of control. Technically, it’s possible to upload and publish a paperback for less than $10 if you do it all yourself. They have a nice website that allows a complete overview of the process, so that you have a fairly complete idea of what you’ll get before you ever even order a proof. 
I do have plans to put out some hardcover work in the future, and I’m afraid that as they are now, Createspace will not be able to fulfill that need. But for trade paperbacks they’re hard to beat. 
9. Coming up with questions is hard work! Is there anything you'd like to say before this interview is over? 
You did a fantastic job, these were some great questions. Thanks for having me here! I would also encourage your readers to visit my blog if they like my books, and to follow it. Those who follow the blog and/or sign up for the newsletter get opportunities for special giveaways regularly. I’m currently publishing three to four novels a year, and most of my promotion goes right there. You’ve got nothing to lose, so swing by and sign up! 
Readers can find my entire collection at Amazon right here!

Thanks for all your kind words Jamie! My cheeks are burning. And thanks for taking the time out of your busy schedule to do this interview. I love your blog! You have eclectic interests and an addictive writing style. I'm looking forward to reading Tinker's War. Best of luck with the release, not that you need it!

Related links:
- Jamie's blog: jamiesedgwick.blogspot.ca
- Jamie's books: www.jamiesedgwick.com/books.html
- Jamie's website: www.jamiesedgwick.com