All posts by Darcy Pattison

About Darcy Pattison

Author, blogger and writing teacher Darcy Pattison is published in eight languages. Her books includes children's picture books, how-to-write books, teacher resource books, and middle grade novels.

22 Jul

Off-Stage Scenes Rarely Work – Unless You Are Scarlett

Here’s a common problem that I see in first drafts: the main action has happened off-stage.

Think about Scarlett O’Hara and the other southern women sitting at home waiting; in an attempt to avenge his wife, Frank and the Ku Klux Klan raid the shanty town whereupon Frank is shot dead. But the raid takes place off-stage.

NOOffStageScenes

Or, think about times when a weaker character stays home, while the adventurous character is off doing something. Sports stories are hard when the POV character is watching the on-field action.

This can be a real trap for children’s novels if an older sibling or parent is doing something fun/exciting/scary/etc off stage.

Another challenging situation is when a bully is planning something and the POV victim is just trying to avoid that.

Or, maybe you’ve planned a great scene, and the main character is present, but you don’t write that scene. Instead, what you write is something like this: “The next morning, Elise lay in bed and went over the previous night in her head.”

No. That doesn’t work!

Does this always need to be changed? No. But it’s a major problem and challenge as you revise. Here are some tips.

Recognize the problem. As you write the first draft and revise it, you should be evaluating the scenes. Ask: Who hurts the most in this scene. It should almost always be the main character. If it’s someone else, why isn’t THAT character the hero/ine of the story?

Put the POV Character in the action. When you find a scene where the main action is off-stage, look for ways to rethink the plot and scenes and put the main character in the thick of the action. It’s why Captain Kirk leaves the Enterprise and goes down to the planet over and over and over. Really? No Captain would be allowed to jeopardize his life that much and give over the control of the ship to a junior officer. It’s unrealistic–but great storytelling.

Make the story about how the off-stage action affects the POV character. In Gone with the Wind, Frank and the other men go off to avenge Scarlett’s honor, but the POV stays firmly with Scarlett. It’s about her growing realization of what the men have gone off to do, the opinion of the other women, and eventually the women’s reactions when the men come back. This is a risky way to write a scene, because the real stuff happens off stage; but it can work if you keep the focus right.

Write the scene. If your character is just thinking about what happened last night, it’s a simple fix. Write the @#$@#$@# scene! Sometime this happens when the author is afraid of the emotions in a powerful scene; the author avoids writing that scene and tries to jump forward in time. It never works. You must write the scene that you fear. you must write the exciting scene because your reader demands it; that is the exact reason why they come to your story. Don’t cheat them out of the emotionally experience.

16 Jul

Getting Your Novel Unstuck

So, I’m writing along on my novel and realize that I don’t quite know what happens next. I’m STUCK!

What next?

Work on a different section. Often, I look around the story and find something else to work on. Maybe, I can move forward a couple planned chapter and work on developing details of the setting. Perhaps, one character’s backstory is think and needs work. While the brain is busy with a side issue, your sub-conscience has time to reflect on the real problem.

In other words, I am still working on the story, but I’m avoiding the problem section for a while, giving my sub-conscience time to work on the problem. Or, maybe I’ll just come back when I’m fresher and can tackle the problem.
Stuck Novel?

Take a walk. A break is often a good strategy. Doing something active helps the mind take a break.

Tackle it straight on. When I am ready to tackle it straight on, lists usually help. My favorite is to create a sensory details list.

My goals are dual: avoid a full-blown writer’s block and make progress of some kind. I work on alternate tasks that need attention–and give the stuck area room to breathe. And almost always, I come back with solutions or at least ready to work on the problem.

11 Jul

39 Villain Motivations

I’m working on motivating my villain and have found 39 possible motivations. I’m sure there are more, but these should jump start your imagination. They are presented here with a statement from the villain’s point of view.
villainMotivations

  1. Romance: I want to marry the princess.
  2. Revenge – ruin a hero: I want to ruin the King.
  3. To distinguish oneself: I want the princess to respect me.
  4. To fit in/gain acceptance: I want to attend the princess’ coronation and eat at her table.
  5. Justice: The king killed my mother, so the king must die.
  6. Greed – get rich: I want to steal everything from the King’s treasury.
  7. Fear: I am afraid that our lands will be stripped bare by this evil king.
  8. Desperation: If something doesn’t change in the next week, I will be executed.
  9. Social cohesion: Us zombies need to stick together.
  10. Desire to better oneself: I was born a peasant, but I will die a king.
  11. Power to achieve a goal: I must be king, so I can change the laws about owning property.
  12. Escape destiny: At birth, a prophet said I would kill the king; however, I am stealing enough money to escape to another country and avoid that destiny.
  13. Achieve destiny: At birth, a prophet said I would kill the king; and that’s my plan.
  14. Persecution: Growing up in a wheelchair has been hell.
  15. Rivalry: Prince John wants to marry the Princess, but she’s mine.
  16. Discovery: I will find out the king’s darkest secret and use it against him.
  17. Ambition: I want. . . everything!
  18. Survival (deliverance): In the midst of this civil war, I will survive.
  19. Self-sacrifice: Someone must stop this evil king and I’ve decided to step up and do it.
  20. Love: The princess has stolen my heart; so, I’ll steal her.
  21. Hate: The princess is an evil woman; when she becomes my wife, I’ll make her suffer.
  22. Conspiracy: I’ve gathered twelve good men to help me overthrow this king.
  23. Honor: Men from my city never back down, even if it costs me everything.
  24. Dishonor: Men from my city are idiots; I’ll never do things the “right” way.
  25. Unnatural affection: I want to marry the princess and take the queen as a lover.
  26. Catastrophe: A volcano is going to erupt and when it does, I’ll plunder the city.
  27. Grief and loss: When my mother died, I lost all interest in doing good.
  28. Rebellion: I’m the leader of the guerrilla forces.
  29. Betrayal: I was engaged to the princess, and then she married Prince John.
  30. Spread hate and fear: I love hate. Hate, hate, hate.
  31. Corrupt everyone: Come join me as I rob the king.
  32. Control the kids: If those kids make noise one more time at midnight, I’ll get ‘em.
  33. Leave me in peace: I never wanted to leave my home town, but since you’ve made me, I’ll show you what’s what.
  34. Recover what is lost: The king took my mother’s locket as tribute, and if it’s the last thing I ever do, I’ll get it back.
  35. Save humanity: To save humanity, I’ll have to kill the whole army.
  36. serve a master (ex. The Fuhrer): I’ll follow King George anywhere, even if it means killing King Phillip.
  37. Destroy: Ha! Ha! Ha! I love to burn down houses.
  38. Rule part of the world: I want to be King of the Mermaids.
  39. Rule all of the world: I will rule the Earth.
09 Jul

Synopsis: A Google Example

A couple years ago, Google produced a promotional video, Parisian Love, which advertised its search capabilities in a very simple way. There are merely twelve phrases entered into a Google Search box. And yet–it tells a story and tugs at the heart strings. It evokes emotion. How good is this copy? The video has received over 7 million views!

The sound here is minimal, but effective. But it’s really the words that shine.

When I think about blurbs for books, this stands as a stellar example of what you can do with very tight text. If you could craft your synopsis–or blurb, flap copy, elevator pitch, tweet, or whatever promotional copy you’re working on–to get this strong an emotional tug, you’ll have a winner.

Here’s the Copy

Parisian Love

Study abroad Paris France
Cafes near the louve
Translate tu es tres mignon (You’re very cute)
Impress a French girl
Chocolate shops paris france
What are truffles
Who is truffaut
Long distance relationship advice
Jobs in paris
AA120
Churches in Paris
How to assemble a crib
Search on.

Watch the Video


If you can’t see this video, click here.

Try writing up some promotional copy for your story in just twelve phrases.
Does it evoke emotion?
Does it show a narrative arc?
Can you use this to craft a better marketing message?

07 Jul

The Power of BECAUSE: How I Created a Dastardly Villain

I am hard at work on an outline/synopsis sort of thingy for a new trilogy. I wish I could say it’s a true outline or synopsis, but I’m not an outliner. However, I’m not a panster either, to just start writing and write by the seat of my pants. I am a plan-ster, a person who halfway plans and then writes a while, and then plans again from the new and improved position halfway through the story.

While I’m outlining (term used loosely, as just explained), I am finding places where I am stuck. What happens next?

One word is changing things: Because.

My character argues with another BECAUSE. . .

By forcing myself to answer the BECAUSE question, I wind up going deeper into backstory, motivations and emotional depth. Why are they doing such and so? BECAUSE. . .

Backstory. Some of the because has to do with inventing backstory. This week, I found a villain that way. I knew Character V was acting up, but when I added the BECAUSE and started delving into V’s psychology and backstory, suddenly V took on a new–and much more interesting–role in the story. He became the antagonist, which I knew I needed, but I had been avoiding the work needed to figure it out. So, the BECAUSE work became a shortcut to finding out about a villain.

Motivations. For all the characters, the BECAUSE work meant I had to delve into the reasons for actions, the motivations. This deepened the story in important ways, even at this outline level. Partly, I am trying to find connections among characters and how they approach life at interesting tangents. As I worked on the BECAUSE answers, I made sure the answers weren’t clones, but held the possibility of interesting clashes.

Emotional Depth. This is saying the same thing as motivations in a different way, but it’s an important variation. Emotion is hard for me to pull into a story and planning for it up front is essential–or else my stories will be flat and revisions will be deadly. One question that helps here is, “Who hurts the most? X hurts the most BECAUSE. . .”

Fiction is about emotional conflict and how that conflict is resolved (or not). Generally, the person who hurts the most should be the main character. It’s not unusual to have to change the MC to a different character as you uncover and create the characters’ inner lives.

I am still stumbling around inside the ideas for this story. But one word is lighting a path toward actually writing a first draft: BECAUSE.


BECAUSE

02 Jul

NOVEL REVISION CHARTS: 2 Tools for Smart Re-Thinking of Your Story

An aid to smart revising based on Darcy Pattison’s techniques

Guest Post by
Claudia Finseth

I recently took Darcy’s Whole Novel Workshop and read her book, Novel Metamorphosis: Uncommon Ways to Revise. Between the two, there was a great deal of valuable new information to process. I’m very visual, so one way I worked through and organized the information was by creating charts. To what are mostly Darcy’s ideas, I added a few of my own, and some I’ve learned in other workshops. Darcy has asked me to share these charts here on her blog.

The first chart is The Novel Revision Chart. As Darcy teaches, there are many types of revision to consider once we have a draft of a novel.

Finseth's Novel Revision Chart

This Novel Revision Chart show the different types of revisions and helps you prioritize the revision tasks. CLICK TO VIEW FULL SIZE.




Darcy’s workshops are based on critique groups. Participants work in groups of four, reading and commenting on each other’s manuscripts and. Taking the three critiques of my novel, I made a list of all the types of revision my group suggested for my novel: not letting the tension flag, pulling all my theme threads all the way through the novel, keeping my character age-appropriate, etc.


Attend a Novel Revision Retreat

The Darcy Pattison Novel Revision Retreat will come to the Boston area in August, 2014. There are a limited number of spaces still available. See Anne Broyles site for details. Also available is a Build Your Website session and a Picture Book Workshop. Hurry! Spaces limited! And time is short!


Then, I identified where these types of revision landed on the Novel Revision Chart. If they landed somewhere on the Incremental Revision line, I figured I could work with what I had already written. The three types of revision mentioned in the previous paragraph all land there. If, however, the needed revisions landed on the Quantum Leap Revision line, then I figured maybe I should scrap this chapter or that and write it again from scratch. Or write the whole novel again in a new draft. Or take the novel apart and reorganize it in some major way. For instance, my second novel is probably really three novels. (Sigh.) But better I realize that now than waste time trying to fix it the way it is.

The point is, this chart can help writers identify how major or minor the next revision needs to be, as well as what kind of revision needs to be focused on next. It can save us spinning our wheels on the wrong kind of revision. How many times have we worked on verbs or sensory detail when what we needed was to introduce another character or change the beginning? Trust me: been there, done that, and it’s very annoying to realize I should have been working on a totally different kind of revision. The chart can make us smarter revisers.

The Line Edit Revision part of the chart is a reminder that the final revisions you do, once the novel is firmly shaped and sparkling with life, and just before submission, need to be these five types of micro-edits. Therefore, it is at the bottom of the chart.

Checklist for Revising Scenes.

But before we do any line editing, there’s the second chart to look at, A Checklist for Each Scene. As the first chart is a way of evaluating the revision needed overall, this second chart is for scene by scene revisions. As Darcy explains in Novel Metamorphosis: Uncommon Ways to Revise, each scene is a kind of whole of its own. Taking one scene at a time, a writer can use this chart in conjunction with Darcy’s book to make sure each scene includes all the elements required to create a tight, compelling scene that propels the reader into the next one.

Finseth Scene Checklist

After the major revisions and before the minor Line Edit revisions, you should do a scene check. CLICK TO SEE FULL SIZE.



I have these charts before me as I work. They are quick reminders of each step needed to flesh out and deepen a scene and ultimately write a novel that editors will want to publish because they are so rich and satisfying a read. I’ll make checks on the charts as I go, when I think I’ve accomplished each type of revision. And when I’m “done” I’ll put a big exclamation mark in sharpie marker, or a smiley face, or perhaps I’ll save them for the next novel.


Claudia FinsethClaudia Finseth is a writer and author living in Tacoma, Washington. She is published in non- fiction adult, poetry and short children’s stories in Cricket Magazine. Her goal now is to become an adept at the novel form. “Novels are hard!” she says. Her website is claudia.finseth.ca.

30 Jun

Do You Fear Starting a New Novel?

Today, I stare failure in the face.
Today, I am scared.
Today, I see possibilities as the possibility of failing.

In other words, I have finished all my self-imposed deadlines on other projects and cleared my plate of other tasks, so that I can start a new novel. And it terrifies me.

It’s an ambitious project, something I expect to turn into a trilogy. I have such hopes for this project: hopes that it will reach new readers; hopes that it will be fun to write and promote; hopes that it will be (I’m afraid to even say it!) a breakout novel for me.

And I am scared.

I’ve done my homework. Volcanoes feature large in this story, so last month while I was in the Pacific Northwest, I visited Mt. St. Helens.

Darcy Pattison at Mt. St. Helens

I recently visited Mt. St. Helens for research on the background for a new novel.



I’ve written samples for this story from different points of view, and even sold a short story based on the back story.

And yet–I am scared to sit down and start this. Yes, I’ve written the book on starting a novel and I’m still scared to start again. As ART AND FEAR puts it, I am scared that my fate is in my own hands–and that my hands are weak.

I SHOULD see the great possibilities of success.
I SHOULD approach this with excitement.
I SHOULD be so ramped up by now that the words would flow, as if bestowed from above, with angelic music swelling and…

No. Writing is work. It’s the hardest work I’ve ever done or ever hope to do. But it’s also the most exciting, most fun, and most rewarding work I will ever do.

So, at 8:30 this morning, I’ll turn on my Freedom app, giving myself three hours of uninterrupted time. I will make a start. A messy start. But a start. And that will be enough for today. Just make a start, that’s my goal for today.

16 Jun

eBook, pBook and aBook: Time for New Terminology?

eBooks2

Author Jerry Weinberg recently posted this on a listserv and gave permission for folks to use it. He asks a provocative question about how we refer to books.

A pet peeve of mine:
Because books (usually) made of paper have been around for hundreds of years, they have captured the name “book” as their exclusive property.

Because electronic books have been around for about one generation, they have a different designation, “e-books,” which makes them sound like they’re not real “books.”

I’ve started distinguishing between the two types by calling the old type “p-books.” P could stand for paper, or print, or perishable, or whatever you choose.

The e in e-books could stand for electronic, easy-to-use, enduring, elastic (for their ability to change dynamically), or whatever you choose.

Both p-books and e-books are equally “books,” not “real books” and some “johnny-come-lately pretend books.”

And who knows, maybe there will be other types of book – x-books, for any number of x’s. (like a-books for books delivered in audio format)

I’m encouraging my friends and colleagues to use this nomenclature, rather than “e-books” and “dead-tree-books” or some other clumsy attempts to bring e-books to the same stature as p-books.

From now on, I’m using the term “book” to refer only to the contents, not the form. If I’m talking about a paper book only, I’m using p-book.

If you’d like, feel free to join the campaign. Thanks for listening.
Jerry

Please leave a comment–do you think pBook is a good term for print/paper books? Does aBook for for audio books?

11 Jun

Major v. Minor Revisions: The Surprising Relationship between Draft #1 and Draft #2

When you revise, do you do minor surgery or major surgery on your novel? Most of us revise multiple times, but some revisions are bigger than others. I believe in making incremental changes, that is, getting it mostly right and then doing a series of tweaks. The change isn’t huge, but the results are important. It’s a striving for perfection! Most of us can’t write a perfect novel the first time round. Instead, you go back and fix, tweak, play with and otherwise revise, till it satisfies that inner critic and is sent off into the world.

Google Glass is not an incremental change from previous ways of consuming digital information. It's a quantum leap ahead of other ideas.

Google Glass is not an incremental change from previous ways of consuming digital information. It’s a quantum leap ahead of other ideas.



But sometimes, incremental changes aren’t enough. In a fascinating report, Jon Gertner wrote an article, “Inside Google X,” Fast Company magazine, May, 2014. In order for a project to be accepted by Google X labs, it must pass three criteria:

  1. It must address a problem that affects millions or billions.
  2. It must be a radical solution with a science fiction component.
  3. It must tap technologies obtainable today.

They want the scope of the problem solved to be huge. But notice that beyond that, they aren’t asking for a technological break-through; in fact, if a product NEEDS a technological break-through, they will shelf it until the technology is available. They aren’t doing research and development for technology, but for the application of technology. Google X labs is asking for an idea breakthrough, a breakthrough in the way they think about a problem.

The biggest projects coming out of Google X (so far!) are driverless cars, Google glass, high altitude wi-fi balloons, and glucose-monitoring contact lenses.

Sometimes, writing fiction also needs a breakthrough in thinking: I call these revision Quantum Leap Revisions. This type revision shakes the very structure of your story and asks you to rethink anything and everything about your story except the “Heart of Your Story,” or that thing that made you write the story in the first place.

Just as Google X Labs operates with existing (or obtainable) technology, Quantum Leap revisions relies on your current knowledge and understanding of the craft of writing. We’re not asking you to be a better writer; rather, we’re asking that you think harder about the story and how you’ll tell that story.

You may cut characters, add characters, change the ending, replot with drastically different themes, delete half the book, expand the book to double its current size, and so on. The point is that this isn’t an incremental change–a tweak. It goes back to the basics, rethinks the whole story and builds it from the foundation up. You gut the building. You bull-doze everything but the foundation.

Will you re-envision your novel? See it in fresh, new ways?

Will you re-envision your novel? See it in fresh, new ways?

Types of Incremental Revisions

When you editing for grammar, spelling and punctuation, it’s an incremental change. Fleshing out a story can often be incremental as you add details here or there to make the story more specific in hopes that it comes alive in the reader’s mind. Minor deletions, addition, moving around of scenes/chapters can be incremental.

Types of Quantum Leap Revisions

Here are examples of potentially huge re-envisioning of your story.

  • Change POV
  • Add characters
  • Combine characters
  • Delete characters
  • Delete chapters/scenes
  • Expand chapters/scenes
  • Replot with major changes
  • Use a different voice
  • Switch genres
  • Switch age level of your audience

Draft #2: Focus Shifts from Novelist to Reader

When should you do an incremental change and when should you do a Quantum Leap revision?
The function of the first draft is to find your story.
The function of every other draft is to find the most dramatic way to tell that story.
This change in the focus of your story–from you to the reader–means that draft #2 is probably the best time for a Quantum Leap revision. You may need several such huge revisions before you find the right way to tell your story. Once you figure out how to grab the reader and keep them reading, you can switch to incremental changes and keep at it till the story is polished.

Do you do a Quantum Leap revision for every story? Or do you mostly do incremental changes?

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