The Anatomy of a Scene

Learning to craft good scenes for your novel is a foundational tool in your writing tool kit. Think of the scenes as the building blocks you use to construct your masterpiece. If they’re faulty or incomplete, what will the building look like?

SceneBut there are as many blog posts about writing a scene for your novel as there are varieties of ice cream sundaes at your favorite summer hang out.

So why am I writing one more?

Because when it comes right down to it, writing a scene isn’t as hard as it seems. You only need to break it down into four major parts:

Beginning: When the scene begins, does the reader know when and where this is taking place, and whose point of view it’s in? If not, you’re in danger of leaving your reader stranded in the land of floating heads. YOU may know exactly what your characters are seeing, feeling, etc., but does your reader?

Middle: The midsection of the scene should take up the most time. A sentence or two into the scene, after you’ve given your reader the information they need, start increasing the tension and continue to the turning point.

The turning point is the main purpose for the scene. It’s where the reader learns something new about the character, or the character learns something new about himself or someone else, or a decision is made.

There are a lot of different ways this can be played out, but the main thing is to make sure the scene contributes to the flow of the story and moves things forward.

End: Does the scene resolve itself? The character(s) involved should make a decision or take an action as a result of the turning point.

And finally: Is there a hook at the end of the scene that will make the reader continue on to the next scene? Without a hook leading your reader further into the story, there is no reason for them to turn the page.

And here’s a homework assignment: Look at a scene in your favorite book. Does it have all four of these elements in it? What exceptions did the author make, if any? Now do the same with one of your own scenes.

What did you learn?

 

I am a Writer! (Aren’t I?)

One of the things I hear aspiring (and, remarkably often, seasoned) writers assert over and over is how difficult it is to say the words, “I am a writer.” I know from personal experience this is true. I have one book published and a contract for three more. I have an agent and contribute regularly to three different blogs. I’ve been a finalist for three national writing awards and have written a monthly column in a newspaper. And, while I do occasionally allow myself to say those words out loud, they still fit me like a pair of shoes that is a size or two off.

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So how do you know if you are a writer? Two camps have formed in response to this question. On the one side are those who, upon hearing the lament from someone that they aren’t sure if they’re a writer or not, sling an arm around the person’s shoulders and say, “Do you write anything? A blog, a diary, grocery lists? Then yes, you are a writer.”
In the other camp, and way over at the opposite end of the spectrum, are those who maintain that one cannot possibly be considered a writer unless they have at least a couple (and preferably more) royalty published books and have sold a certain number of copies – in the thousands at least, if not the millions.

In my opinion, the answer to the question lies somewhere in the middle. As popular as it is to say, I can’t buy into the argument that scribbling thoughts or ideas down on paper automatically makes you a writer any more than whipping off a hand-drawn map to your house for a friend makes you a cartographer.

But neither can I wholeheartedly subscribe to the view that you must have written a few books before you earn the right to describe yourself that way. There are countless other valid, viable writing platforms that should not be dismissed with such a cavalier attitude.
I think the problem with defining the term either of those ways is that being a writer is less about what you write and far more about why you write.

If you only write to remember a story someone told you, or a dream you had, or because your agent insisted that since you are a speaker or a guru of some kind you should have a book to push at every appearance, I would venture to suggest that you are not a writer. Everyone is called to perform various tasks on a daily basis that, on a larger scale, could become a career. Take a mother who has just cleaned out her child’s scraped knee, or a man who parked the barbeque too close to the wooden deck and had to toss water onto a small flame, or the brother who helps his younger sibling with his math homework. These people are not now automatically a doctor, a fireman and a teacher. More is obviously required.

The simplest answer is that a writer is someone who can’t not write. (And who, while he may agree wholeheartedly with that statement, will still wince at the double negative.)
As Jeremiah, the weeping prophet, once contended, “But if I say, ‘I will not mention his word or speak anymore in his name,’ his word is in my heart like a fire, a fire shut up in my bones. I am weary of holding it in; indeed, I cannot.” (Jeremiah 20:9)

That, right there, is the definition of a writer. One who knows what it will cost to pursue that calling—heartache, loneliness, rejection, guilt over the lack of attention given to family and friends, and the thrill of being patted on the head while people say things like, “Yes, yes, but what’s your real job?”—and who doggedly, often desperately, pursues it anyway. Not despising any of these things, but embracing them, knowing they are all part of the incredible journey. And knowing too that the sheer misery you may feel at times is more than compensated for by the intense, indescribable joy of releasing the words God has given you—the fire shut up in your bones, if you will—onto paper for others to read and be impacted by.

If that description resonates deep inside you so strongly it brings tears to your eyes, then I sling a virtual arm across your shoulder and affirm that yes, heaven help you, you are a writer.

WHY are you Writing?

Today, the WordServe Water Cooler is pleased to host guest blogger Kim Zweygardt. Kim recently attended the Re:Write Conference and is here to give us some insight into what she found so valuable about this conference.

Welcome, Kim!

Writing2“I know I can write.”

“I am a writer.”

Writing is more than something I enjoy or can do well. (All those “A’s” in English Comp surely count for something.)

Writing is my calling.

Even so, after a blistering critique in 2014, I spent more time not writing than writing. Doubt crept in, undermining my call.

“I think I can write.”

“At least I think I’m a writer.”

I floundered, not sure how to regain the confidence to write. What would it take to jump start the flow of words onto the page?

In February, I found my answer in Austin, Texas when I attended a different kind of writer’s conference. Re:Write—The Ragged Edge “aims to tackle issues that writers face every day, offering guidance, insight, and a hefty dose of hope along the way.”

The Ragged Edge conference was filled with power hitters. Some I knew and had heard before: Ted Dekker, George Barna, Jim Rubart, Susan May Warren, Mary Demuth, Sandi Krakowski, Mark Batterson.

Others were new to me: Rusty Shelton, Claire Diaz-Ortiz, Chad Allen, the delightful “tour guide” to the weekend–Julie Carr, Rachelle Dekker, Kevin Kaiser, Ruth Soukup, Derek Webb and the lovely Esther Fedorkevich who founded The Fedd Agency and hosted the conference along with author Ted Dekker.

As I listened, I had my mind bent over and over again.

You see, it wasn’t so much about the how of writing but much more about the why. It wasn’t so much about rules for success but in how we see success. It wasn’t so much about the bad news of the economy and publishing and more e-books and less “real” books and Author Chicken Little crying that the sky is falling and much more about the Good News of Who we write for in the first place!

It made such a difference to me that if I hit the lottery or better yet, had a wildly successful book that made me a bazzilionaire, I would call all my writer friends who are struggling and feel alone with their dream or feel they have been put on the shelf by the times or the particular, maybe-not-mainstream story they have been given to tell, the one that burns in their heart to get out onto the page and reserve their place for the 2016 Re:Write Conference.

Registration? On me! Travel expenses? On me! Need a little cash for BBQ at the airport? On me!

Oh, to dream!

But, just in case I don’t hit the lottery or the NY Times bestseller list, you could start saving now and I’ll see you there.

To whet your appetite, here’s a mash-up of what the speakers said in all their different ways.

Don’t be afraid!

Step out of the shadows and take the plunge!

You are not alone!

You are the Light of the World and no one can tell your story but you!

Don’t listen to the nay-sayers!

Write well! Write compellingly! Go deep! Lean on Jesus!

Write as an act of worship and as a spiritual discipline because He has called you to it. And if you are called and you don’t write, you are disobeying the One who has called you.

So now I write. Because I am a writer.

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KimZweygardtKim Zweygardt always knew she wanted to be someone special.  Her heart’s desire when she was 7 was to be a famous ballerina but when she read their toes bled from dancing on them, it became a less desirable career choice. Then Kim decided to be a famous lawyer solving mysteries and capturing the bad guys just like Perry Mason, but as she got older she discovered sometimes it was hard to tell just who the bad guys were.

Instead Kim chose a career in medicine practicing the art and science of anesthesia as a Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist in rural Kansas, Colorado and Nebraska.

Kim is married to Kary, the man of her dreams, who has done a fabulous job of making all her dreams come true. They have three children but an empty nest and enjoy conversation with friends over good coffee and great food. They enjoy travel, the arts and taking a nap.

Member American Christian Fiction Writers, International Speakers Network, www.bookaspeaker.netwww.womenspeakers.net

Learning to Listen

Have you ever noticed that there is a deep inner peace that descends when you truly listen to someone? Think about it. You focus on what they are saying, sifting through the verbal noise to the subtext that is being laid bare. You take a back seat, allowing them to drive the conversation so that you can lovingly respond. There is a strength in this passivity, a calm in conceding control.

Isn’t that exactly what we are called to do with the Lord?

My world is loud. My email constantly demands my attention – four different accounts for four different reasons. My job revolves around communication and social media, the deadly noise of an electronic culture.

We’ve forgotten the value of letters and phone calls, the connection that comes with face to face. We’ve forgotten how to have a conversation longer than 140 characters, and we sure don’t remember the bond developed by vocally sharing the depth of our thoughts, our hearts. As writer’s we get to connect the gap, to share vulnerability on the page and communicate with the world around us. All too often, I fight that vulnerability. I fight to speak without letting people see the depths of my heart. But as much as I have been called to use my voice in some form or fashion, I must first be willing to listen to my audience of One.

Kariss Lynch oceanI remember a crowded beach in California. Surfers rode the waves, entertainers lined up around the boardwalk, and this misplaced Texas girl walked with my group enjoying the show. About sunset, I found myself alone near the water, the waves roaring in to kiss the shore over and over. All other noise dissipated, and I truly listened.

I see and hear my Creator in the waves and the ocean – His power, His gentle nature, His vastness, His beauty. And I can hear His still small voice in the waves that lap the sand, asking me to drown out the other noise and just listen. He speaks in the quiet moments. He answers when I truly surrender.

Shadowed Kariss LynchWe can’t discern His voice and direction until we give up our need to control and sit back as He shares His heart and mind. I love the childlike faith of Samuel in the Old Testament and the way he simply answers the Lord with “Here am I.” Then He listens and obeys. I want to be defined as a person who delights to do what God desires, who uses my gifts for His glory, who writes without fear. But my surrender comes first. As I finish up my third book, enter a season in between contracts, and pray through what’s next, I want to make sure I am listening more than I am telling the Lord what I want. I want this in between season to be marked by a quietness of spirit as I rest, dream, pray, and enjoy where the Lord currently has me.

With no beach nearby, I’m learning to find my ocean moments in the roar of the big city. He speaks most when I commit to listen. And I’m tired of the noise. I’m sitting on the shore, listening to His voice whisper in the waves.

The Beauty of Lying Fallow

harvested fieldLying fallow isn’t just for fields. If you want to find kernels of ideas to jumpstart your next writing project, you might be surprised to see how much you can glean from the already harvested fields of your finished projects.

Just as farmers routinely allow sections of their fields to remain unplanted for a season in order to replenish the land’s fertility, writers need to leave past projects alone for a time in order to get a fresh perspective on their work – a perspective that often reveals the kernels of ideas that somehow got hidden beneath the framework of that finished work. Every writer knows many ideas that pop into the head during the research and composing process end up getting tossed out in the pursuit of a tightly woven story or narrative. That’s part of the discipline of self-editing: you mercilessly cut out your own words that you might have lovingly slaved over because you realize that, in the end, they don’t make your work stronger.

Ouch. The truth hurts.

The good news, though, is that those same words, those kernels of ideas, might be able to take on their own life in another season of your career–as long as you can find them again. That’s why it’s a good idea to keep your notes from a writing project after its completion. Yes, it means you’ve got bulky files sitting unused on a shelf, or on your computer, but it doesn’t mean you’re a hoarder who just can’t let go.

sproutIt means you know that as soon as you get rid of those notes, you’ll find yourself looking for that funky little idea that didn’t quite fit the last manuscript, but would be an amazing starting place for a new project…now that you’ve had some fallow time to let that kernel of an idea begin to sprout all on its own in your subconscious.

I used to think that if I wasn’t working on a new project, I was losing time. Now I realize that my imagination needs as much of a rest as any physical landscape that is cultivated for production. What’s even more delightful is to browse through my bulky files of old projects and find new inspiration just waiting to be gleaned from the rubble of a field I thought I had fully harvested. I shouldn’t be surprised – the Biblical injunction to leave the field fallow in the seventh year was not only to improve its productivity for later, but to provide sustenance for the poor who were free to eat of what was left. In other words, the field might have been harvested, but even in its fallow season, it could give nourishment.

For writers who feel depleted after the long haul to publication and market, it’s reassuring to know that imagination is already replenishing itself.

What kernels have you gleaned from harvested fields?

Marketing With A New Mindset

 

If you’re like me, sometimes the best thing in life is a little change of perspective.

perspective

Last July I got my first taste of publication. After months of hard work, I held the finished product in my hand. Countless drafts had transformed into orderly pages and endless edits changed into final words. It was beautiful. And then came the real work—marketing.

For many of us, the idea of marketing our books makes us a little queasy. Peddling wares and pushing books is not an exciting notion. After all, we are writers. Our gift is with words not a megaphone. In fact, most writers fear the aspect of marketing their own book. Yet, in today’s publishing world self-promotion and book marketing are a must.

If you have written a book, part of your purpose is to bring something meaningful to the reader. How can that reader be reached if there is no one to share it?

Think of the passage in Matthew 25:14-30

In this parable, a rich man who was going on a journey called his three servants together. He told them to take care of his property while he was gone. The master gave five talents to one servant, two to another, and one to the third. Then the master left.

The servant who had received five talents made five more. The servant who received two made two more. But the servant who received one buried his talent in the ground. Later, the master returned to settle his accounts. The master praised the first and second servant. But the master’s response to the third was harsh. He stripped the talent from the lazy servant and gave it to the first servant.

In the parable, the master expected his servants to invest and be proactive, to use and expand their talent instead of passively preserving it. With the first servant, courage to face the unknown was rewarded, and we can see God expects us to use our talents toward productive ends, not only was the first servant allowed to keep what he earned, he was invited to rejoice with his master.

This is such a beautiful illustration of what we should do with our God given gifts.

So, is there a cure for marketing anxiety? Maybe. Maybe it’s time to take a step back and gain a new perspective. Maybe it’s time to stop looking at it as MARKETING and instead, look at it as ADVOCATING Your God Given Gifts.

gifts

You are your work’s greatest advocate. So who better to promote it than you? It’s up to you to reach your audience. Invest yourself. When we share our talents lives are changed!

With the same passion that drove you to write your project in the first place, look at your book marketing plan in a new sense. Instead of marketing, advocate. Use whatever is available to you and proudly declare yourself, your message, and your book. Move forward with certainty that you have something important to share and what you share has the power to change the world.

Writing a Book When Life Gets in the Way

Getting Through What You Can't Get Over Book CoverI should have known when I chose the title, Getting Through What You Can’t Get OverLife threw me plenty of fresh material, as one tough thing piled on top of many little distractions. Anyone relate?

With the greatest of intentions, you plan your life around that contract, basking in the after-glow of signing your name. You cut back, say no, and schedule in ways conducive to writing the next great masterpiece. But then…life.

For me, it started right after I signed the contract in April, with the loss of a dear friend to cancer, and my father-in-law’s diagnosis of a new brain tumor. This aggressive grower would require a second surgery, less than a year after he’d been through the same procedure. Only this time, he would undergo radiation five days every week, for a period of two months. Add other appointments, follow-up visits, side-effects requiring care, and my mother-in-law’s freshly broken ribs. Let’s just say as their main care-giver, it was one rough summer. And all the while, hovering over my shoulders, the contract deadline. September 1st.

So what’s a writer to do when life wants to get in the way of the writing? You take the problems and solutions, questions and lessons, the painful and the purposeful, and you write from the heart of your struggles. But there were a few practical/spiritual tidbits I acquired as I walked that long valley. I pray someone finds a nugget of help here today.

  • Don’t discount the value of brief moments. One of the most inspiring things I’ve ever read was the story of a man who wrote an entire novel two minutes at a time, because that’s all he could muster everyday due to his job/financial responsibilities.
  • This truly is a no-brainer, but bears saying anyway–turn off the social media for a while.
  • No matter how frazzled, far behind, or feverish you feel about the work you need to do, take a Sabbath rest. I can’t tell you how many times I was tempted to pick up my computer and write on Sundays, but I stuck to my commitment to honor God with that day set aside each week. I firmly believe He honored my obedience with supernatural strength and inspiration.
  • Look at your commitments through a microscope. Are there areas you can delegate? Can you humble yourself and ask for help–then accept it? Will you stop people-pleasing and say, “No,” when appropriate? Is there something you can neglect temporarily? Are there troops you can rally to teamwork? In my case, I was able to strategize with family members. We came up with a plan and took turns driving my father and mother-in-law to medical appointments. Not everyone helped, but instead of letting bitterness add to my emotional weights, I expressed gratitude for those who were willing and able.What Satan Means for Evil God Means for Good
  • Remember, what Satan means for evil, God means for good.
  • Crawl in your Writer’s Cave. I explain the process in the post link. But to date, I’ve found no better way to gain the solitude I need when those precious writing moments arrive.

It isn’t easy to pen a book, especially when life conspires to hamper your productivity. But I must say, life holds no power over the One who created it. When I asked God for help, praising Him in advance, He gave the assist. He never let me down.

I slid across the deadline exactly on September 1st. Are there parts of the book I wish I’d written better? Of course. Writing a book isn’t easy when life gets in the way, but if it was, then everyone would do it. When you finish yours, celebrate. For getting through something many never will.

What tips can you offer to those who are struggling to meet their writing commitments?