I am no longer blogging here at Little Nuances, but I would love for you to join me on my author website www.leewarren.info.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

NaNoWriMo Tips, Part 2

I learned how to craft a scene from a great book called "Techniques of the Selling Writer" written by Dwight Swain. He wrote the book in the 1960's so his examples are a little dated (I haven't heard of most of the movies or novels he references), but the book is so comprehensive when it comes to writing fiction, and specifically about how to craft a scene, that I'd highly recommend picking it up if you really want to write a novel.

In recent years, I've sat under the teaching of a number of novelists who also either teach Swain's scene structure directly or in some variation. (One such novelist is Randy Ingermanson who has some great writing resources available on his website--including his original "Snowflake" method that he uses to design his novels, and a deeper discussion of what I'm about to lay out for you regarding scene structure.) Swain breaks scenes down into two types of scenes. He calls them "scenes" and "sequels." 

According to Swain, scenes depict action and are laid out in this fashion:

  • Goal: Early on in each scene, your POV character needs a goal. It can be small, medium, or large, but the reader needs to sense that your POV character wants something.
  • Conflict: Your POV character must experience obstacles as he or she sets out to pursue his or her goal.
  • Disaster: Can be large or small, but you can't give your character his or her goal. If you are writing a love story, the woman your male protagonist is pursuing needs to give him the cold shoulder, or mention an old boyfriend, or notice a man she doesn't know as she walks by.

The next time you write a scene with that same POV character, you'll be writing what Swain calls a "sequel" scene. View sequel scenes as breathers that your characters take. Here's how sequels should look according to Swain:

  • Reaction: This is a time for sulking, contemplation, etc. after your character has just experienced the disaster at the end of the last scene in which he or she was the POV character.
  • Dilemma: After some time for reflection, your POV character needs to be faced with a choice between two seemingly bad scenarios.
  • Decision: Your POV character chooses the "least bad" choice, which leads to his or her goal the next time you write a scene in his or her POV.

So, it's a cycle that continues throughout your novel. If you use Swain's scene structure, you'll notice that your scenes will seem to come to life with an element of realism because these are the cycles we all run through during our daily lives--maybe not so cleanly and orderly, but we still go through them.


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