I began the “Reading For Writers 101” blog series (for a full summary of posts, click here) because I believe writers can learn so much from reading books. Well, the same goes for watching television shows or films. Hence, this new series: Watching For Writers 101. Welcome! Today we’re going to learn how to effectively use flash forwards.
A flash forward is a scene from later in the story that the writer moves up front, often as the opening scene, to hook the reader/audience. It’s used in movies (Fight Club, Limitless) and TV shows (Alias, Damages, How To Get Away With Murder) where the story opens with the hero in a perilous situation and then rewinds back to the beginning and doesn’t return to that scene until almost the end of the show/episode/film.
Writers use flash forwards because they are exciting and immediately hook the audience with the question: “How did the hero get into this crazy situation?” But flash forwards are often criticized for three reasons…
Category: Writing Life
If we were having coffee, I might actually be drinking coffee instead of tea because I need the extra boost after a hectic week! You sip your hot beverage of choice and look at me quizzically. What happened? You thought I was pretty much done the video game script and I’d be focusing on my novel this month. Why am I so busy? Well, it all started with my yearly beginning-of-September panic…
September is always a time for self-reflection. In a way, the start of the school year makes it feel like the end of the year, though not quite. I find myself thinking of the goals and deadlines I set for 2015. Back in January I wrote a post called The 7 Deadly Do’s and Don’ts of Deadlines, and I created a calendar of writing deadlines for myself.
Now nine months later, how is that going? Was setting self-imposed deadlines harmful or helpful to my writing process?
One of the benefits of being a freelance writer is making my own schedule, and having the flexibility to change that schedule if I want to. For instance, I am not a morning person, and in fact joked that I’m part vampire in this post here because I write best after sunset and terribly at sunrise. Luckily, as a freelancer, I have the freedom to write well into the night and sleep in in the morning. My flexible schedule also enables me to take long lunches with friends, visit my parents mid-week when renting a car is cheaper, and enrol in a weekly trampoline class that starts at 4pm – all because I don’t have to complete my work during a regular 9-to-5 schedule. However, it’s important to note that doing these things means I have to make up work hours in the evening or on the weekend.
Now, when I’m working for a client, it’s easy to protect those hours. Everyone understands having a deadline and a boss. But when I’m working on my novel, not so much…
Since I’ve begun listening to audiobooks, I’ve noticed that not all books convert well to the audible format. So I started this little series: Audiobook Pitfalls. The sale of audiobooks is on the rise, and most new releases (not just bestsellers) are now made into audiobooks as well as e-books and print books, so it’s important for authors to be aware of how their writing may or may not work without the visual cues of the page.
Today, we’re going to talk about scene breaks. Most chapters are made up of multiple scenes, and visually these are separated by a space on the page, but in audiobooks it’s simply a slightly longer pause, which, if your scene isn’t well-structured, just doesn’t work. Here’s why…
This week while flushing out my novel’s outline, I decided to track where I raised and answered questions in the story. Why? Because questions are crucial to a good story; they ensure it has enough intrigue and suspense to keep readers reading. Have you ever set down a book and not been compelled to pick it back up? That’s probably because you weren’t dying to know the answer to a question! Questions and their elusive answers keep us reading. For the A to Z Challenge, I blogged about big and little story questions and gave tips for how to make these questions engage readers all the way to The End. Check out the full post here. For today’s post, I will illustrate how tracking questions and answers can improve your story…
Category: Writing Life
If we were having coffee, I’d lament that it is already August. How is that possible? Didn’t the summer just start? I seriously do not understand how time passes so fast. My mom used to say that time passes faster the older you get, but I didn’t really believe her until I hit my 30s. Now it’s like I’m in some weird warp where the clocks keep skipping hours and there is quite literally never enough time. Of course, I’ve also had a busy summer work wise, and the hours do disappear rapidly when there’s a deadline involved. On the plus side, I hope being this busy and panicked has made me a faster writer. Because I am super sick of being so painfully slow.
If we were having coffee, I’d concede that there have been bright spots amidst the panicked deadlines. My blog post this Monday on How To Get Work as a Writer was one of the best posts WriteOnSisters.com has ever had, traffic wise. So yay! And last weekend I eked out some free time to rock the Bike Rave. Cycling around Toronto en masse with bikes lit up by glowsticks and lights is a neat experience. Even better are the speaker contraptions people attach to their pedal-powered vehicles so that we have music on the ride.
For some #bikeraveTO photos, read the rest of the post on WriteOnSisters.com.
I have worked as a television screenwriter for most of my adult life, and currently I’m working as a video game writer. Some of WOS’s readers have asked me how to get work as a writer, and I was reluctant to write a post about that because it’s such an individual question. My story is specific to my education, location and vocation (though if you’re curious, I’ll include it at the end of this post). But, I do know a lot of writers of various disciplines (screenwriters, journalists, magazine editors, game writers, copy editors), so I decided to put that combined knowledge into a general post on how to get work as a writer. Here goes…
Category: Writing Craft
When I read a book or watch a movie, I always try to figure out what is going to happen. For me, the most enjoyable stories keep me guessing right up to the end. The least enjoyable stories are the ones where I can predict the ending long before the finale.
Now, you’re probably expecting me to write a post with half a dozen tips on how to be unpredictable in your writing. However, I’ve been thinking about this for a long time and I’ve concluded there’s really just ONE main thing you need to do:
Evenly balance the Hero’s Final Options.
What the heck does that mean? Allow me to elaborate…
The most common advice I’ve heard for writing three-dimensional characters is to delve into their backstory, develop their personality profiles, and get to know them as if they are alive and kicking right beside you. Common wisdom seems to support that if the author knows their characters inside and out, then said characters will be three-dimensional on the page.
But it’s not always that easy…
Category: Writing Craft
Stories with multiple POVs are difficult to write. I’ve read more books that attempted this technique and failed than books where multiple POVs not only worked but improved the story. But recently I began reading Neal Shusterman’s Unwind series and OH MY GOSH GUYS the first two books blew my mind with how well the multiple POVs were handled. Here’s a basic list of what Shusterman did right…
Recently I was hired to write a video game script. I’ve never written for games, but both the producer and I thought my screenwriting skills would translate well since each medium uses dialogue as a key storytelling device. However, except for dialogue skills, I found out that game writing is pretty much the opposite of screenwriting!
As I build my outline, I’ve been thinking a lot about what makes a good scene, and that led to these posts: Test That Scene – Is It Essential or Filler? and Test That Scene – Cut or Revise? But what about stringing those scenes together? Is there a test for that? Good news: there is!
A month ago I wrote a post called Test That Scene – Is It Essential or Filler? The basics of it are this:
No Filler Test
Question #1 – If deleted, will the reader still be able to follow the story? If yes, you’ve got filler!
Question #2 – What is different by the end of this scene? If nothing, it’s filler!
Question #3 – What/Who does this scene affect? If nothing/nobody, it’s – you guessed it – filler!
If even one of these questions results in “filler”, the scene should be cut or revised. But how do you know which option to choose?
That’s the issue I’ve encountered as I write and revise the outline for my WIP. I never create totally inessential scenes, and if a scene is two-thirds of the way there (i.e. satisfies two of the three test questions), my instinct is to revise not cut. Sounds reasonable, right? Sure, but I found my story dragging anyway. If I’d revised them into fully fleshed-out essential scenes, why did they still feel like filler?
I created the Reading for Writers 101 series because I believe reading critically is an essential component of learning writing craft. Plus the series gives me an outlet to not only express my frustration when I’m disappointed with books (which I never name because, you know, niceness), but to learn from them. And if I’m impressed with a book, I can shout it from the hilltops and share the brilliance! So, without further ado, here are the lessons so far…
(Click on titles below to read the full posts on Writeonsisters.com)
Category: Writing Craft
Writers put a lot of pressure on themselves regarding the first line of a story. I don’t know if it was always this way, but in our fast-paced world there is this expectation that writers must hook readers with just one sentence. Otherwise, they will pick up the next book on the shelf!
Whether this is true or not, a great first line certainly doesn’t hurt. I’ve been thinking a lot about first lines and how they set the scene for the whole story. In fact, I wrote two completely separate openings for my novel because I started with different sentences. For me, that’s how influential that first line can be. It has the power to shape everything.
So what makes a great opening sentence? I think it comes down to these two things…
When I plot a story, I tend to think in terms of action. This is probably due to my screenwriter training. In a screenplay all you have to work with is action and dialogue. And in an outline, where you don’t write dialogue, all you have is action. So naturally, when I outline, I follow the action – this takes place here, then the character does this, then the antagonist counters with this move, etc. This is a perfectly good way to plot a story, as I explained in this post: Outlining – Active Beats (aka “Show Don’t Tell”). However, a proper scene requires more than just action…
Not counting my childhood Young Authors books (for a hilarious selection of those click here), I have written only one short story: a grim ghost tale featured in Pen & Muse’s Haunted House showcase. However, I’ve written many television episodes, which resemble short stories in length and substance. Writing a novel, by comparison, is like crafting a whole season of a serialized TV show. But besides length, what is the difference between long-format stories and short stories? And how can you tell if your idea works best as a short story or a novel? Or can the same story premise work equally well as both?
Earlier this year I wrote a post about Internal Conflict based on a character’s flaws, fears and morality. Like External Conflict, Internal Conflict can be numerous and varied. The only rule is it all must get in the way of the hero achieving his/her goal. If it doesn’t, you don’t have conflict, just baggage.
Then there is what I call the Prime Inner Conflict. This is a want or desire that doesn’t just conflict with the protagonist’s goal, it competes with it. And last month I found out just how integral this is to a story…