Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Two Winners and Some Winning Writing Advice

In another totally random drawing, Rosi Hollinbeck, the SCBWI critique group coordinator for SCBWI in Northern California,  won last week's giveaway contest! A copy of Chris Woodworth's new middle grade book, Ivy in the Shadows is on its way to California. Tracey Adams of Adams Literary kindly offered two copies and the second name I drew was Carolyn Abiad, a member of my SCBWI critique group.  The moral of the story? It pays to follow my blog AND to be a member of SCBWI!

Today I'm offering something different: some advice via Writer's Digest and a link to a fantastic blog post. Both of these resources made me think about upping the ante in my scenes in Half-Truths. Not so coincidentally, this is next week's topic for my "Writing for Children" class at CPCC

First, here are seven points about narrative forces from Steven James' article, "Go Organic" in the March/April 2013 issue of Writer's Digest. He outlined the points within the article and then asked corresponding questions in a sidebar. For the sake of this blog, I'm going to list his points and then follow each with his questions to writers. His questions make a great checklist for all of us! Here is the excerpt:

"Imagine a ginat ball of clay being held by a group of people. As one person presses agains the clay, the clay's shape changes.

"The clay is your story; the people surrounding it represent the narrative forces pressing in upon it to shape it. For example:

  • Escalation: The tension must continue to escalate scene by scene until it reaches a climax after which nothing is ever the same again. Does this scene ratchet up the tension of the one before it? How can I make things worse?
  • Believability: The characters in your story need to act in contextually believable ways. All the time. What would this character naturally do in this situation? Is he properly motivated to take this action?
  • Causality: Everything that happens must be caused by the thing that precedes it. Is this event caused by what precedes it? How can what I want to happen bow to what needs to happen for this story to work?
  • Scenes and Setbacks: If nothing is altered you not have a scene. If your characters solve something without a setback you do not have a story. Have I inadvertently included scenes just for character development? Are there necessary interludes or moments of reorientation between scenes?
  • Inevitability and Surprise: Each scene should end in a way that's unexpected and yet satisfying to readers. The end of every scene must be not only logical but, in retrospect, the only possible conclusion to that scene. Does this scene end in a way that's unexpected and yet inevitable? How can I ensure that readers don't see the twist coming?
  • Continuity: Continuity develops through pace (the speed at which things are happening) and narrative energy (the momentum carrying them along). Do my revelations happen at the right moments in the story? Have I used foreshadowing to eliminate coincidences, especially at the climax?
  • Genre Conventions: Readers enter a story with expectations based on their understanding of its genre. You need to be familiar enough with genre conventions to meet or exceed those expectations without resorting to cliches. What obligatory scenes are inherent to this genre? How can I render them in a way that's not cliched?
Just in case you need more to think about when you're creating scenes that sizzle, check out Lorin Oberweger's blog on Writing Scenes: Cooking at the Right Temperature. Like James' article, this is also chock full of the reasons you want to write high temperature scenes, and how to accomplish that. 

I read that blog before and during my writing session today. It made me aware of creating conflict between my characters and taking power away from my protagonist (sorry Lillie!). 

What are yours technique to create powerful, reader-gripping scenes? I'd love to hear about them!


Joyce Moyer Hostetter said...

Wow! That's a lot to keep in mind as I write but I will certainly try. Terrific advice, really.

Congrats to Rosi and Carolyn on the wins!

Linda Vigen Phillips said...

Thanks to you, Lorin Oberweger and Writer's Digest I feel like I'm in the art studio, fashioning something that will be ready for the kiln soon. How exciting this creative process is!

Martina at Adventures in YA Publishing said...

Great post, Carol! I really like the seven points. And thanks for pointing back to Lorin's post on emotional temperature!

Carol Baldwin said...

Yes, LInda, we truly are in the artist's studio--I loved the clay analogy that James used! And yes, it is a lot to keep in mind, Joyce. Actually, i read these posts and then put them into the back of my mind hoping that they'll take root in my unconscious as I write! Martina-- i was happy to put these two things together!

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