Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Advancing Your Plot

Did you know each scene should advance your plot?

I recently read a new author, Randy Singer, and was completely hooked into his story. It wasn't until I was halfway through that I realized I should study his writing to see why it worked so well.

It didn't take me long to see that each of his scenes had more than one purpose.

1. Each scene showed a new facet of character (not always for the same person) that added to the plot's unwinding

2. Each scene revealed knowledge (plot point) that forced the characters to make a choice

3. Each scene upped the stakes so that I wondered how the characters could possibly survive with the choices they were making.

I'm sure his scenes had even more literary tidbits, but these stood out to me. The important thing to know is that this was a seamless process. The scenes didn't jump out at me and scream, "This is my purpose".

Rather, later scenes revealed the purpose of earlier scenes.

Do your scenes advance the plot? How many "purposes" do you give each scene?



There's a great article HERE by bestselling author Vicki Hinze.

40 comments:

Jody Hedlund said...

Great article and great questions! I hadn't thought of trying to reveal a new facet of a character with each scene. I'll have to start looking at ways to do that! Thank you!

sherrinda said...

Sigh...I fear I am learning way to much as I am nearing the end of my WIP. lol I just wanted to write a good story and now I find there are so many things to do to make that happen!

Great ideas for making compelling chapters. Thanks for sharing your dissection of his work. (did I spell that right?!)

Janna Qualman said...

Really good insights, Jessica! Maybe I'll check him out. Thanks for sharing. :)

Jessica said...

Hi Jody,
It can be a little intimidating to try to process, but I wouldn't be surprised if it's something you're already doing. I think it may be an organic part of writing for most writers (to reveal character).

Jessica said...

Hey Sherrinda,
It looks right to me. :-) It was such a hooky book and I was like, how is he doing this?
Don't worry about just learning all this stuff. I'm still learning things and I'm on my fourth manuscript.
We don't have to know it all to write a good story. :-) I have a feeling that you're on the right track.

Jessica said...

Janna,
The book was great. You might find it interesting to that this was a Christian book but the christian thread was very subtle, until toward the end. Even then, throughout the majority of the book none of the main protagonists were Christians. He did a great job, imo.

Terri Tiffany said...

"Each scene upped the stakes so that I wondered how the characters could possibly survive with the choices they were making".
I love this line you wrote. That's what has been missing in my writing and I've been trying to do that now,up the notch a little on each scene. SO that I might gasp when the character does something.
How come I wasn't a follower of your blog? Did you just add this????

Kristen Painter said...

I try to make my scene serve at least two purposes. Does it advance the plot? Amp up the tension/conflict? Further the worldbuilding? Reveal valuable character insights?

A scene that doesn't do at least two of those is wasted.

Windsong said...

I try to have each scene advance the plot. It's amazing how many structural things go into making the story move along seamlessly.

Each scene has as many purposes as it takes. I don't consciously pay attention to the sturcture most of the time, but I always feel when the scene is done. When it comes to writing, I'm more intuitive than analytical.

Jessica said...

Terri, you were a follower a long time ago but then your face disappeared. LOL I don't know what happened but when you kept commenting I figured it must've been something technical. I actually didn't even add this. Back in the day, a LONG time ago, I was scrolling down my dashboard when I saw to the right that I had one follower. LOL Imagine my shock to find out that there was a way to follow blogs and someone actually liked mine enough to do it. ;-)
Thanks for saying you like my line. I need to work on that too.

Jessica said...

Kristen,
Thank you SO much! I'd heard there was a little checklist but tried to cruise the internet and couldn't find it. At least two purposes, you're completely right! I try to do the same thing, though I've heard if we squeeze three in we're rolling. :-)

Jessica said...

Hi Windsong,
I think I'm the same way. I don't sit and plot out what's going to happen but just write what I feel should happen. I hope it's working. LOL
You're right about how much work it takes to make the scene seamless.

Eileen Astels Watson said...

Oh, wow, that's interesting that you didn't know the purpose of a previous scene until a later scene unfolded. I just blogged on Writer's Rest about the need to reveal your scene goals early in a scene.

Amazing how many takes there are on this. Style, Style, Style...Choices. Never ending.

I totally agree that each scene needs more than one purpose. Character development/revealing, plot, conflict should all be interwoven.

Jessica said...

HI Eileen,
I'd love to get a link to your article.
You're right about style. And choices. I guess this is where the writer's gut instinct kicks in on how much to reveal to the reader.
Thanks for commenting!

Lady Glamis said...

Yes, I know this. Unfortunately, I don't always remember it as I get deep into writing. Hence the reason my beta readers have asked me, What is the point of this chapter??? And I look at it say, I don't know. I think I need to cut it. So snip, snip. Or rework, rework.

Fantastic post! A great reminder as I delve into rewrites soon. :D

Cindy said...

Oooh, I like the tidbits you gleaned from this book. I'm going to post about scenes and the flow of the book next week in my series and these are excellent points to keep in mind. I think reexamining some of the slower parts in my own manuscript with those ideas in mind might help me decide what's important and what's just uselessly taking up space. Thanks!

Susan J. Reinhardt said...

Hi Jess -

I think it's important to constantly raise story questions and create tension. There are still a lot of areas where I need to cut unnecessary scenes and ramp up others.

Thanks for cutting through the fog and giving a clear picture on the purpose of scenes.

Blessings,
Susan :)

Jeannie Campbell said...

i'm one of those who always looks BACK at my scene to justify why i wrote it in the first place. somehow i think that's not the route to go. :) usually i justify it and then my crit partner is like, "what was the point here?" :)

haleigh said...

Hi Jessie!
"Rather, later scenes revealed the purpose of earlier scenes." - What excellent advice. I love books like that, when all these threads come together at the end and suddenly everything clicks into place. You're absolutely right - to accomplish that every scene has to have a purpose.

Jessica said...

Hey Lady Glamis,
I know exactly what you mean. When I edit the manuscript I just finished, there's a scene I'm either going to have to rework or just plain cut.
Ouch, but it has to be done. :-) Good luck with yours!

Jessica said...

Hi Cindy,
I'm looking forward to your posts. Pacing and scene structure, ie flow of the book, is still something I'm learning.

Jessica said...

Susan,
I totally agree questions and tension. It kind of goes back to your hook, don't you think? Constantly revealing more or adding a new angle to what the reader is searching for or expecting?

Jessica said...

LOL Jeannie! Well, I'm just learning and Eileen mentioned knowing the scene goals or making them clear beforehand, so there's different ways to do it. :-) You know, if your justification works and the scene is interesting and hooks the readers attention, then maybe you can keep it? This is so funny though. I have a scene the same way and I SO do not want to cut it. I'm trying to think up ways to justify its presence. LOL

Jessica said...

Hi Haleigh,
Thanks for stopping by! I love books like that too. You stay hooked because you want to know what happens and then suddenly at the end, bam, so many things make sense.

Dara said...

I have no clue how many purposes I give :P I'm thinking it's only one or two per scene but who knows.

So many thing to look for when writing; I think all the editing is going to take me ten more years :P

Jessica said...

Awwww, Dara I promise I hear you. Things def. do get easier with each manuscript. The knowledge seems to soak in, I think. Keep going on your revisions. You'll get there or start a new story, which is so fun! :-)

Pen Pen said...

This is super helpful to me! I tend to get overwhelmed with the SIZE for my work and freak out about the large amount of info in my head that must all go into the correct place. Ur advice makes is less daunting. :)

Jessica said...

LOL Pen Pen,
It is daunting. I have tons of scenes in my head that are waiting (impatiently) to be written. I'm glad this info is helpful for you. :-)

Irritable Mother said...

Oh, girl, the scenes in my house in the past 24 hours have been advancing an icky plot. So thankful for Jesus and re-do's which allow me to start a new chapter!!!!!

Jessica said...

LOL Karen.
That's a way to look at life, scene by scene. Heeehee.

Rita Gerlach said...

Excellent pose, Jessica. In the editing process for 'Surrender the Wind', advancing the story was something my editor strongly adhered to. I had to remove one scene that did not advance the plot. She was right, and without it, although I liked the scene, the story moved forward without a hickup.

Jessica said...

That's very interesting, Rita. I guess the true test is whether the story moves flawlessly forward without the scene. If so, then it can be cut.
Thanks for commenting!

Kate Karyus Quinn said...

I always try to remember to make sure each scene moves the plot forward, but it interesting that you mention giving each chapter multiple purposes. As I rewrite, I will definitely keep that in mind.

Jessica said...

Purposes, purposes, purposes. I once read somewhere that if there's only one the scene isn't strong enough. LOL It intimidated me for quite awhile.

jessie said...

A perfectly executed book. Sigh. Sometimes I'm afraid I'm not genius enough to create that. Good advice on advancing the scenes. It's easy to forget that the reader needs to ALWAYS be learning about the character because you as a writer see the character perfectly, but forget how much you aren't telling.

Jessica said...

That's so true Jessie. I've been known to not include enough info in my stories. Don't worry. There's no such thing as a perfectly executed book. :-)

Angie Ledbetter said...

Good to remember when writing or revising!

Jessica said...

Angie,
You blog addict. You made it over. :-)

quixotic said...

Jessica, this is a great post. You have given me lots to think about today.

=)

Jessica said...

Oooh, thanks. :-) You just jolted my ego up a notch. LOL