Lake Atitlan, Panajachel, Guatemala

“Reading and writing are acts of empathy and faith. Guard that trust carefully — in this rapidly changing business, it’s the only sure thing.” ~Erin Keane
"Never give up. And most importantly, be true to yourself. Write from your heart, in your own voice, and about what you believe in." ~ Louise Brown

"Write something to suit yourself and many people will like it; write something to suit everybody and scarcely anyone will care for it."
~Jesse Stuart

"A writer's job is to take one thing and make it stand for twenty." ~ Virginia Woolf

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Guest post by Kate Palmer-- "The writing book that changed my life"


There are a handful of books I consider must-reads for anyone serious about getting published. Scene and Structure by Jack M. Bickham tops the list as the one book I credit with improving my writing the most.

Bickham was a student of Dwight V. Swain author of Techniques of the Selling Writer. His methods aren’t that different from Swain’s, and many are exactly the same. Bickham, however, is a gifted teacher.

Scene and sequel are referenced by many an editor and author. Bickham explains that today’s books must be written in scenes to appeal to the modern audience.

First, we must understand that scenes happen in real time. A scene is made up a goal (for the viewpoint character), conflict with about four twists and turns, and ends in a disaster for the viewpoint character. The disaster can take the form of

1.      Yes, she accomplished her goal, but . . . something that makes the situation worse, more complicated, etc.
2.      No, and furthermore . . . something that makes the situation worse, more complicated, etc.
3.      No
So the structure of a scene is:

Goal-Conflict-Disaster

A day before my book was scheduled for typesetting, I received a note from my editor asking if I could use more show and less tell in a particular chapter without adding a lot of words. I read through the chapter and nearly cried. It. Was. Awful. I had apparently skipped it entirely when I’d edited my book for scene and sequel according to Bickham’s structure.

The chapter consisted of several short vignettes which showcased character traits or provided information crucial to the plot. I knew I had to rewrite it according to Bickham’s scene structure to provide the show not tell my editor requested. I ended up merging three of those vignettes into one scene happening in real time with all of the characters present. Far from adding to the word count, this technique helped me to cut HALF of the chapter and still preserve all the critical information.

Each scene is followed by a sequel.

This is where the reader truly gets to know the viewpoint character. My main character is named Eva. My beta readers kept telling me they wanted to be inside Eva’s head more. When I started writing sequels according to Bickham’s method, my readers finally understood Eva’s motivations and actions. The structure of a sequel is:

Emotion-Thought-Decision-Action

This is where we see inside the character’s head. The character has just experienced a setback (the scene ending disaster) and will be feeling emotion first. What type and how long depends on your character. Next, the character will become a bit more rational in that he/she can think about what just happened and consider where to go from here. Naturally, your character will make a decision based on the emotion (first) and thoughts (second) he/she just experienced.

That decision will come in the form of action which will launch your character into the next scene complete with a new goal of what he/she needs to do next. Of course your character will meet with more opposition (conflict) that ends in disaster for the scene goal. Doubtless this will stir up emotions for your character who will then have to consider (think about) his/her circumstances and make a new decision for more action (new scene and goal).

And on it goes until a scene doesn’t end in disaster and some form of resolution is met for your character and you type The End.

I’ve only touched on a couple of key components taught in Scene and Structure by Jack M. Bickham. I highly recommend anyone serious about writing buy his book and read it with a highlighter. At least twice.

Thank you, Kate! For information on Kate Palmer's debut novel, The Guy Next Door,  please see her website, katrinapalmer.com.



Kate began her career as an elementary school teacher, but was soon promoted to full-time mom. She is the mother of six and lives in the country. Her husband is trying to teach her to be a farm girl. She can’t saddle a horse, but she knows how to butcher a chicken. After a day of chasing children, cooking meals, and doing laundry, she likes to escape into a good book.

20 comments:

  1. Looks like just the book I need! Duly ordered.

    ReplyDelete
  2. I have bookmarked the book to buy and hopefully learn something. Terrific post

    ReplyDelete
  3. Its great to meet Kate and good luck with The Guy Next Door! And Karen, I really like your fall banner.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks, Stephen! I'll have to change it soon with snow coming to the Wasatch Mountains.

      Delete
    2. Thanks, Stephen! It's so nice to meet new people. Karen is so generous to help us all do that.

      Delete
  4. Good stuff. Goal/conflict/disaster is a great mantra to have running through the brain when revising.

    ReplyDelete
  5. I've got a few scene books that deliver, too, but I've not heard of this one. Scenes are where I start my writing.

    Thanks for sharing the great info, Karen and Kate. I'm always looking to learn more.

    ReplyDelete
  6. sounds good--and she is a mom of six--great!

    ReplyDelete
  7. Will have to check this out. Thanks for sharing!

    ReplyDelete
  8. Great guest post. Nice to meet Kate. I've made a note to get Scene and Structure by Jack M. Bickham. Thanks!

    ReplyDelete
  9. Great guest post, Kate. I picked up a lot of these tips from Evan Marshall's books. I consider it invaluable and never start a long term project without considering all the things I learned from his novel-planning tips.

    Jai

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I haven't heard of Evan Marshall. Thanks for the tip. Heading to Amazon now . . .

      Delete
  10. Some great tips and timely reminders. I would love to write 'THE END' on my MS right now but that's another story. Thanks for the heads up on the book!

    ReplyDelete
  11. Wonderful post. I am adding this book to my list of those I want to/ need to read. Thank you!!!

    ReplyDelete
  12. Me too, need that book. Thanks for the great information today.

    ReplyDelete
  13. and that's why I don't buy writing tip books in an ebook format. I like to be able to flip through, highlight etc and it's so much easier with a paper book. ;)
    Great post!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I agree. I've tried the highlighter tool with my ereader, but it's not the same as flipping to a heavily highlighted print page.

      Delete
  14. Dear Kate and Karen,
    First, thank you, Karen, for inviting Kate to guest post on your blog. The book she recommends is one I've never read and clearly I need to do so!

    Second, Kate, I can't tell you how appreciative I am of your recommendation for a book that will help in showing, not telling, a story. Also, I will go back over the manuscript I have ready now to add the two scene creators you suggest: goal/conflict/disaster and emotion/thought/decision/action. Right now I'm going to Amazon to order Bickham's book and yours also. Peace.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Good luck on your revisions! Bickham's book is brilliant--you won't be disappointed.

      Delete