Categories: Basics

REVISING SCENES

by Elizabeth Rusch
Published on: April 20, 2015
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While revising my middle-grade novel April Fool, I have found Donald Maass’ THE FIRE IN FICTION to be enormously helpful. The whole book is terrific, but I’ve been focused on Chapter 3: Scenes that Can’t Be Cut. I have heard many times that a character should want something in every scene and that something should change for the character in every scene, but I haven’t always been sure about how to accomplish that. Using exercises Maass offers at the end of this chapter, I have created a scene worksheet that I have found helpful. Pick a scene, answer the following questions, and then revise the scene with your answers in mind.  I hope you find it as powerful as I do! The questions from my worksheet, adapted from The Fire of Fiction, follow below:

The Fire in Fiction: Passion, Purpose and Techniques to Make Your Novel Great

WHAT DOES YOUR CHARACTER WANT IN SCENE?

3 HINTS THAT HE/SHE MIGHT GET IT:

3 HINTS THAT HE/SHE WON’T:

NEW STRONG FIRST LINE:

NEW STRONG LAST LINE:

WHAT IS THE TURNING POINT, WHEN THINGS CHANGE?

HOW DOES THE CHARACTER SEE HIMSELF/HERSELF BEFORE TURNING POINT?

AFTER?

THREE SENSORY DETAILS DURING THE TURNING POINT:

FIVE SETTING DETAILS:

I hope you find this exercise as powerful as I do!

Elizabeth Rusch

The Time of Day

by Elizabeth Rusch
Published on: March 20, 2015
Comments: 1 Comment

I’m not a morning person and I am committed to getting some exercise (walk, run, or yoga) almost every day. As a result my basic schedule for MANY YEARS has been: wake up, get kids off to school, workout, shower, eat breakfast, and then get to work.

Oftentimes this means I don’t get to my desk until 10 or 10:30 in the morning. After a couple of hours of work, I’m hungry, so I have lunch. By then, it’s 1 p.m. and my daughter gets out of school at 2:15, so I cram to get some work done. Work time per day: Two hours and then one hour — so three total.

But recently, I have made a tweak in my schedule that has changed everything. I don’t have any more time, and yet, I have more time!

Instead of working out when my kids leave, I get right to work at 8 am. At 12:30 or 1:00, if I’ve worked intensely, I am so ready for a walk/run/yoga break. I eat breakfast with my kids in the morning and then eat with them again when they are gorging on their snacks, so eating takes less of my work time and I gain nice mealtimes with my kids. But best of all I get FOUR TO FIVE HOURS of uninterrupted writing time each day!

Is that INSANE?! What took me so long to figure this out? I mean at least a DECADE!

The moral of this story is: Take a hard and creative look at your schedule. Forget your old habits and assumptions and try something new. You may have more writing time than you think.

Taking a Bubble Break

by Ruth Tenzer Feldman
Published on: March 5, 2015
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Bubbles-crop2I captured this shot a few days ago, during one of the gloriously (and weirdly) warm days of non-winter. In lieu of snowflakes or raindrops in Jamison Square Park, we had bubbles. Really big bubbles, floating up into the sky.

The rational side of me knows where bubbles come from and how to make them. Here’s a whole list of links to recipes from bubbleblowers.com. Still, the kid in me was entranced by the magic. Like the child in the photo, I wanted to chase after a bubble and touch it.

The writer in me wants to create a scene that engenders this much intense attention in the reader. I want to write a scene that pulls the reader into the action on the page (or the screen), and keeps the reader there. I want to meld craft and creativity, until I can write such a scene. And then of course the challenge is to write another scene after that until there’s a whole narrative arc of scenes. It’s easier to make bubbles, believe me. But it’s the scene I’m after, so the bubble break is over. I’d better stop blathering and get back to work.

Bullet Journal Your Way Into Writing

by Elizabeth Rusch
Published on: February 20, 2015
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Do you find it hard to find time to write? When you do have time to write, do you waste time wondering what to do? Inspired by a blog post by the wonderful children’s book author Kate Messner, I have started bullet journaling.

Instead of reading my lame description of how to do this, watch the video here.

Take the time to think out your month, think out your days and week, and break down your writing projects into distinct steps, and you might find, like me, that you have more time to write when you make it a priority and when you know just what to do when you sit down.

Hope you find it as helpful as I have!

ScrivaLiz

Plagiarize, Plagiarize, Plagiarize!

by Ruth Tenzer Feldman
Published on: February 4, 2015
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With credit to Johannes Vermeer (1632-1675)

With credit to Johannes Vermeer (1632-1675)

PLAGIARIZE!

Now that I have I caught your attention, let’s clarify. I do not want you to take someone else’s work and pass it off as your own. Nope. Not good. A definite no-no.

Still, I offer you this ironic line from an old song by Tom Lehrer about a Russian mathematician. “Plagiarize, plagiarize, plagiarize. Only be sure to call it please research.”

Research is exactly what I’m talking about, research into how the best authors craft a sentence, paragraph, or scene. Here’s what Ursula K. Le Guin, writer extraordinaire, says in her “how to” book, Steering the Craft:

A rational fear of plagiarizing, and an individualistic valuation of originality, have stopped many prose writers from using deliberate imitation as a learning tool…. I think conscious, deliberate imitation of a piece of prose one admires can be good training, a means towards finding one’s own voice as a writer…. What is essential is the consciousness. When imitating, it’s necessary to remember the work, however successful, is practice, not an end in itself, but a means towards the end of writing with skill and freedom in one’s own voice.

Thank you, Ursula. Enough said.

Rest, Reflect, and Wait Now. Revise Later.

by Ruth Tenzer Feldman
Published on: January 4, 2015
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Heron-crop1As the Scriva who is the first to offer a post here for 2015, I suppose it would make sense to talk about new beginnings and resolutions. If you’re looking for that, here’s a link to a thoughtful post by Addie several years back. Thanks, Addie.

This post of mine, however, is about ending a project on January 1st, namely the first complete draft of my next book. A writer’s calendar is what it is, so now instead of gearing up to revise 70,000 words, in keeping with that New Year’s urge, I’m giving the muse a rest.

Am I exhausted? No, not really, In fact, my first thought is to go back to chapter one and start everything all over again right away. If I were on a tight deadline, that’s what I’d have to do, and that’s what I know other Scrivas are facing. But I’m lucky this year. I can afford to give myself a vacation from my manuscript, an emptying out of preconceived notions about characters and narrative. I will rest in still waters. Time away from text provides the distance that can bring a fresh perspective. I will wait to let the story “breathe.”

Revision, I remind myself, traces its origins to the Latin verb revidere, to see again, or to look at anew. It’s the “anew” part I’m aiming for as I rest, reflect, and wait. In the meanwhile, I wish you a year of your best writing ever!

Shift to a New View with a Tattoo

by Ruth Tenzer Feldman
Published on: November 4, 2014
Categories: Basics, Craft, Creativity
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ada-tat-cropClearly I am better at writing books and articles than I am at taking selfies of a tattoo on my left forearm. The tattoo is a temporary one of Ada, Countess of Lovelace, daughter of English poet Lord Byron, and the presumptive first woman computer programmer in history. Ada is also the name of a particularly robust programming language, so when my husband chaired an international conference on Ada recently, the temp tats were a natural bit of swag. At least I thought so, because I was the one who suggested them.

What does an Ada tattoo have to do with Viva Scriva? First off, it reminded me of Scriva Nicole’s recent blog post. She wrote:

[T]ry something new and different, even something that others may think is crazy, unusual, and not you at all…“for the writing.”   Your present and future stories will thank you for it!

Nicole is taking her own advice (go, girl!) and I’ve done a bit of the same, mostly by treating myself to Turkish delight. But the main character in my work-in-progress doesn’t sport a tattoo. Instead, the Ada tat has provided a less direct influence on my writing. Wearing the tat in so prominent a spot has made me feel confident, stupid, out-of-place, over-the-top, bold, artistic, wild, sassy, sexy, secretive, ridiculous, and shy. The key is context, the people Ada and I were with, the places we went to, and why we were there. That, dear writers, did a ton of emotional work “for the writing.” The tattoo is temporary; the experiences much longer lasting.

The second reason this relates to Viva Scriva is that the Ada tattoo has been fun. I designed, ordered, and wore it on a whim. When I’m writing and rewriting, I rarely work in whim-mode. I wonder, though, what would happen if for no good reason at all I crafted a scene that was entirely disconnected from the narrative arc of the story. Would that ignite a creative spark or addle my brain? Whim. Worth a try, don’t you think?

 

The Order of Things

by Sabina I. Rascol
Published on: October 27, 2014
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2014-10, Things Organized Neatly, Marianne Viero(AT LEFT: “Things Organized Neatly” or “Out of Order #1” by Marianne Viero)

Nicole and I started writing together a year or two before Viva Scriva came to be. She was working on a historical novel—and writing all the scenes in order. I was working on a fantasy novel— and finding out the story line by skipping and hopping, as the spirit led, from scene to merry scene.

Some time later, I set aside this and other works-in-progress to write the historical middle-grade novel I’m working on now. In this new book, I thought it was important to write the scenes in order, and I did so. I finished the earliest draft (that the Scrivas as a whole never saw) in this manner, as well as the almost-to-the-end re-write that followed.

In the meantime, Nicole attended a workshop with author Emily Whitman. One of the tips she came away with was to write the scenes she saw most clearly, or felt most strongly, first, then write the connecting bits later. That’s what she began to do, halfway through her novel.

You see what had happened, don’t you? We’d switched positions. She was now hopping around in her novel, while I was writing linearly.

More recently, I shook up my not-quite-finished novel and began to submit in a big way to the Scrivas. I gave them a fresh beginning, earlier in time than the version they’d seen before. But then… See, I need to have a finished draft to submit somewhere soon. And I realized that what I most needed, for my peace of mind, was to write the ending next. I finally knew how I wanted the book to end, and needed to know that I’d set that down.

So what did I do? I took a page from Nicole’s book. From my earlier story exploration. I wrote out of turn. Instead of revising my way through the middle of my story, and giving that to the Scrivas next, I skipped on to the end.

Then I backtracked and gave the middle to the Scrivas—well, the middle of the middle. Then they saw that section’s end.

Going forward, I’ll revise and fill in bits in the beginning, do the same with the first part of the middle, and then carry on all the way to the end.

Confused? So are the Scrivas. Still, they’ve been able to give me awesome comments, even though they (and I!) are looking forward to seeing the whole story in proper order.

The point of this post is that—learning from Nicole and me—at different times, for different reasons, you may need to write or revise your story linearly. At other times, you may need to skip around. Don’t worry about it. Just do what best serves the story and your current writing needs.

**

In case you’re wondering, what the Scrivas saw of my draft was:

-Beginning, 1
-End, 1
-End, 2
-Middle, 3
-Middle, 4

What they’ll see going forward:

-Beginning, 1—revised from above
-Beginning, 2
-Middle, 1—revised from a couple of years ago
-Middle, 2
-and so on, to a proper end.

 

Best wishes for your writing, in or out of turn.

 

-Sabina I. Rascol

Hail to Thee, Mighty Magnolia!

by Ruth Tenzer Feldman
Published on: October 5, 2014
Categories: Basics, Creativity, Inspiration
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magnolia-cropHere’s the bit about this photo. It’s of a magnolia tree in bloom. Not any magnolia, mind you, but the one and only magnolia I see on my walk around the ‘hood. I’ve probably stopped to engage in fauna-to-flora communion with this tree 3,000 times. And here’s why:

Magnolias are an ancient member of the plant family. They are older than the bees, so old that botanists think magnolias were originally pollinated by beetles. As a writer of historical fiction, I relish a good story from way back when. What was the world like before bees? And as I am now writing a book that also includes the future, I wonder what our world be like after the bees. (Horrors! No, I’m not including that in the book. Too scary.)

Magnolias are native to several spots around the globe, and in North America those spots are in the Southeast. Think Louisiana and the Steel Magnolias movie first released 25 years ago. So what’s this plant doing in the Pacific Northwest? According to Portland Parks and Recreation, the magnolia tree is “common in Portland.” Huh. The writer in me admires the unexpected, the tree where you wouldn’t think it would be, the character with the personality quirk that surprises readers (and sometimes the character’s creator), the unpredicted turn of events. Yes, indeed. Inspire me with the literary equivalent of a magnolia next to its moss-covered Portland cousin. I am so ready!

Sometimes life is 110 per cent better when you stop and smell the roses…and the magnolia blooms. End of story.

 

Critique as Creative Collective

by Elizabeth Rusch
Published on: August 20, 2014
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I read a wonderful article in the Sunday New York Times called “The End of Genius” that I think captures why we Scrivas, and you and other writers, thrive in critique groups.

It’s about how our brains are wired to be in conversation with others about our ideas, about our creative work. Though this researcher focused on creative pairs and many critiques groups include more than two people, the idea of creative conversation still applies, I think. When we Scrivas critique, we go around and give comments one at a time. We address our comments directly to the writer. The conversation for each critique is mostly one-on-one. People do pipe in (interrupt politely) and add comments. But in most cases these comments are productive, broadening, focusing or stirring the conversation.

I have heard that in some critique groups, the writer being critique is supposed to remain quiet the whole time, taking notes. In both my critique groups, the writer certainly listens quietly and take notes at first, but most critiques become conversations, and I think that is good thing. Do you?

Scriva Liz

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