Setting a Scene

scenes photo

I discovered the other day that I set some of my scenes in the same places My characters seem to eat a lot. Well, that’s not too bad, is it? I mean, we all eat several times a day, right?

But this means I have several scenes set in the dining hall. Two or three scattered through the novel might be ok, four, five, six or seven? Um.

The thing is, it not only gets repetitive, it gets boring and samey for the reader. They feel like they’ve already read this scene, so I took my characters out of the dining hall and into a market place instead. With a few tweaks and extra description added, the scene improved vastly. I have a scene set in the buttery (not the place for churning butter:

store photo

, a place where the ‘butts’ of ale were stored), one in a barn and another in a hayloft. I even have one (okay, two) in a graveyard.

The trick is in thinking about your character’s daily lives and where they have to go. Anywhere can make an interesting scene – front doorstep of a house, library, beach, bathroom, skilift, lighthouse – and if it’s somewhere the main character shouldn’t be, so much the better!

Some scenes need to take place in an enclosed space; this builds tension between the characters because they can’t easily get away from each other.

Other scenes are better suited to wider spaces. This can build pace and tension. Have the scene in the opposite setting your characters need. So, for example, if you have your hero desperately trying to find your heroine and they need to be together – then choose a wide open setting. They need to be together, and if they are far apart it creates tension.

If your heroine needs to escape a killer, have the scene in a tight space, thus building tension.

If a couple are have a fullblown argument, confine them to a

ski lift photo

and see what happens.

The Rush

A few weeks ago I was chatting with a longtime friend and critique partner about my current work-in-progress. Okay, mostly I was spouting off about finishing the first draft. I wanted to complete the first revision by May, but I wasn’t sure if I’d have time. I had a revision to finish on another novel. I had this. I had that. But May—it had to be May.

I prattled on for five minutes before she stopped with me a laugh. One that was certainly not ‘with’ me, but ‘at’ me. It’s not the first time she’s laughed at me (we have 27 years of friendship between us—I’ve done a lot of things to laugh ‘at’ in that time). But her laugh made me stop and ask why.

“What’s the hurry?” she asked. “Why May?”

Well, I don’t know. I’m not under any deadline. It’s not like the world will implode should it take me until June to finish. Or July. Or 2017.

It’s simply that I feel this need to hurry. To rush. Because…I like stressing about it?

I’ve seen this feeling in my fellow writers. That we must hurry. I’m not talking about writers under deadline, but writers like me—who write because of love or because they hope to have deadlines in the future but don’t presently.

Why do we rush? And, perhaps more importantly, is that a good thing?

Sometimes we’re rushed by passion. The drive to get the words down, the story concluded, the characters to their happily ever after (or wherever they are going). A rollercoaster, skydiving, cliff jumping, desire-and-fervor adrenaline rush.

But there’s another kind of rush. The one that makes me feel guilty if I don’t put down new words every day. Where I fear there isn’t enough time. A rush that makes me set arbitrary deadlines for no reason other than this panic that I’ll somehow be late.

It’s a fine line—rush vs. rush. Passion vs. fear.

I’ll take the passion. But for the other kind of rush, I need to let it go. Maybe the novel will be drafted by May. Maybe it won’t. Between now and then, I’ll hang on and let the rollercoaster drive me forward. And when that other rush nips at me, I’ll remember Junot Díaz’s brilliance:

Books are not people. They are never late to the party. It doesn’t make any difference, early or late, as long as you get it done.

Turtle Power

By E. M. Youman

Hi, my name is E. M. Youman and I am a Pantser. I couldn’t plot my way out of a paper bag. If I was forced to outline at gun point—you get the idea. I have spent countless hours trying to figure out how to be more productive as a writer. Read dozens of craft books on plotting, outlining and structure. When I say I can’t plot, that doesn’t mean my stories don’t have them, it just means when you ask me what my current work in progress is be forewarned that elevator pitch is going to be a long one. But today’s post isn’t about writing faster or lambasting the poor plight of a pantser. It’s more about embracing your inner turtle.

I think slowly. It takes time for me to come up with a good story where others may take a week or a month, I’m taking months and years. Last year I set about trying to increase my word count and ended the year writing 200,000 words, but then I fell off a cliff and couldn’t write for months. It’s made me learn several important things

  1. Aretha and Teddy both said it best: R-e-s-p-e-c-t.

I have to respect who I am and not what looks good on paper. Sure, it’s great to bang out dozens of stories in a month, but if you have no hair on your head and only speak in monosyllables, because your brain is fried then you like me need a different approach.

For me trying to write fast actually made me dislike writing, because I kept trying to whip a dead horse. “Come on brain tell me what happens next.”

  1. “But E. M., I have to write fast. Don’t you know someone is putting up a new book on Amazon every five seconds?”

Yes, that is a very valid fear and I have a suggestion. This writing, wanna be author “thing”, is a marathon. Dorothy Brande said best when she wrote that you have to get used to writing. In my freshman year of college, my English professor told the class we had to keep a journal. He wanted two whole pages each week. I went home, nearly in tears and tried to write one. I had to double space and narrow the margin’s just to get a page and s third. You know what he wrote on the assignment? Nice try E. M., but I need two pages.

He might as well have told me I needed to write a book. Fast foreword five years and guess how long it took me to write this blog post? One hour–and it’s three pages long. Forget about the three days I spent thinking about it or the two days I spent editing. The rough draft took me one hour. I couldn’t have done that five years ago. It took time.

You are not going to start banging out novels like you are a copy machine at Kinkos. You’ve got to build up to it. Otherwise, you could end up hating the journey because you pushed yourself too fast too soon.

I can tell you are still skeptical about taking your time. I was too, because Amazon.

  1. You can have your cake and eat it too.

You can focus on writing fast, but if you’re a pantser or a slow writer like me, then you need to change your approach to writing. Your muse, will suggest ideas (like a story about two fire fighters fighting for the hand of an EMT who’s secretly a lost heiress) but on most days she won’t tell you what to write. As a pantser that’s like offering me a s’more without chocolate. It should be a crime. So how do you marry the idea to write with the desire to write fast?

You Pomodoro that sucker.

  1. Pomodoro anyone?

So what is the Pomodoro? The Pomodoro technique is not a chicken dish. It’s a productivity strategy. The best thing about this technique is that word count goals do not matter. All you need is twenty five minutes.

Last month I read Write, Better, Faster by Monica Leonelle. In it, she said writers need to outline their stories. Face palm. That’s not going to help the pantser is it?

“E M. Why are you talking about a book that can’t help me?”

Every book always has a hidden nugget of useful information. For Leonelle it was the Pomodoro technique. All you have to do is set a timer for twenty-five minutes and write until the timer goes off. Then take a break for five minutes. It’s like a sprint, but a small one. I had heard of this technique before, but hadn’t bothered to try it. Since I was completely burned out from my writing sprint last year I was open to trying anything.

Using this technique I wrote 11,000 words in seven days. I usually conk out at 1200 a day, so I was really happy with this technique. The best part about it is that the more I did it the more words I wrote. My theory on why it works for me is that I was stuck with finishing a manuscript that hadn’t worked on in months. I had a small inkling of what I wanted to write but not how I wanted to say it. By writing cold, I was excited to see what I would come up with. For a pantser, this is gold, because I like to pretend I am the reader when I write. With the timed technique if the buzzer goes off I am stopping in the middle of a sentence. This leaves my subconscious chomping at the bit to create the next part. This excitement brought the muse out. The best part about it is that I didn’t feel the guilt of having to talk myself into sitting down for a few hours. I could schedule twenty five minutes and do them throughout the day. I currently have a goal to get through five a day, but with my unpredictable schedule I’ve only achieved that twice. So realistically it’s going to be three a day going forward and hopefully I can move up to doing six a day.

Coupling that with being able to jump around to different scenes in Scrivener and I am in writing heaven again. I am writing faster, a little bit. I don’t think I am going to be cranking out a book a month, but I am slowly teaching myself how to get used to writing for long stretches. Respecting that I have turtle power instead of trying to drill sergeant my way through a story has made me and my muse happier.

What techniques or tricks help you be more productive?

About the Author

Author Bio

Once upon a time there was a girl who dreamed of a genie that took her on magical journeys, many of which may have included scenes from the Nancy Drew series (shh!!). Then one day she discovered Molly Ringwald and Andrew McCarthy and became obsessed with heart wrenching romances. When she’s not watching tearjerkers, she’s usually writing them.

E.M. Youman is a freelance writer from Oakland, CA. Some of her short stories have been published by The Bowman’s Inn, Black Cat Press, S/tick Magazine and IFF. When she’s not writing fiction, E.M. Youman, works at an independent record label and runs a music blog. She has a B.A. and Master in Communication and is currently working on her first romance novel.

To be notified of E.M.Youman’s book releases, sign up for her Book Club

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Build Your Story by D.L. Hungerford

I’ve made the commitment to give two hours every weekday to my novel writing. Weekends are for blogs and other fun projects. I am accountable for these two hours because I go on-line to my writing communities and state that I am “sprinting,” a term we use when we sit at a keyboard and just write. Continue reading

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I’ve been asked, “Does writing come easy for you?” My answer is easy. Hell no.

Maybe it’s my writing style of being a panster that makes it challenging. If you aren’t familiar with the term panster, it means fly by the seat of your pants and write what comes to mind without a plan of where the story is going to go. I’ve tried to plot out an outline and it just didn’t work for me. Another habit that surely slows me down is how I write and edit at the same time. After each paragraph, I tend to stop and re-read my work. Sometimes I simply change a word or two, or I may delete the entire thing and start over. Getting a chapter just right takes takes more than several attempts before I’m satisfied. At this point I’m only in phase one of my writing process. Continue reading

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We’ve had some really great posts on here about overcoming fear, self doubt, deadlines, etc. All of these things play a part in our evolution as writers. There is another thing I’d like to bring up, though. Something that has been my biggest hurdle to overcome.

How much feedback is too much?

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Another small publisher closing, what’s going on?

News came down recently that Samhain Publishing will be closiClosedng down. I don’t know the circumstances behind their decision, but they are certainly not the first small to mid-sized publisher to shut down in the past year. Most blame Amazon, and the self-publishing boom that we’re currently seeing.

So the question becomes, how can these publishers stop their authors from leaving them in favor of self publishing?

I have a theory. Continue reading