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Friday, 26 February 2016

How to keep your story fresh and exciting in every scene

A guest post this week from Alex Limberg – read the full post here, courtesy of Kristen Lamb…


This is how to keep your story fresh and exciting in every scene:

1. If You Can? Trash It

Your first choice should always be to get rid of any in-betweens that don’t advance your plot. To show your protagonist getting out of bed, showering and preparing her breakfast cereals would slow your story down ridiculously, destroy its rhythm and bore the boots off your readers.

There is a storytelling rule that says: “Get into the scene at the latest possible moment and out at the earliest possible moment.” You can observe this rule in meticulous action in screenplays and movies.

Filmmakers in particular can’t afford to bore their audience for even one second. With the ultra-short attention span of today’s YouTube culture, viewers will just cold-bloodedly move on.

Look! Emojis!

However, sometimes you will have your very own reasons to show an additional scene: You may want to show your character in a different light, display her personality or habits or slow down the rhythm on purpose. Maybe you want to give your reader a feeling for passage of time or show social surroundings, working space or landscape. There are a million possible motives.

So should you decide to hang on to your scene, here are a couple of helpful techniques to keep your audience hooked.

2. Introduce Personality: Make It about Character

Instead of worrying how to fill those pages, see them as an awesome opportunity to breathe more life into your characters!

Look at it this way: In most scenes, your plot carries the burden to advance your story.

But now, in your little in-between scene, your character has a chance to fully take the stage and showcase a brand new side of herself. If the story is about her professional life, make that scene about her private life; if the story is about her bright side, make that scene about her dark side – or the other way around.

You might also use the scene to introduce new relationships we don’t know about yet. New relationships can give a deeper glimpse into your character’s personality and show her in a different light.

Each of us human beings is a complete drama on his own. We are also utterly entertaining in our own ways… Use your pages so your reader gets to know your characters better and your entire work will profit!

3. Introduce Action: Make It about Drama

Better yet, when you get several of us together, the drama is exponentiated. So you could involve several characters in your scene and use it for a mini-plot, a play within the play.

Your mini-plot doesn’t have to be connected to the main plot, nor does it have to be about some big and important theme. Depending on your genre, it could be everyday drama and as mundane as a girl forgetting her handbag on the bus.

The overarching plot plays from beginning to end of the entire novel. In turn, your mini-plot could play from beginning to end of the scene, with a similar structure; for example:

1.                  Introduction

2.                  Problem arises

3.                  First attempt at solution

4.                  New twist and problem even worsens; Climax

5.                  Problem gets solved; Happy ending

If you want the complete ballad of the forgotten handbag, how about this: Girl cheerfully rides on a bus, thinking of happy days (introduction); while she is waiting for her connecting bus, she realizes she has forgotten her handbag (problem arises); she enters the first bus again, only to discover the bag isn’t there anymore (attempt at solution, problem worsens in climax); she asks the driver in desperation and learns that somebody has found the bag and taken it to a lost property office (problem solved); happily she goes to pick it up (happy end).

Of course, you can also let a character play through the whole sequence solely in his mind. For example, let him worry about horrible outcomes of the main plot. At that point, he won’t even have to interact with anybody to create drama; he doesn’t even have to move or to do anything. Just let a worst-case scenario play out in his head.

If you are bored, just make things more difficult for your characters: A nightly walk through the park is a lot more suspenseful if you are not sure if somebody is following you. If nothing else helps, you can always fall back on conflict to spice up your tale.

Make sure your mini-plot fits the kind of story you are telling and doesn’t overwhelm your main plot. A comedy with the mini-plot of a mad axe murderer can be done, but you have to make sure to hit the right note…

4. Introduce Questions: Make It about Suspense

Suspense is always about questions: Who is the murderer? Will Godzilla eat the city? What secret does Martin hide from Sharon?

Your readers will never get bored as long as there are nagging questions on their minds.


In your in-between scene, you have two choices to raise a question.

Option one: You could spin a question of the overall plot further. For example, letting your character contemplate if Craig can even be the murderer, because he was on vacation the entire time; letting your readers know that Godzilla has just eaten another city block; hinting at that breathtaking secret of Martin’s.

Option two: Your mini-plot could create suspense by raising a question on its own. In the example above, it would be the question: Will the girl ever get her handbag back?

In the end, dealing with in-between sections is about giving your scenes a life of their own. This, of course, is something you should always do in any scene, so it’s excellent practice.

You are a storyteller, and if you want to be a really good one, know that not only the raisin parts of your story are worth telling. Any part of your story should be worth writing well and making it at least a little bit interesting.

And if you do take the effort to polish every part of your story, it will feel continuous and complete and shine on like a crazy diamond. Your story will engage your reader continuously, draw her in deeply and take her on a rollercoaster ride she will never be able to forget.


Alex Limberg is blogging on ‘Ride the Pen’ to help you boost your fiction writing. His blog dissects famous authors (works, not bodies). Check how tight your scenes are and much more with his free ebook “44 Key Questions” to test your story. Shakespeare is jealous. Alex has worked as a copywriter and lived in Vienna, Los Angeles, Madrid and Hamburg.


Sunday, 21 February 2016

Has Feminism Gone Bonkers?

We female authors have a sacred duty to wipe out every vestige of sexism in writing. We need to go through not only our own writing but we need to set up a Sexist Writing Police Squad to monitor every writer, journalist, Hallmark card et al, so make sure that sexist writing is eliminated forever. Be on the look-out ladies! It is all around you.
We owe it to every woman, er, sorry, wo-person, on the planet to change, massage, even person-ipulate words and so strike at the very heart of male dominance.
I’m all for changing chairman into chairperson (although I had always understood that the ‘man’ bit was from the Latin for hand - manus - therefore ‘the hand on the chair’ but, heck, why let a small fact like that get in the way of a good rant). What about changing fisherman into fisherperson and seaman into seaperson. And what about man-eating tigers? Don’t we wo-persons have the right to be eaten by tigers? Of course we do. In fact, I de-person-d it!
All this word changing just doesn’t go far enough, in my humble opinion. What about cities (Person-chester, for example), or countries (Ru-person-ia) and even book titles (The Third Person, Of Mice and People) and names (Person-dela). Surnames can be tricky but there’s a way round that too. For example, the surname Williamson is insulting to wo-persons. It needs to be changed to Williamson-or-daughter, don’t you think? From now on please address me as Jenny Harrison-or-daughter. Thank you.
The ways we can change the world are endless. We just have to get to it! I’m having banners made as we speak!
As a hu-person-being of the female gender who writes fiction and non-fiction, I’m convinced we can completely root out any sexism in our language. Once we do that all wo-persons will immediately get equal pay. All Moslem wo-persons will be instantly free to drive cars and baby girls will no longer be forced to play with dolls.
It’s a noble cause and I urge you to join me in this crusade. I’m certain that with a bit of effort we can person-age it.
Yeah, right.
Jenny Harrison-or-daughter

Friday, 12 February 2016

Jenny Harrison on the woes of editing for others.

I’m not a professional editor but I reckon that over the past two decades of writing, I’ve picked up an idea or two on how to structure a sentence, what passes for good grammar and how to spell.

It’s not easy to write good English, still harder to edit it. At least that was what I was told when my first book Debbie’s Story landed on the desk of an editor.

And that brings me to the nub of this blog. I remember my very first first-author tantrum. I feathered my returned manuscript with Post-It notes, all the places where the editor had changed something and with which I totally disagreed.  ‘This is exactly how it happened’. ‘How can you change that?’ ‘You’re killing off my voice!’ I cried. My voice? As a first-time author what did I know about voice? And how was any editing going to do that? In fact, I knew very little about the role of the editor and cared even less. My beloved, my perfect manuscript was sacrosanct. How dare she? As with all newbie authors my ego was up there with the 747s.

It was only much later, about the time I published my third book, that I began to respect the role of a good editor. A good editor refines a manuscript, takes the rough stone and cuts and polishes it until it shines. In doing so, the editor allows the author’s voice to be heard above the clamour of awkward paragraphs, misspelled words and poor grammar.

I recently offered to edit the book of a friend. She had written a cheery little thing that I was anxious to see succeed. For a first-time author she had done well except for the usual glitches inherent with first-time writers. She hated what I had done. ‘I had ruined her voice’, ‘this wasn’t what she had written’. She took back the manuscript and changed my editing. Okay, you might say, her privilege.

Yes, maybe. But it saddened me to see what could have been a professional book turned into the scribbling of an amateur.

I suppose if I were a professional and had charged her for my services, she would have had more respect for my skill.

Ah well, you live and learn.

Jenny Harrison

Thursday, 4 February 2016

Don't read it - they'll DIE!!!

I was faced with a dreadful choice. Having eagerly awaited the next book from my favourite author and received it as a Christmas present, I was looking forward to re-joining characters I’d grown to love as friends over many years. But wait – why is the book dedicated to a major character? Within the first few pages I realised what the author was about to do. He was going to let her die.

I stopped reading, aghast. I don’t want her to die! She’s so strong, so important, and someone I look up to. What do I do? If I stop reading I’ll miss out on the whole book, but if I read on I’m condemning her to death and the sadness will colour all my memories of her. Life in this fictional world without her is unthinkable. If I put the book down and walk away, she will live on and be alive forever in my mind, always someone I can return to when I re-read previous books. I can give her eternal life by never letting her die on the page.
My hand hovered over the book as I debated whether to close it. I couldn’t walk away.

Through a mist of tears I read on, watched my favourite character prepare for death, and watched the other characters grieve for her loss just as I did. It was heart-breaking.

Several damp hankies later I was engrossed in the story as it moved forward without her, and I made it to the end of the book.

What would you do as a reader? Save the character and forgo the book? Or read on and suffer the loss?

What would you do as a writer? Could you subject your readers to such pain after giving them a character they loved? I’m guessing George R.R. Martin has no qualms about it, but I’d like to believe other authors think long and hard about the effect on readers before they kill off a favourite. Perhaps it was this particular author’s nearness to death that allowed him to bring her life to an end – but I’d really rather he hadn’t.

Bev Robitai

PS. I hope no spoilers were issued in the writing of this blog, but it was hard to avoid!