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How Writers Can Benefit by Outlining Their Scenes

We’re been taking a look at outlining scenes these last couple of weeks. Using my scene structure checklist, we’ve been seeing what elements are so necessary in scenes to ensure their structure is sound and they have all that’s needed to engage readers.

We’re in an age of “show, don’t tell,” and that means scenes are going to be packed full of action and dialogue and, well, showing instead of telling.

While many writers like to wing it, just writing off the cuff and creating scenes will only make revision harder in the long run. Scenes are the building blocks of a novel, and those who “pants” their way through scene writing will end up with a novel that is flawed structurally. Yes, this is just my opinion, one that I share with the top writing instructors and bloggers around. And I feel passionately about this.

You might argue that some very successful novelists, like Stephen King, are pantsers. But keep in mind, authors with decades of experience in writing dozens of novels usually have scene and novel structure hardwired into their brain. Just as with playing pro ball or snowboarding, once you become an expert, you don’t have to remind yourself what to do.

I’ve edited and critiqued countless manuscripts. I go through more than two hundred partial and full manuscripts a year. Most of them need a prodigious amount of work to get the structure solid. And most of those manuscripts have been carefully plotted and/or outlined. You can imagine what the unplotted manuscripts are like.  Continue Reading…

First Pages of Best-Selling Novels: Leaving Time

This week, in our examination of first pages of best-selling novels, we’re taking a look at a best-selling novel by Jodi Picoult called Leaving Time (2015). While this novel is categorized as a thriller, it’s really more Women’s Fiction.

We’re using my first-page checklist to go through each author’s first page to see why and how it effectively draws the reader quickly into the story. While novels don’t have to have every one of these checklist elements on the first page, usually the more they do have, the stronger the opening.

Jodi Picoult is one of my favorite authors. She has great characters, terrific themes and motifs, and usually gets right into action in her opening scenes, setting up her premise with characters in the middle of a difficult situation.

A terrific example of another powerful intro is found in My Sister’s Keeper, another of Picoult’s many runaway best sellers. As with Leaving Time, she starts off with a prologue (when you have time, read it by looking inside the book here on Amazon). And since prologues have been the topic of debate for years, before we look at this particular prologue, I want to talk a little about this structure. Continue Reading…

Using a Scene Template to Craft Perfect Scenes

Last week I introduced you to my scene template. I can’t emphasize enough how helpful it is to lay out all (or most) of your scenes before you start writing. Or if you’ve already written a rough draft, how useful it is to summarize each of your scenes in the scene template and look carefully at what you have.

Outlining your novel, scene by scene, is like crossing a bridge. On one side you have all your scene ideas in a jumble. On the other side is your complete novel that tells a beautiful, tight story. To get across that daunting chasm to the other side, you need to take one step after another, steady, strong, and purposeful. Each scene is a step to the finish line, and none should veer you in the wrong direction (over the railing into the brink!).

In addition to editing and critiquing manuscripts, I review scene outlines. Many of my clients have gone on to write terrific novels using this scene template. Some have me critique their outline crafted within the template. Others use the template to work out their scene details, then write a briefer scene outline with just one paragraph per scene (including the key points in their paragraphs).

I encourage you to have me go over your material and give you honest, constructive feedback so you can see how on track you are with your scene structure. Contact me so we can discuss! Continue Reading…

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