Sunday, April 21, 2013

It’s Spring: Take a Risk!

Stick your head through the dirt and you could get frosted. Open fragile petals to blazing sunlight, and you could get burnt. Scenes are similar; it feels safer to proceed cautiously. Few would mind year after year of early, sunny rebirth with just the right amount of rain (preferably at night). But if every scene feels the same, then—every scene feels the same!

The problem starts with structure. Scenes usually begin with a hook and a location. Soon after, the scene goal is introduced. The characters grapple with that for a bit, the tension rises, and then at some intriguingly unresolved moment, there’s another hook to launch the next scene.

Perhaps you’ll argue that everyone does it this way every time because there’s no other way to do it. Maybe. Maybe not?

Tip:  Unless your scenes suggest varied goals, rhythms, and patterns, then a sense of redundancy will diminish your novel as a whole.

It’s spring, time to prune, clean out old habits, dress up old plantings, and seed something new. Apply the following strategies to your scenes. Not all of them will work every time, and some will take effort to engineer, especially at first. But this is a great time to experiment, when it feels as if the air itself is warm and moist with energy.

v  If you always start with a hook about immediate psychological threat, how about replacing that with a hook about the environment? Something breaks down, as things constantly do. Maybe the weather’s about to change or the old furnace about to give out. Look for new ways to begin.

v  If you always start with a hook about physical threat, what if the danger is psychological instead? Or the reverse.

v  If most of your scenes begin outside or inside, switch that. If many of your scenes begin with someone en route, start with them already there.

v  If you always give your protagonist a new worry as the scene closes, try making your protagonist happy and cheerful but clueing readers in on what a false, false hope this is.

v  If you always resolve each scene, stop before the end. Begin a new chapter in medias res with an interrupted scene.

v  Or keep readers wondering how—and if—they ever resolved that issue.

v  If you always present the setting and then the hook, try the opposite order. Better yet, integrate setting and hook into a single sentence—but not every time.

Play with the goal of doing one thing in a truly different way—for each scene. This not only vitalizes scenes but forces you to probe beneath the surface. That’ll provide a bountiful harvest in ways you haven’t even imagined yet.

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