Category Archives: Novel Revision

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.


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.

  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.
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

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?

04 Jun

Good-bye Confusing Subplot, Hello Book Contract

Guest post by Margo Dill

It’s something we’ve heard if we belong to a critique group or have beta readers. “I really like your story, but. . .”

Fill in the blank with suggested plot changes, readers’ confusion, flat characters, boring beginnings—you name it—I’ve heard it, and you probably have, too. So, when a member of the Lit Ladies, my critique group, said, “I really like your book, but you need to take out this entire subplot in the beginning of Caught Between Two Curses,” I will admit I had a panic attack. Not a full-blown one, but a small one with a sleepless night. But here’s the thing—she was right.

1655060_10202352586313888_1471055173_oIn the beginning of my latest young adult novel, I had my 17-year-old character, Julie, appear on a talk show in Chicago, IL, called The Mona Show. In this version (and not the published one!), Julie survived a car crash as a toddler, and her parents did not. She becomes known in Chicago as the miracle toddler, and The Mona Show decides to do an update episode, asking teenage Julie to reappear. While on the show, Julie discovers that her grandmother really is alive and living in Chicago, even though her aunt had led her to believe that she had either died or moved to Romania.

So, when all my critique group members thought it was a good idea to get rid of Mona, I wondered how I would ever introduce the accident that killed Julie’s parents, the relationship between Julie and her aunt, and her estranged and eccentric grandmother. Plus, The Mona Show was in the beginning and end of the book. After no sleep, tears, sweat, and some wine, I revised.

I cut and chopped. I brainstormed. I made a list of what I thought The Mona Show did for the book, and then created other ways to introduce either that character trait or the plot point. I rewrote and read out loud. During all of this, a little voice in the back of my head started yelling, “The Lit Ladies were right! You don’t need The Mona Show.”

And once Mona was gone, I pitched it to Robin Tidwell of Rocking Horse Publishing at the Missouri Writers’ Guild conference in 2013. She gave me a contract. Now it’s a book, and I know it’s better thanks to critique and revision.

I’ll admit one tiny thing to anyone reading this pity-party-with-a-happy-ending story, I always had dreams that Oprah herself would let me come backstage and research what it was really like to be on a talk show in Chicago. But then Oprah stopped doing her show, so what was the point of keeping The Mona Show in my book anyway? Some dreams die, along with characters, plots, and scenes. Luckily, this death made my book better.

meMargo Dill is the author of Caught Between Two Curses, a young adult novel where one of the curses is The Curse of the Billy Goat on the Chicago Cubs. To buy a copy, visit her blog, where you can watch a book trailer and click to buy the book at any major online retailer.

19 May

Elizabeth Dulemba on Editing (a.k.a. Puzzle Building)

Guest post By Elizabeth O. Dulemba

When my novel A BIRD ON WATER STREET sold to Little Pickle Press, I hadn’t looked at it for a while. In fact, it was in a drawer when the acquiring editor said (in response to a younger book I was pitching), “You know what we’re really looking for is an environmental novel. You don’t have one of those lying around do you?” As a matter of fact, I did . . .ABOWS-Dulemba-cover200

A BIRD ON WATER STREET is a coming of age story about Jack, a boy growing up in a Southern Appalachian town environmentally devastated by a century of poor copper-mining practices and pollution. Jack is opposed to the mine where so many of his relatives have died, but how can he tell that to his Dad who wants him to follow in the family trade? Jack just wants his dad safe and the land returned to its pre-mining glory with trees, birds, frogs, and nature—like he’s learning about in school. After Jack’s uncle is killed in a mining accident and the Company implements a massive layoff, the union organizes and the miners go on strike. It seems Jack’s wish is coming true, nature begins to creep back. But the cost may be the ruin of his home and everything he loves.

It was definitely an environmental novel.

But I had put A BIRD ON WATER STREET in a drawer, after what I know now, was only a handful of rejections. Pah! Maybe it was for the best, though. As the manuscript sat, I grew in my craft. I studied and wrote and became a better writer. I knew that someday I’d go back to the story and would tackle it with objective and more skilled eyes, which is exactly what happened.

At Little Pickle Press, I also got to work with a great editor—Tanya Egan Gibson. I’ve been working in critique groups and with first readers long enough to know a good editor when I come across one. Not everybody has the chops to do it, even if their intentions are good. It takes more than just giving positive feedback. It takes being able to pull out the problems and perhaps even suggest solutions.

With Tanya’s help, we deconstructed A BIRD ON WATER STREET. I often refer to the exercise as taking apart a jigsaw puzzle and putting it back together again upside-down and backwards. That’s what it felt like anyhow.
One of my biggest issues was that I had saved much of the good stuff for later in the book —it got great towards the end. Why was I saving all that and not employing it from the start? I attribute it to the timidity of a beginning writer. (I started writing A BIRD ON WATER STREET ten years ago, almost at the beginning of my career.) So much of the information needed to move forward, which fixed the other problem of a saggy middle, where not much was happening.

Dulemba-SmokestackThe opening was trickiest of all as the story originally began with Jack’s arm cast being removed. It was dramatic, sure, but readers need to build sympathy for a character before the drama can mean something to them. To do that, they needed to get to know Jack first. The book now opens with Jack in class studying trees—the thing he wants most in his environmentally devastated home.

I also like to think I’ve become a better sentence crafter. I write pretty simply: subject, verb, direct object, without too much fluff—like Hemingway (ha!). I stay away from convoluted constructions, complicated tenses, and too much flowery description. I lean on dialogue to relay the personality of my characters. And I always try to feel a rhythm with my text. In fact, I’ll often lose my voice after a day of editing from reading out loud, making sure the beats work, the language flows, and the energy ticks off exactly as I want it to.

To be honest, revisions are my favorite part of the writing process, because that’s when you can add the nuances and the small details that mean so much. I was lucky to have the chance to go back and edit with my more developed skill set. And happily, it seems to be paying off with my audience . . .
I’ve been humbled and flattered by the amazing reviews it’s received. After ten years of plugging and rewriting and revising, I’m thrilled to finally share A BIRD ON WATER STREET with the world!

Book Blurb:
When the birds return to Water Street, will anyone be left to hear them sing? A miner’s strike allows green and growing things to return to the Red Hills, but that same strike may force resi-dents to seek new homes and livelihoods elsewhere. Follow the story of Jack Hicks as he strug-gles to hold onto everything he loves most.

Early Recognition for the Book

  • Southern Independent Booksellers Alliance (SIBA) Okra Pick
  • Gold Mom’s Choice Award Winner
  • 2014 National Book Festival Featured Title for the state of Georgia in Washington, D.C.


Elizabeth_Dulemba-denimbigElizabeth O. Dulemba is an award-winning children’s book author/illustrator with two dozen titles to her credit. She is Illustrator Coordinator for the SCBWI Southern region, a Board Mem-ber for the Georgia Center for the Book, and Visiting Associate Professor at Hollins University in the MFA in Children’s Book Writing and Illustrating program. A BIRD ON WATER STREET is her first novel (Spring 2014, Little Pickle Press). Learn more at

15 May

Feedback: What a Critique Group can Do for Your Story–And It’s MORE than You think!

Our local critique group met yesterday and it was an exciting meeting. Almost everyone sent the first chapter of a new project. That’s exciting. It means that the group is healthy, that we are collectively working hard on our stories.

Critiquing Manuscripts

checklistI learn almost as much when I critique manuscripts, as when I get a critique. Because I come to a story with a fresh eye, I can see the strengths and weaknesses in ways that the author can’t. It helps me to understand the role of a reader better.

Two things strike me: First, the author must put it on the page. When I ask for clarification on something, the author ALWAYS launches into an explanation. In other words, in her mind, it’s perfectly clear. The problem is that it didn’t get onto the page.

Second, our work is iterative. That is, we do a version, and then tweak, and then repeat and repeat and repeat. With each revision, the story is closer to perfect. We close the gap on communicating clearly and with emotion. One author’s plot and characterization were great except it lacked emotion. Can you layer that in later? Of course. Anything can be layered in later. That’s the revision process.

First Drafts. But this time, the main thing I said was, “Keep going!” These were mostly the first chapter of a new project and at this fragile moment of the writing process, the writer mostly needs encouragement to continue. For one writer, this is especially important because this was the first chapter of the very first novel she has ever attempted. At that point, well, all you can do is turn cheerleader. “Go! Go! Go!”

Getting Critiqued

When it was time for comments to turn to my own story, I felt the familiar stomach pinch that says, “Please love me.” But that quickly turned into the wise and mature response (Ahem!), “Please tell me the truth.”

It seems I have a major plot problem in the story. Two people noticed it and others agreed. And, well, OK, I sorta agree. Ok. I do agree.

And the revision won’t be that hard or that major when I sit down to do it.

In fact, I’m excited. The story pleased me, but I knew I was still in the early phases of revision. The critique groups comments were MORE than I ever hoped for. Exactly what I needed.

Why do we ever fear feedback? Ours is a business of communication. Ideas, characters, images–things in my head should be reproduced in the reader’s head EXACTLY, through the medium of words written on a page. Duh! I need to check that the communication actually happened. And when it’s not passed on EXACTLY, I need to tweak.

Thanks, critique group! You’re the best!

12 May

The Conversation of Literature: What Are They Saying About Your Book?

We don’t write in a vacuum. Your story is in the context of the whole of literature, and specifically, the literature of your genre. How does your story add to, change, enhance the conversation?


Superman No. 1, Millennium Edition, a reprint of the first ever Superman Comic.

This question was brought home to me as I picked up my son’s comic book. It’s a reproduction of the original Superman comic book from 1938 (Millennium Edition, Superman 1, December 2000, originally published as Superman No. 1 Summer 1939). Wow! It’s bad. Really.The characterization, the back story, indeed the characters are all pretty stale and cliched. But that’s my evaluation from this time, from 2014.

The reproduction starts with an introduction to the comic:

Until 1938 most comics were usually filled with reprint material spotlighting the more successful newspaper strips of the day. And while ACTION COMICS was one of the first titles filled with original material–created from scratch for less money than it would have cost to reprint existing comic strips–few could have been ready for the sensation its cover-featured star would cause! ACTION #1 spotlighted the debut performance of the world’s first–and still foremost–superhero: SUPERMAN!

This puts the fist story of Superman into context. No wonder there’s no mention of Jor-el and the struggle on Krypton (which is expounded in recent films). Mr. and Mrs. Kent are just described as an elderly couple. Clark’s first exploit is to prevent a lynching, then catch a singer who “rubbed out” her lover for cheating on her, and then to stop an incident of domestic violence. Not the stuff of super-fame. The stakes are low–Superman isn’t saving the world here.

But in the context of comics that just reprinted comic strips from the newspapers, Wow! Again, Wow! This was great stuff.

Two things strike me here: First, Superman had a humble beginning. Too often today, humble beginnings are overlooked or not allowed to even see the light of day. We want a fully developed story, with super-hero characters. But these type characters often need a small beginning. They develop over time as the story becomes part of the culture and join the conversations of our time. If the story captures any part of our imagination, they will become part of the conversation and the characters, the story, the plotlines–everything–will grow and develop. I wish there was a way to let more stories do this, to begin small, to join the conversations and to develop. Witness the Superman legends today, with rich back story on his parents, his struggles to fit into Earth, the dangers from other Kryptonite survivors, his love life with Lois Lane and so on.

Second, Superman was a product of 1938. His story joined the conversation of his time. His first act was to prevent a lynching. Would that speak to today’s audience? No. Domestic violence? Shrug. We’ve seen so many stories that are much better than the nine panels devoted to this small subplot.

How Does Your Story Join the Conversation

Today, werewolves and zombies are having a rich conversation in our culture. You’d have to be an ostrich to know nothing at all of the influx of werewolves stories. Well–if truth be told, I am almost an ostrich on these two subjects. Until I read Red Moon by Benjamin Percy, who brings the werewolf story alive in new ways. (Actually, I’m linking here to the audio version because the author narrates his own story in an impossibly deep voice that is fascinating to listen to.) This is no “Cry Wolf” story, but a fascinating look at how the ancient legend could possibly affect our lives today; and it’s told with impeccable prose that fascinated me with its amazing storytelling.

I shunned the whole zombie thing until my hairdresser raved about “Warm Bodies,” a movie that took Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet and updated it with zombies. Really? You could DO that? In other words, zombies were joining the conversation about romance and love. How do the things that separate men and women affect our lives? Can love really change things?

In other words, it’s almost impossible to live in today’s world and not know something about zombies and werewolves. The literary conversation is littered with these conversations that make connections which weave in and out of the canon of English and Western literature.

Saucy and Bubba. A Contemporary Hansel and Gretel Story.

Saucy and Bubba. A Contemporary Hansel and Gretel Story.

I call my recent story, SAUCY AND BUBBA, a contemporary Hansel and Gretel story because it puts it into a certain context: the discussion of step-mothers and how they treat the step-children. Mine is a twist on the old story–of course! In fact, it MUST be a twist on the old story, or it adds nothing to the conversation. Why would you rehash the same thing again. One reviewer said, “When a story can get me to even start to like the antagonist – like Saucy and Bubba does here – I know there’s a good book in my hands.” That’s what I wanted, a more nuanced look at the step-mother. I wanted the reader to have sympathy for her, even as they condemn her actions.

It’s like the original Superman comic: in today’s terms, it’s cliched. But it was hugely original for it’s time. It added to the conversations about justice and law-enforcement in interesting ways. If I simply repeated the Hansel and Gretel fairy tale, it would be a flop. Instead, we must think about how our stories fit into the context of our times. We must strive to join the conversation and to have something to add to the conversation. How can we add something different, interesting, conflicting, nuanced and so on? How are you enriching the conversation? How are you changing the conversation?

How does YOUR story join the conversation of our times?

12 May

Scene: Fast or Fast-Paced?

Is your scene fast or fast-paced? There’s a difference, an important difference.

A fast paced scene has lots of small changes happening, which keeps the reader on the edge of his/her seat. Think of it as the last few minutes of a basketball game where the ball changes hands often, and the score bounces back and forth.

These could be called small zigzags of action and emotion, or it could be a rapid list of beats or actions. Each action lasts a short time, before something else happens.

Fast-paced scenes aren't necessarily fast scenes.

Fast-paced scenes aren’t necessarily fast scenes.

A fast scene means that the whole scene is quickly over. The entire beginning, complication, development, and resolution of the scene takes just a few moments, a few lines.

Fast-paced scenes are almost always welcome.
Fast scenes have a place in fiction when you need something to happen in an economical manner.

However, you should avoid fast scenes for the Big Moments in your story. These are scenes such as the Opening, the climax of Act 1 (sometimes called the Inciting Incident) which moves the action into Act 2, several big moments in Act 2, the scene that send the action into Act 3, and of course, the Climax scene. Those scenes need to take up more space, and should probably be fast-paced. But there’s more happening, emotional content, twists, and surprises; these are extended scenes. These are the things that make a scene big. Of all the scenes, the longest will probably be the Climax scene, by a matter of pages.

There are fast-paced, fast (or short) scenes.
There are fast-paced, medium length scenes.
There are fast-paced, long scenes.

Make sure you know when and where to use each one.

Copyright, 2008-present. Fiction Notes. All rights reserved.
Author Website Resources