Feb 18, 2010

Backing into a Corner

It happens to everyone eventually. And, yes, it's happening to me right now. What am I talking about? Let me set the scene for you.

You've backed yourself into a corner, and you've done a bang-up job of it. Your character can't figure out how to get him or herself out, and neither can you. So, you've stopped writing lest you put three more words on the page and inadvertently kill your MC.

Hey, it happens. Sometimes a character iss already on the kamikaze mission, so to speak, and tearing toward his or her inevitable destruction with no way out, and anything you could can think of to save them would be cheating.

So, I broke down my dilema by asking myself these questions:

1. What part of the action could only my MC do?
2. What parts could be played by another character?
3.  Who else's injury might play the same role as the MC and have the same importance to it?
4. How could could I split the actions that had to be taken in the scene so my heroes do the things only they could do, while someone else sacrificed ____ in order to help 'em out?

These Q's may not apply to everyone, but I think the steps I thought of when in a bind might help.

Step 1: First, remember every question you ask yourself centers around creating change. Your doing so to watch dominoes fall in a direction you had never thought of before.
Step 2: Ask the simple who, what, where, when, why, and how before its too late.
Step 3: Avoid weakening the impact of your scenes simply because of changes.
Step 4: Find out why new things are happening & make damn well sure you refit the story around the changes you need to make.

So, my question to everyone is have any of you gotten stuck lately? If so, what methods did you use to work your MC out of it?

Feb 5, 2010

Pacing: Part 2

Life prevented me from posting the past two days, so I'm skipping my WoW and writing about breathers in novels. Sometimes this can be the downfall of a good pacer.

Many people ask, "How do I give the reader a breather between action scene?"

Be warned: my answer may not be exactly correct, but I'd like to think through my months of writing research that I've learned a thing or two about writing. 

Okay, back to the answer.

Are you sure you want to give them a breather? Most stories naturally slip out of the raging waters and into mellow pools from time to time. If your story already has some contemplative spots in it, funny bits, or places where your characters have some down time, then don't break up your action sequences out of obligation. By doing this, you can throw the pacing off completely. You've got to run the scene as hard as you can. If, however, you've read through your first daft and discovered you're going to give your reader a heart attack if you don't give them some breathers, then by all means create one in or between scenes.

How do you write a breather?

Well, an in-scene breather can start off like terrible things are about to happen, but then comedy or farce or another distracting mechanism is used to downplay the danger and relax the reader. Then, you pick up the tension again by bringing in the expected conflict from an unexpected place.

Between scenes, to me anyone, can be more difficult because if done incorrectly it can bore the reader/make dream agent stop reading. Don't make them babble at a bar and think it's a breather. You don't want to take the reader out of the story, just supplement the overall story plot with ongoing but less tense action from a second story.

Warning: This can be harder than it looks for three reasons.
1. Every reader is different, and some like complexity, while some don't.
2. Every character is different, and readers will have favorites. So, by focusing on a secondary characters side plot you could inadvertently piss the reader off. Just sayin'.
3. Everyone views action differently, and what some find thrilling other will find dull. 


And, vice versa. You'll always be right, with the exact same things and for exactly opposite reasons. But nobody ever quits because of fan mail and glowing reviews. It's the "this book sucked" e-mails and the "boring, stupid, and a waste of time" reviews that make you want to back your bag and take the midnight train to Georgia. (Ignore my lame attempt at comedy.)

Remember what I said earlier? You can't please everybody. This is why you don't write for readers. You write for one reader. Yourself.

Just sayin'.

Glad we've established that writing between-scenes breathers have built in problems wich ar unfixable, and which resolve around readers likes and expectations, and all of them will get you some good reviews and some bad. You'll win readers and lose others. It's that, er, simple.

You can't fix readers. But, you can fix other problems with between-scene breathers, and that's what I'm going to write about. The biggy is to create a breather between your main storyline's scenes, and you work in alternating storyline. Just don't write it like a jigsaw puzzle, people. 

That's about it. Anyone have anything they want to add? Or maybe you want to discuss you breathers and whether they're helpful or hurtful? As always, feel free to comment below!

Feb 3, 2010

Contest Alert

Lisa Desrochers, author of Personal Demons, is holding monthly contests on her blog. So, hurry up and check out every months contest for a chance to win an ARC of Personal Demons or other debut novels. Click here to check it out.

Feb 2, 2010

Keeping Up

"Where did the plot go?"

I've seen this a few times in novels (even published ones). Pacing, for some, can be the most difficult issue of storytelling if you let it. It can ruin characters, crunch on descriptions, and tear down an entire plot--key words are if you let it.

Think of it as Godzilla, decimating entire novels.

When it comes to pacing, most people wonder these Q's:

1.Is skipping over the boring parts okay?
2.How do I give the reader a breather between very heavy action scenes?
3.How do I keep the pages turning when the stakes aren't life or death?

I think I'll focus on numero uno today. And save the other two for the rest of the week, depending on how much I feel like writing.

1. Answer: Yes, skipping over the boring parts is you job. You're the story's filter; you decide which parts are compelling/facsinating, will move the story forward, and leave your readers breathless. There is no such thing as a necessary boring part.

Let me repeat that.

There is NO SUCH THING as a necessary boring part. If whatever you have going out is boring, uh, make it interesting. Okay? If you can't, and refuse to make every sentence, every chapter interesting, then you've failed as a writer. 

To make a plot interesting you should have critical conflict, action,a plot constantly moving forward, and something that's put at risk. "Well," you ask, "how do I make sure every scene moves my story forward?"

Easy. You figure out what changes, and then change it. If absolutely nothing--and I mean nothing--makes the scene interesting, you'll have to kill it. Chop its head off, douse it in fire, or jam a stake in its heart. Whatever your forte is, do it. if there's important info in there, break it into bits and sprinkle it into other sections of your novel, between characters, or maybe even in dialogue. 

Your turn!

I challenge everyone to identify a boring part in your novel. Yes, we all have one. Don't think you're are above it Mr. Bob. Try asking yourself what you had a hard time writing? What part did you write so/so because a point "needed" to get across? Or, if you're someone who can write 20,000 words on The Life and Times of My Pepper Shaker, with daily entries on how it's just sitting there, pass it on to your critique group (or beta reader) and see if they fall out of their chair, passed out cold, while reading it. More than likely, someone will say, "That was interesting," with strain on the last word and failure to make eye contact with you.

Then, test out your boring section by asking yourself if it a) adds info that will lead to the story's conclusion b) develop an essential part of your character c) inserts critical conflict.

Tomorrow will be my WoW and then I'll continue my posts on pacing with plot breathers. Feel free to leave something in the comment section, if you have anything to say!