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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…

First Pages of Best-Selling Novels: Cinder

This week, in our examination of first pages of best-selling novels, we’re taking a look at a best-selling teen fantasy novel by Marissa Meyer called Cinder. 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.

Regardless of genre, all novels need to start off with a bang, and readers open to a first page with a sense of anticipation, hoping the author will deliver on the promise of an exciting beginning.

Sadly, way too many novels begin slowly, with excessive narrative, summary, backstory, and explanation. While this was a common practice and acceptable decades ago, readers today want to be immediately immersed in the present action. The challenge for novelists is to find ways to bring to life a scene rich with sensory detail and introduce a compelling character (usually the protagonist) that readers will be intrigued by all on the first page.

A tall order? Sure. But is it really necessary to get all that on the first page (and without all that explaining and narrative)? Maybe you have the patience to read two or three or ten pages of a novel before it “really gets underway.”

Unfortunately, a lot of people don’t. A whole lot of readers (sorry, including me) will opt to stop reading if the first page doesn’t engage them. Maybe they’ll give a favorite author the benefit of the doubt and read more pages than usual if they’re struggling through a slugging opening. I’ve even read an entire novel on occasion that I didn’t particularly like just because of my “loyalty” to an author.

I don’t feel like doing that anymore though. My time is too precious to be wasting time reading boring novels. Sorry, just being honest here. Continue Reading…

Why Outlining Your Scenes Will Help You Write a Great Novel

One of the biggest problems I see as a copyeditor and writing coach is weak scenes. Scenes with no point to them. Scenes structured badly. Boring scenes, dragging scenes, repetitive scenes. Scenes are the pieces we string together to create a whole overarching story, but all too often writers include many scenes that just don’ work and shouldn’t be in their novel.

We’ve been going over the essentials components that make up a scene, and I hope by now you see that it isn’t just about going through a checklist of what to include. When crafting scenes, writers must keep in mind the overarching premise and plot, and purpose of the story, the character arc, and all the other elements of novel construction. Winging it instead of using a scene outline and checklist might be likened to trying to crest the top of a sand dune by tromping up the steep side instead of following the easy ridge. Continue Reading…

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