Tag Archives: Novel

Review of Scene and Structure by Jack M. Bickham

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Review of Scene and Structure by Jack M. Bickham

I actually read this book twenty years ago—and remembered nothing from it. But it was full of my underlining and border notes in my handwriting, so I definitely read it.

The late Jack Bickham wrote 75 novels (two of which were made into films) and six books on the craft of fiction. He understands how to write a story.

Yet, as I was rereading this book over the course of more than a year, I found myself resisting much of what Bickham expounds. For example, Bickham says every scene must end with a disaster. I rejected that idea, because many of my scenes don’t and I couldn’t picture what would have to happen to follow that convention.

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Then I read Children of Blood and Bone. Every scene in Children of Blood and Bone ends with a crisis. (Except maybe one.) And I couldn’t put CoB&B down. The pacing was so fast. The problems were so compelling.

So I began to take Scene and Structure more seriously.

Some of the terms in S&S I’d seen before, but I thought they meant something different. For example, I thought a scene goal was the author’s goal for the scene. It’s actually the viewpoint character’s goal for the scene. I suppose I would have known that if I’d majored in creative writing in college instead of music education.

Here are some points I learned from Scene and Structure:

  • Moment by moment, transactions occur in your scene that involve this progression: stimulus, internalization, response. A cause and effect relationship exists between the stimulus and the response. The response should make sense as a reaction to the stimulus. If the response would confuse the reader, an explanation is necessary; this occurs while the character processes the stimulus during the internalization phase.
  • At the beginning of the story, the main character must state a goal. The reader unconsciously forms a story question: i.e. will the character achieve his goal?
  • At the beginning of each scene, the viewpoint character states a short-term goal related to the story goal, and the reader again formulates a scene question about its attainment. The next element of the scene is conflict. In order to keep the reader engaged, the scene must end with a disaster.
  • Each scene disaster is followed by sequel (sometimes with a connecting transition) in which the character processes what’s just happened. Sequel consists of emotion, thought, decision (creation of the next scene’s goal), and action, which launches the next scene.

Scene and Structure covers much more related to writing the novel, including suggestions on how to create a master plot for your book, and an appendix of excerpts of published novels illustrating some of the concepts introduced in S&S.

scene and structure

This was not an easy book to read. I often had to read sections over and over to understand them. I don’t know if my confusion was the fault of the author or of my own limited intelligence. However, I will be reading this book again, and filtering my manuscript-in-progress through all the bullet points listed. I would recommend Scene and Structure for authors who are not satisfied with their own work but don’t know what’s wrong with it: you may have structural deficiencies.

Guest Post: Avoiding First Chapter Blunders by Ryan Lanz

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Thank you to Ryan Lanz, who blogs about the craft of writing on A Writer’s Path.

Open Book

 

You’ve got your idea. Your characters are fleshed out. The setting is crystallized in your mind.

You power up the laptop, and you place your fingers on the keys. Chapter one.

There’s a magic in that. You can practically feel the readers forming an orderly line to purchase your book, even before you finish the first paragraph. But what do you want to accomplish? What are the things to avoid in your first chapter? In this post, we’ll look at the nitty-gritty of a novel’s first chapter.

What are you looking to accomplish?
In a first chapter, you have several things that you want to accomplish and clue the reader on. This is not an exhaustive list, but let’s look at some common items.

  • Identify a protagonist
  • Establish something the protagonist wants
  • Set the tone for the book
  • Make a few promises
  • Indicate what time/place in history
  • Present an immediate conflict/issue

To continue reading, click here.

Creative Juice #108

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Creative Juice #108

Gorgeous stuff to entice you to create.

In the Meme Time: Care Actors

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Thoughts are not actions

In the Meme Time: Antagonistic

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Antagonist

In the Meme Time: Description

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Description; novel; fiction

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Review of Write Your Novel from the Middle by James Scott Bell

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Review of Write Your Novel from the Middle by James Scott Bell

Write Your Novel From the Middle: A New Approach for Plotters, Pantsers and Everyone in Between by James Scott Bell is not a comprehensive guide for fiction writers; neither is it a book for beginners. For someone who has at least written a complete first draft, it would be helpful in focusing your rewrite. In your subsequent stories, Bell’s technique will save you much grief, because you’ll know what to do in the dreaded middle of the tale.

Book open to middle

Bell says there is a pivotal moment of truth at the midpoint of the story that pulls together the entire novel. Here the main character does one of two things:

  • In a character-driven story, the MC looks at himself and makes a decision about the person he’s becoming. Does he like himself? Does he have to change the way he operates? How is the struggle he’s involved in affecting him?
  • In plot-driven fiction, the MC evaluates her objective and realizes that going forward is going to cost her dearly; she will surely die, if not physically, then emotionally or professionally. And she makes the decision to go forward. (If not, end of story!)

I was relieved to discover my work-in-perpetual-progress does have this defining moment close to the midpoint, without me knowing Bell’s theory or planning for it. (Phew!) Bell’s research shows that it’s virtually universal in successful books and movies.

Interestingly, Bell discusses this most important information in Chapter 5 of 9. A coincidence?

After Chapter 9, he also includes five helpful writing tips.

Write Your Novel From the Middle is a quick read. I have it on my Kindle, but if you prefer hard copy, it won’t take up much space on your writing books shelf, where it would be a valuable addition. I rate it four stars out of five: what it does, it does well, but it won’t solve all your writing problems, nor does Bell claim it will.