Friday, February 17, 2017

Writing Your Novel: How to Shake Up a Scene

I plot. Even though I am not a seat-of-the-pants writer, however, there are many times in writing a scene that the characters take off on their own. Most dialogue happens this way for me, and oftentimes, while I know what is supposed to happen in a scene -- which questions will be asked and answered, how relationships will change, what crisis will be formed or averted -- the actions themselves become organic. This can be a great thing, and sometimes it can be a little bit stifling. It all comes down to the shakeup.

Recently, I ran into some difficulty while working on a book that will come out in 2018. I found that, as is usual in my stories, I was using a lot of subtlety and nuance while painting the overall arc of the tale. That's good. I like subtlety and nuance. However -- sometimes subtlety and nuance, if that's all I use, become fancy terms for slow and boring. A book without them might be shallow, corny, predictable, or any number of other things that, for me, just aren't compelling enough to keep reading. But lack of definitive action is another thing. So how do I keep subtlety and nuance and still bate the reader's breath? The answer is to shake up the scene.

The primary way to shake up a scene is to ask the question, what can happen in this scene that the reader isn't expecting? For instance, I wrote a scene the other day in which I have a man and woman who live near each other walking home together. Per my plot outline, I knew they would have some conversation which would help them to get to know each other better while at the same time keeping each of their prospective secrets intact. They would start to feel like deeper friends and begin to struggle with guilt over keeping those individual secrets. Okay. Good. Got it. But stepping back, I realized it was a very nuanced type of scene. Little things like hints and secrets, while very cool and emotionally triggering, were happening. Still, I felt while writing this scene, that it was too "soft" a scene on top of a previous soft scene. I wasn't certain it offered enough to make the reader really care or compel them to read the next chapter.

Then out of the blue, an idea struck to shake that scene up. I asked, what is the reader not expecting? What am I not expecting? And voilĂ ! Another fellow acquainted with both characters happened along, all full of vim and vigor, stirred the pot, and asked the woman out, right there in front of that other fellow. (You get this is a romance, right?) This little shake up lifted those nuances I had been writing to another level. On an aside -- I had known I wanted to use this third character in a way like that earlier, but I just hadn't seen it happening right there, until I asked that question about how I could shake up that scene.

So if you're stuck or feeling like a scene in your story just isn't clicking completely, ask yourself what it is that you and your reader aren't expecting. I think it goes without saying -- then again, maybe not -- that the shakeup should make sense to the story. I mean, keep it real. Believable. Organic. Not something so far-fetched that the reader will say, "Come on, I don't believe it," and toss the book.

Try it and see. Causing a little shake up in a scene now and then will revitalize your drive while you're penning your novel, and the end result will be to give the reader the emotional ride they're looking for.

Write on!

Monday, January 9, 2017

Eerie Concept Realistically Woven ~ A Review of INNOCENTS PRAY by Lisa Lickel

Lisa Lickel has done it again. She’s crafted another novel with a unique concept and characters as interesting and troubling as the concept itself. Innocents Pray asks the question, if four people are praying for different answers to the same situation, how will God answer all of them?

Lisa’s story is disturbing on several levels – from the woman who goes away to die without telling her family what she’s doing, to the doctor creating his own version of medical ethics, to the son who is described on the back cover as “a whisper from the edge of reason”, to the conflicted hospice chaplain with a connection to each. Each individual is struggling with a huge internal conflict and question for which there is no pat answer, and wondering how the story can possibly end is what keeps us turning the pages. The characters themselves are often not very likeable, yet so real in the ways they are troubled that we care for them in their brokenness.

Lisa tends to write from a variety of interesting points of view, which creates a much more fascinating web than if this story had only been written from the viewpoints of, say, the MC who has cancer or Able, the hospice chaplain whose integrity is at odds with what he is being asked to do. She deftly goes between their points of view in first person, third person, and from a mysterious interchange on a weblog that keeps us guessing as to who is hosting and playing devil’s advocate on the site.

I would view Innocents Pray as a both literary and experimental women’s fiction, and Lisa is up to the task of presenting it to her readers. If there is anything critical, it would be that there was a time or two I felt slightly uncertain if I was understanding a particular relationship (near the end) clearly (that might have been me).

Intriguing on an eerily realistic level!