Energize!

I like to be entertained. I also like looking at this guy.

Theo+James+Inbetweeners+Movie+World+Premiere+AaF_kDveAnzl

Theo James

And since I recently saw an entertaining movie with this guy (Divergent, directed by Neil Burger), well, that’s even better.

But this post isn’t about that movie or Theo James. (Sorry to disappoint. But at least you have a picture.) It’s not even about Star Trek, though the title of course is a command from that series. As I said, I like to be entertained. Writing is a form of entertainment for me. Consequently, I often write blog posts or scenes off the top of my head that I find entertaining without thinking about whether anyone else might agree. Yes, I’m one of those sad people who love to laugh at their own corny jokes. As I draft a novel, ideas for scenes pop into my head thusly: It would be fun to add a bank robbery scene here. So I write the scene and chortle away.

bank robber bandit robbery lol clip art clipart

12088345But as I began the process of reading through and revising my novel, some of the scenes I thought were entertaining seemed less so. In fact, my energy waned just reading them, so I found myself turning to Plants vs. Zombies or email. I didn’t understand why, until I started reading The Plot Whisperer by Martha Alderson. Alderson states the issue succinctly:

A scene that shows the character achieving a short-term goal but that fails to transition effectively to the next scene dissipates the story’s energy. It’s like stepping on a stair that’s missing. The reader knows instinctively that something’s wrong, sighs, and puts down the book. (Alderson 45)

What’s sad is that I put down my own book. Trust me when I say that as much work as crocheting is, I never stop in the middle of a project to check my email or play a round of Plants vs. Zombies. My crocheting projects are too absorbing, and I know how everything fits together. If I decided to add exta stitches for my own entertainment (like adding extra scenes to a story), I would throw the whole pattern off. (By the way, here’s my latest. I’m still making shoes. My life has become a living version of “The Elves and the Shoemaker.”)

004

So, I get it now. Some scenes have no purpose, because they don’t really further the plot of the novel. They’re just distractions like Theo James above.

Alderson has other advice for fixing problem scenes. I highly recommend that you get her book. I don’t want to give all her tips away, because that wouldn’t be fair to Martha.

I think you know instinctively the scenes that energize your story and those that drain the life out of it. During the draft phase, my pulse quickened as I approached certain scenes involving certain characters. But one character’s scenes consistently gave me fits, because I didn’t really know her all that well. I found myself coming up with fantastic, plotty ideas like the bank robbery scene I alluded to earlier (and I didn’t actually involve her in a bank robbery; that was just an example) to make her part of the story seem more interesting. Silly me. I need to invest the time to get to know her, to find out what’s interesting about her and how she would react in situations, so that her scenes have the energy of instinct. Even if she stood there washing dishes, my knowledge of how she ticks, and how that dishwashing fits her emotional arc, would invest the story with energy and purpose. But that dishwashing scene needs to be strong enough to lead into the next scene—to be the cause that leads to an effect like ripples on a pond.

It’s also like driving. I don’t have to think about how to do it or what I should do in a certain situation. I move by instinct. If I turn the wheel a certain way, I can expect a certain outcome. Same with my characters in a scene. If I know that character A is the jealous type, I need to show that somehow, as well as the consequences of a jealous reaction in a follow-up scene. I can’t have her suddenly robbing banks in the middle of all of that jealousy just to inject excitement. Instead, I could probably turn that bank robbery scene into a short story. But it needs to be cut from the novel.

So much to do! But making my story tighter gives it more energy . . . and me as well.

measuring-tape-around-waist-410x290

Speaking of robbery, I couldn’t resist leaving you with this image:

snowman_robbery

Alderson, Martha. The Plot Whisperer. Avon, MA: Adams Media, 2011. Print.

Theo James photo from zimbio.com. Tape measure photo from prevention.com/food. Book cover from Goodreads. Bank robber image from lostinidaho.me. Snowman robbery image from jobspapa.com/robber-clip-art.html.

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53 thoughts on “Energize!

  1. Excellent advice. I’ve had to chop out scenes before because they’re too long and pointless. I usually have that one plot point to make with it, but that gets done in a few lines of dialogue or exposition. Guess we get excited during the first draft and throw everything into the basket. Kind of like shopping while hungry. You grab anything that looks yummy.

    • True, Charles. I’m definitely one to stuff that basket. But in revision I find that summary works as a good replacement for a scene that seems mostly filler. I have many of those!

      • One of the challenges with my style is that it requires a lot of dialogue to get information across. So I’ve been learning to condense the facts instead of going into wordy explanations. Though the chatterbox characters still get the long dialogue blocks.

  2. Thank you, Linda! I just wrote a scene that I thought was entertaining and I’ll admit to a bit of chortling myself. But I had nowhere to go from there. Now I see why. I’m going to grab that book! Also, very many thanks for that image of Mr. James.

    • It’s definitely worth getting. You might also look into the workbook. I heard that’s good too.
      Always glad to provide pretty pictures on the blog. 🙂

  3. I’ve heard so much about this book, but I’ve held off ordering it since my craft collection is getting out of control. Reading your endorsement has been thinking one more couldn’t hurt.
    Mr. James would make a nice screen saver wouldn’t he, Linda? 🙂

    • I’m thinking that a screensaver is a great idea, Jill. 😀
      You might want to check Martha’s blog. Some people say that the workbook is better to get, because you get a walkthrough of the points. I don’t own the workbook. I have the book.

  4. Loved the snowman robbery picture. Unfortunately, I have a touch of ADD so it doesn’t matter what I’m doing–even building a LEGO house–I’m going to wander off and check my email or find out why my dog is barking again. But having ADD and being paranoid about pointless scenes leads me sometimes to cut (or not put in) scenes that are quieter, that deepen character and emotion though they don’t necessarily move the plot forward. For instance, an editor wanted me to add a scene in a picturesque coastal town in central Chile (Valparaíso for folks who know Chile) with my main character and her aunt, in this way leaving the hitman boyfriend offstage for about seven or eight pages. I said, “Nothing happened there except they looked around, and it was dark so they didn’t see very much.” The editor told me that not every chapter had to advance the murder plot at the heart of the story, and the quieter scenes help to establish the stakes for the ones with more action.

    • That was great advice from your editor. I tend to cut those scenes too. But there is beauty to quieter scenes. I can’t help thinking of ma space. You need moments of quiet. But the moments of quiet need to be carefully chosen.

  5. I think I cut another whole novel out of To Live Forever. Scene after scene after scene. I really love the creation part of writing, letting the characters run free and do whatever. It’s hard to come back and see how much of what they want to do is pointless. It’s also tough to realize how few words and phrases it actually takes to get a point across.

    • I hope you kept those scenes in another file, especially for the sequel. Some of the scenes in this novel are from a failed attempt at previous novel. You never know when they’ll come in handy!

  6. Great post and good advice. I’ve just started rewriting a children’s novel I first wrote about seven years ago. I’ve started from scratch, just using the same story/plot and characters. Discarding the entire 50,000 word manuscript. It’s interesting how differently it’s coming out now. And how the main characters have grown in my absence. ( I’ve change since I last sat down to tell their story.) The story was optioned years ago from me by a film production company, but it never got off the ground. I’ve got a new agent interested in it, so I want to present something fresh, hence the page one rewrite. I’m having to be bold as there’s lots of stuff to like in the old version… but I’ve gotta trust that what I’ll come up with now, will be even better. I’ll let you know whether I nail it, and what the agent thinks!

      • I’ve given it to children aged 10 to read and that seems about right. (8-12) I read it to a class a few years a go and they were 9, 10. 11.

      • Ooo. A great age! That’s the age level I usually think of when I write. But the novel I’m working on now is definitely for teens, and I mean 14 and above.

  7. Love the shoe! 🙂
    The distracting picture was nice too… LOL!
    Great post, my friend! It actually comes in very handy for me right now as I’m trying to decide which scenes I need in my book and which ones I need to trash. Thank you very much for posting this! I hope you are well!

  8. That book sounds spot on! I haven’t written fiction in yeeeaaarrrrs but there is a story in my mind that I so badly want to get out… I have these same sorts of worries though. I need to really “know” these characters because right now they just seem like shadows.

  9. Thanks for the eye candy, Linda! He is quite distracting. You have managed yet again, to make sense of your writing process by taking us on this journey with you. I have learned so much from you!

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