For our June “Learn to Write by Reading” challenge, we invited you to examine books that had well constructed scenes. Now, apply what you learned to your own manuscript.
Look at a scene that you particularly enjoyed from the book you read for this month’s challenge. What elements made the scene work? Often, the underlying structure is well hidden, but a dynamic scene will open with a character who has a specific goal. Notice that the character’s goal in an individual scene is not generally the same as the character’s larger story goal; rather it is a small step in the story goal’s direction. Other characters, though, have different agendas which will put them in conflict with the scene’s main character. That conflict is one of the things that makes a scene interesting.
Take a scene you’re having problems with from your work in progress. If the scene is too ho-hum, there may not be enough conflict. Ask yourself if your scene’s main character has a specific goal at the beginning of the scene. If not, give her one. Then make sure other characters and/or circumstances work against the major character as she tries to achieve her goal. That will help ratchet up the drama and interest level throughout the scene.
Successful writers say it all the time: To be a good writer, you need to be a good reader. So we challenge you to read more and to read outside of your comfort zone.
This month, find the underlying scene structure in the current book you’re reading. Good writers keep readers turning the pages by crafting one scene that builds on the next in an inevitable, but surprising way. As you read this month, make note of patterns you see from scene to scene so you can identify what keeps you interested in the story and what makes you want to skip ahead. Below are some books we recommend, but feel free to chime in and offer other options to our readers. Then stay tuned for some practical prompts based on our Reading Challenge that you can apply to your own writing.
Alicia: Wicked Lovely by Melissa Marr
Laura: The disreputable history of Frankie Landau-banks by E. Lockhart
Megan: Arcadia by Lain Pears
Naomi: Wonderstruck by Brian Selznick
Stacey: Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman
I finished one of my favorite series’ last week for the second time.
At the end of it, I still wasn’t ready to leave that world, those characters. The adventures and the jokes, the romances and the rivalries. I just wasn’t ready. So I did the sensible thing. I picked my favorite book from the series and settled in for a third read. A day and half later, I was right back where I started, yearning for more books in the series, but knowing it was well and truly time to move on.
But what do you follow that up with? I tried a YA trilogy. Highly recommended. A best-seller. Gushed over by my friends. It sounded like a sure thing. And maybe it would’ve been had I not just finished reading these other books that I loved so very much. The fact is, it was built well. It had potential and probably was building up to something that warranted the hype, but I wasn’t enjoying the ride. After about ten percent of the book, I put it down. Continue reading
You finally have a moment to write, but what to do with your limited time? Here’s a practical prompt to kickstart the story you’re working on right now. The clock is ticking, people. Start writing.
Take that scene that you’ve been stuck on, or the one you’ve been dreading to write. The one you’ll be ready for with just a little more time or a little more research. Now sit down and write it. It can be anything. All dialogue, snippets of description and action with bracketed phrases like [amazing emotional revelation here!] or [research note: amazonian trees]. It can be fully fleshed out and perfection in one draft. Anything! Just put the words on paper. Get it done, then tuck it away for a week or two while you move on.