Telling sentences begin like this:  I stand…  Sara looks around…  He waits with a…   We wish …   I sit here…Bob looks to the …

These are forms of you the writer telling the reader about the character. We can hear you saying these words. Your voice is at the forefront.

That may be fine for one line of narration. But to slip into scenes that show you  have to make a shift in your writing.  A writer’s voice needs to fade into the background. She needs to narrate her story from there. Read the rest of this entry »

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You can begin your first draft like this:

Joseph stood on her front porch but didn’t knock. The wind as it was coming from the east, made his eyes squint.

She opened the door. Saw him there, and she nodded and smiled.

 In one way, it’s a nice way to start. You aren’t over using state-of-being verbs, like was or were, or the helpers words like as and had been, too much.

The verbs here are stood, knock, was, coming, made, squint, opened, saw, nodded, and smiled. But it is a lot of stage direction for the wind, Joseph and someone named she.

 ON second glance, you have to admit, these lines are mostly story facts. The ‘Where folks are’, the ‘What they did, movement wise’. There’s not a lot of storytelling here yet.

 

We aren’t given many suggestions about anyone’s emotions, or motivations, there’s no hints at why we should be watching these folks, yet. It seems like first drafts fall into the trap of ‘get the movements down first’. And they read like ‘story-notes’ more than they do first tries at storytelling.

What is Joseph feeling as he stands there?

What about the wind is so evocative that you felt it needs mentioning?

This she you are telling us about, what’s making her smile and nod at seeing Joseph?

 

Did you write up scene notes before you began writing? If you did, what kind of verbs did you use in those notes? Are your notes writing in strong, active verbs?

Or like this:

Joseph will be at the door. Mary will be glad to see him.

If you didn’t write up scene notes at all, you may be writing by accident.

 

Let’s say you did write up some notes about the scene. But they were very ‘will be’ style. How can we fix that opening now that it’s on the page?

 

Well, we can go back to questions like above, about emotions, or motivations, or reactions.

What is Joseph feeling as he stands there?

What about the wind is so evocative that you felt it needs mentioning?

This she you are telling us about, what’s making her smile and nod at seeing Joseph?

 

Ask yourself some questions about what you want to show us. Go beyond the telling us stuff of story-facts and movements. Get into the why of things.

            Joseph’s nervous that’s why he doesn’t just knock.

I’ll show that by how the wind makes him react.

Mary, at the door, won’t unlatch the screen, but she won’t be able to stop from smiling because he’s there.

 

Now you have something to work with for showing us the story behind these two folks at this door, on this porch.

 Look a this compared to what we began with:

Joseph stood on Mary’s front porch, feeling like a soggy morning paper, limp and forgotten there.  He wanted so much to be braver than he felt, but he couldn’t get himself to knock. The wind, from the east, felt like an icy finger poked into his ear, it made his eyes squint and tear. At least he told himself that was why his eyes felt wet.

She opened the door, surprised, but didn’t automatically reach for the screen’s latch like she would have yesterday. Though Joseph could see in her eyes, the secret smile as she nodded. Maybe there was hope after all

 By taking the original lines, asking the why behind it, and then using commas to expand your thoughts you end up bringing in the story to mix and mingle with your story-facts.

Joseph is feeling like a soggy morning paper, limp and forgotten there. This tells us there might be a problem somewhere.

The wind, an icy finger, poked into his ear, making his eyes squint and tear, is now nearly an inanimate character that makes Joseph react. The line that then follows makes sure we know there’s a problem here.

We then see Mary though Joseph’s eyes, not through the narrator’s eyes, this is a great way (reaction) to show rather than tell the reader stuff in a storytelling way.

Then, we see what Joseph’s thinking about when he sees Mary’s eyes. And we see that the problem might be solvable.

 

Story-facts into storytelling.

Try this type of questioning with your story-facts. What did you mean behind the movements of your characters?  Figure it out, add it to what you began with, and expand your stage directions.

Bring in the story.

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IN SCENE VS. NOT IN SCENE

Karlie asked: I would like to hear more about writing in scene, and getting into character.

Let’s look at a excerpt and then at ways to move it into scene.

iliketowrite77, a fellow NaNoWriMo writer, lent me this excerpt:

________________________________________________________

Her heart pounded as she raced through the streets, three palace guards on her heels. She threw her head back and laughed, the wind whipping through her hair. This was her favorite part – the chase. She sped through the alley and hid in a small alcove as she waited for the guards to catch up. The king had sent less agile men this time. Fool. Hadn’t he figured out by now what she had taken? She drew the sword and looked it over – Freshly polished. Perfectly balanced. It was a masterpiece. And enchanted, nonetheless. She could see why the king would want it for his plan. To take someone out with this beauty would only take one well-placed jab.

Focus, Red. The guards are coming, she chided herself.

“Through here!” one whispered. Apparently they were attempting to sneak up on her. She almost snorted with the thought.

Hide, or fight? she questioned. One of the guards tripped and fell, and the sound sliced through the silence of the night. He lay sprawled across the cobbles. She laughed to herself. Fight, she decided, and her mouth twisted into a cold smile.

___________________________________________________________

My advice was to first look at the sentence structure, thinking of edits to make this chase scene even more exciting. I told this writer to look at the words she used to begin the lines.

I told her, “You can see when you line them up like this what your go-to type of sentence is. If some of them were edited to start differently, we might see things more ‘in scene’, rather than via narration.” Pronoun (Her, She, It) followed by noun or verb account for 9 line openers. A majority of her lines use mostly telling words, rather than showing ones:

(it took her a while to slip ‘into scene’, I think it happened at ‘Focus’)

Her heart. She threw. This was.

She sped. The king had. Fool.

 Hadn’t he. She drew. Perfectly balanced.

 It was. And enchanted. She could see. To take.

Focus, Red. The guards. “Through here”.

Apparently they. She almost. Hide, or fight.

One of the. He lay. She laughed. Fight, she decided.

Look at her first three openings for her lines above; they are telling the reader something. showing happend when we just see it rather than get told about it.  Of the 23 lines, 9 seem to be written in scene, rather than in narration (telling).

So take a look at any three of her ‘telling lines’ and you try an edit for scene rather than narrative. If you have your own excerpt to work with. Take it and first, highlight the ‘telling‘ lines, then figure out ways of saying it in the present tense of ‘in scene‘ writing.

Alternately,
Another way to try bringing thing right into scene, instead of telling us these story-facts in narration is just a shuffling of lines without even editing for structure. The only line that seems a candidate to leave out, or edit, is the one about her beating heart- (without a beating heart she’s not running anywhere). Adding in a how or why a heart is beating is a solution, if you can give that info to the reader in a non-telling way.

Consider this shuffling of the excerpt. You’ll notice that little of it was cut:
_______________________________

Focus, Red. The guards are coming, she chided herself.

“Through here!” one whispered. Apparently they’d sent three palace guards to sneak up on her. She almost snorted with the thought.  Head back and laughing, the wind whipping through her hair, she raced through the streets. This was her favorite part – the chase. She sped through an alley, then hid in a small alcove, waiting for them to catch up.

The king had sent less agile men this time. Hadn’t he figured out by now what she had taken? Her heart pounding fast from the race through the streets, guards on her heels, she drew the sword, looking it over. Freshly polished. Perfectly balanced. It was a masterpiece. Enchanted.

She could see why the king would want it for his plan. Fool. To take someone out with this beauty would only take one well-placed jab. Hide, or fight? she questioned. One of the guards tripped and fell,  sprawling across the cobbles. The sound sliced through the silence of the night. She laughed to herself.

Fight, she decided, and her mouth twisted into a cold smile.
_______________________________

Three other things to remember (or try for if they are new to you).

  1. Remove as much –ed word endings from narration as you can once you’ve slipped into scene
  2. Scenes have realistic dialogue, not exposition in the guise of characters speaking to each other.
  3. Setting within scene should be there to serve the scene, not to describe place.

Also remember that in tense situations, or when a character’s under duress, a short line is better than a longer one for heightening the tone of the scene.

Next week:

GETTING INTO A CHARACTERS’ HEAD