Last Friday, I took a step back from our Grow An Author series to share a bit about my experience at Mount Hermon. Thank you for allowing me that freedom, but today we get back on track.
If you've been following my Friday blogs, you'll know that once I've got some idea of where I'm going with my story, I sit down and pen a working synopsis. This synopsis is used as a loose outline as I move through the drafting process.
And when I say "sketched out," it's a very rough idea I'm coming up with. Something like: Sarah steals Lenny's cell phone.
Oftentimes, I use word sprints to turn these rough one-sentence ideas into a scene, but not always. Some scenes require a slower, more methodical pace of drafting, and some days I'm just not in the mood to hurry my way through. But the reality is there are many, many days that are only successful because I set a timer and force myself to write until it goes off. That's just how I'm wired.
Focusing on one scene at a time helps me ensure several things about my story.
1. Must move the plot forward.
2. Must increase either the stakes (what's at risk) or the tension (conflict, obstacles).
3. Should begin with a hook--something to grab the reader's attention.
4. Should end with a revelation, reversal, or turning point--something to keep readers flipping pages.
Focusing on one scene at a time as I draft has helped me more often than not, but it can also be a two-edged sword. The risk is that sometimes we try to cram all the THINGS into each scene and it's very easy to become an episodic writer.
Have you heard that phrase before? It means you're taking your characters through problem after problem, but not really showing much forward movement, in either the character or the plot. It is especially easy to fall into this trap if you're a character-driven novelist. You have a character you love, so you play with them, torture them, solve their problem and then start all over again. That might make a great sitcom, but it's not going to cut it as a full-length feature film.
To avoid episodic writing, you must quench the desire to solve your character's problem in every scene. In situational comedies like The Big Bang Theory or Everybody Loves Raymond, a problem is presented, squabbled over, and solved in thirty minutes, but when the next episode airs, very little has changed. God bless Raymond Barone, but the dude is the same slacker in the finale that he is in the pilot. Life has not transformed him.
Readers need to see change. It's real. We're either growing or regressing in life and you have to show that in your story. Good movies handle this well. When you're writing a novel its good to think movies, not sitcoms. It's not the first time I've said that, but it applies very specifically to drafting scene by scene. And it's a good motto to keep in the back of that very full head of yours.
When you think about the story you're working on, are you able to see it in scenes? Do you have a tendency to drift into episodic writing? And what advice would you give to a writer attempting to draft his or her novel one scene at a time?