Big time thanks to everyone who entered last round's writing prompt. 39 entries - awesome! Tomorrow I'll post a list of the 20 who advanced, and then I'll email out feedback. The next writing prompt will go live on Monday, April 25th.
On Monday we talked about how all scenes should advance the story in some way. It should help deepen our understanding of the characters, push the plot along, and build suspense and conflict. Creating scenes full of tension = Creating a page-turner of a book.
One of the ways you can keep the tension high is to arrive late and leave early. In his book, Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook, Donald Maass, agent extraordinaire, likens it to a party:
Did you ever arrive early for a party? It's awkward, isn't it? The music isn't yet playing. Your host and hostess make hurried conversation with you while they set out the chips and dip. You offer to help, but there's nothing you can do. You feel dumb for getting there too soon.That's how I feel when I read the opening pages of many manuscripts. Pieces of the story are being assembled, but nothing has happened just yet, and often the guest of honor, the protagonist, hasn't arrived. In fact, no one I like has shown up yet. Later on the story will be in full swing, but for now I wonder why I bothered to accept this invitation.
The first time I read these words, they were so groundbreaking to me that I called my husband at work to share with him. "Isn't that just fabulous?" I said, practically breathless from the excitement of finding such wisdom. My husband is an engineer and couldn't relate at all, but he was very sweet about the whole thing.
Mr. Maass is talking specifically about openings of stories, but this same thing applies to individual scenes. Don't force your reader to be there for the set-up and tear-down of the scene. The reader gets to be the bride or groom, okay? They get to enter the church after everyone has gathered, and they get to jet out early while others stay behind to sweep up the rice.
This is something that takes practice. And rewrites. I can't tell you how many times I've started a scene, then been like, "Ack, too much set-up! I need to fast-forward 10 minutes."
Here are a couple of examples of ways to start the scene mid-swing:
"You're leaving for Madison's already?" Mom asked as I entered the kitchen.
We're not hanging around in Skylar's room while she debates which outfit to wear, if she should take the time to paint her nails, etc.
I didn't get a chance to ask Abbie about Chris until we'd eaten lunch, cake had been served, and everyone else was occupied by Curtis and his gifts.
This sentence tells us something good is coming - Skylar's convo with Abbie - but here's what happened in the time we just skipped over.
"Sixth grade," Jodi said into her custard."Sixth grade?" I said. "How did I not know this?"
This builds the question of what happened in sixth grade and draws the reader into the conversation, yet doesn't force us to endure the girls ordering their custard, settling onto the grass, bemoaning how Sheridan's doesn't have more benches. And so on.
My first opportunity to be civil to Jodi arrived Wednesday night.I arrived late at the sports complex because I left the house wearing outfit number seven and hairstyle number four. When I finally spotted our church team (Connor had neglected to tell me which field they'd be playing on), I found Jodi seated in the bleachers with Amy Ross and Cameron and Curtis.
This is a technique I'm fond of and that I think works well. There's a hook that tells us what's about to happen - Skylar's about to see Jodi - and then we back it up just enough to get a bit of context - she changed her clothes a lot, she had to wander all over the stupid baseball complex to find the game she wanted - before plowing back into the situation at hand, which is seeing Jodi.
This can also be done in a bigger way. Sarah Dessen utilizes this a lot where a scene starts us
several days later, goes on for a couple paragraphs, and then backs us up for a scene. Like in This Lullaby, Ms. Dessen finishes up a chapter with the main character, Remy, breaking up with her boyfriend, Dexter. In the next scene, Remy and Dexter are at an event together. The reader is brought right into the action ("Come on, who wants to KaBoom?" I looked at Lissa...) but then a page or two later, when Remy has spotted Dexter, she says, It wasn't the first time I'd seen him, of course. The morning after we broke up, in fact, I'd been standing in line at Jump Java...
We then read a couple pages about what happened at Jump Java, and then Dessen brings us back to what's going on now. That had been two weeks ago, and since then we'd talked several times...
I think this technique should only be utilized a couple times a book, but it can be a very effective way to fast forward your reader in time and maintain the tension in your scene.
That's all for today. Tomorrow keep an eye on Go Teen Writers for a list of the top 20 entries from last prompt, and on Friday we'll talk about "leaving early." Have a great Wednesday, everyone!