Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Scene and Structure #5 - Pitfalls!

I'm on vacation this week with my daughter in sunny Florida, but I made sure to have a little something to share with you from our good friend Jack Bickham and his book SCENE & STRUCTURE.

Let's talk about our friends from last week, Jack and Jill. Now their goal was climbing a hill/mountain and we are trying to come up with conflicts for them. Be sure the conflicts you choose for your characters are not trivial. (Believe me your readers will care!) We don't want to read about how Jack and Jill don't have the proper equipment to scale their mountain. If the story is about them climbing, they sure as hell better have the proper climbing equipment. 

Now.... If the story is about them surviving in the Alaskan Tundra and they were in a plane crash and they have no equipment and they have to climb a mountain to escape a bear.... that's one thing.... but then the story goal is no longer them climbing a mountain it's about them surviving in the wilderness and readers will now expect them not to have the equipment they need.  

See how that changed everything.

Another point he makes in this chapter - don't sidetrack your characters (Pitfall #1). If Jack and Jill need money to finance their trip, don't create a thought process that says if the bank doesn't give us financing we have to rob a bank to get the money to climb the mountain.  OMG! Jack and Jill's story is about climbing a mountain, not becoming bank robbers! Be sure you don't back your characters into conflicts that distract from your story goal and possibly alter it in the process.

(Pitfall #2) - The Strongman
Don't let the characters run away with the story. Yikes! I know all my pantser friends out their are gasping. For you guys. Let the story run, but then be willing to go back and look at the scene and realize that you might not want all of it. For example, if Jack and Jill go to the bank to get financing for their climb and start a screaming match with the the bank manager... what's going to happen. What might you introduce into your story at that point that you don't want to explain to your readers? Jack says "what if the characters say they can get the money somewhere else and the bank manager sees it as a threat and calls in the loan on Jack's business... or Jack says he can just go get the money from his grandfather..." Well the reader is going to want to know why Jack didn't just go to the grandfather first. Is the grandfather part of the story, or did Jack just grab you by the ear and drag you along with him for no good reason.

I am such a pantser too and I have seen this happen in my own work from time to time. I take a step back and go 'what the hell?'. As a pantser you have to be willing to take it out and go at it again. Remind your characters to "stay on task" LOL. When this happens I usually highlight the scene, cut it and paste it at the bottom of my doc so that if I need it I can go back and and get it, but if I don't, I don't worry about it.

(Pitfall #3) - The Weakling
Don't duck your conflicts! "After the showdown with Jacob Simms, David drove directly home, feeling....." OMG! The author skipped the best part. He/she left out the showdown

Don't skip over conflict because you don't think you can write it well enough. "You will find that boldly going ahead into the 'impossibly difficult' conflict portion will stretch your abilities as a writer - and make you better than you thought you could ever be."

Happy Writing, Happy Reading
Krystal Shannan

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  1. Thanks for sharing more helpful hints, Krystal. Hope you're enjoying your vacation with your family.

  2. Your welcome! Vacation was a blast!

  3. I agree. A story without strong, well-developed conflict is no story at all.
    Susan Shapley

    1. Thanks for dropping in today! I'm glad you enjoyed the post.