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    For Writers

    Scene vs. Summary

    scene versus summary

    One of the oldest writing adages (and the most frustrating) is show don’t tell. This advice is applied universally, spread widely, repeated so often the words tend to lose their nuance and meaning. Aren’t there times when a scene doesn’t need to be shown? Can’t you share information with your reader without having it play out stroke-by-stroke? You are telling a story, after all! 

    The thing about “show don’t tell” is that it’s actually talking about writing scenes versus summaries. One is showing, the other is telling. They’re both vital building blocks for any kind of writing.

    First up: What is a scene?

    In a scene, you’re slowing down the story to show a moment play out step-by-step. A scene feels like a complete building block. It has a beginning, middle, and end. There’s a sense of completion at the end of it, even if it ends in a cliffhanger. Your readers can sense the fading to black, the transition to the next moment in your story. 

    In a scene, characters interact. Conflict arises. Obstacles are either overcome or run into facefirst. A scene shows. It’s the minute-by-minute playthrough of the story you’re presenting to the reader. 

    When are scenes useful?

    • For important moments in the story. The big character interactions, the conflicts with the antagonist, the ultimate climax at the end. If it’s important for the plot of the story, you should probably make it a big ol’ scene.
    • For understanding and exploring characters. Characters love scenes. They get to talk to each other in scenes. They get to interact, to fight, to hide things, to lie, to act suspiciously or secretly or like they’re in love. You show a character’s personality in a scene. You get to hear them speak, watch them move around, witness how they interact with others. 

    Okay. So what is summary?

    Summary is when your story speeds up a little. Instead of showing a moment play out in your character’s life, you summarize — you tell — what happened in a line or two. Dialogue is summarized briefly. Events are glossed over. Time moves quicker. Think the paragraphs at the beginning of Harry Potter chapters when the weather changes and affects the Hogwarts grounds. Summaries can speed the clock a little, set the stage, and mentally prepare the readers for the next time or subject jump the story is about to take.

    When do summaries work best?

    • When you need to show the passage of time. If you need to jump the story ahead a few weeks, or even skip ahead to the next day, a line or two of summary can make the transition less jarring for the reader.
    • When you want to share something that lends the story texture, but doesn’t need to be focused on for an entire scene. For instance, I have moments of my WIP where characters research subjects in the library related to the mystery they’re solving. I don’t need pages of scene-work devoted to them turning pages, making discoveries, sneezing, yawning, throwing pens at one another. But I can write an entertaining paragraph about their research time and move on with the show! 

    Let’s Get to An Example, Already!

    For my Fiction Writing class a couple weeks ago, I had to write a moment for a story first as a chunk of summary, then as a proper scene. I’m going to show my two approaches, and then we’ll talk a little about them.

    The Summarized Version:

    © 2018 Happy-Writer

    The Scene Version:

    © 2018 Happy-Writer

    What’s the difference? Which should I choose, scene or summary?

    In the summary, I was able to portray the abrasiveness (and possible emotional abuse) of the couple’s relationship really quickly. Bing, bang, boom: This is who these people are, this is the conflict between them, these are Ben’s priorities, and this is what Bradley is doing to undermine them. I can see it working well if there was a larger story going on and I wanted to fill the readers in on the tension between the two characters as a bit of context before moving onto more important things. (This might be a cardinal sin of writing, but I actually really enjoy writing summary paragraphs. I like how they read!)

    In the scene version, though, we sit down and watch the uneasy dynamic play out. You get into Ben’s head more vividly, and because you can see Ben’s slight fear of and discomfort with Bradley, I think you feel Bradley’s harshness as though it were actually happening to you.

    So, which is better? For this particular story, honestly, both could work. I think the summary is stronger than the scene, but the scene could always go through more rounds of editing. The summary paragraph could lead to a scene. Similarly, that chunk of summary could come later, and the story could open with the scene where Ben’s trying to vlog, putting us right there with the characters, feeling the tension of their relationship right away. 

    Summary and scene work hand-in-hand to get a story told. No story feels complete without a little bit of each.

    A Happy-Writer Writing Exercise

    If you would like some writing practice, try this:

    Write a paragraph summarizing an interaction between two characters. Or, write a paragraph summarizing the general relationship between two characters, giving three examples of possible interactions. Then, write a scene actually showing the characters interacting. Does one feel more natural than the other? Can you see how they both might serve a purpose for your story?

    Comment down below with your thoughts, or even with your scene and summary! Let’s talk about this. Do you prefer writing summaries or scenes? (They can both be pretty tricky, let’s be real!) Let’s chat!

    If you’d like to find me elsewhere, be sure to follow me on Twitter @chuffwrites, and Twitch @chuffplays. (Where I mostly play video games, but have been streaming Write With Me Virtual Write-Ins!) 

    * Also, in case you’re wondering: WHY YES, I DID DISAPPEAR FOR QUITE SOME TIME. Chalk it up to summer classes, and then fall classes, and then the generally time-consuming activity of having my brain leak out of my ears. I’m hoping to get back into a regular updating schedule, though, so be sure to follow the blog! 

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    For Writers

    April Camp NaNoWriMo Kick-Off | Meet My Novel + A New Way to Support Happy Writer

    Hello, Happy Writers!

    It’s April, and you know what that means?

    That Florida has suddenly transitioned from a somewhat pleasantly cool winter to a burn-your-skin off sweltering summer heat?

    WRONG. It’s still quite pleasant and breezy here in SWFL. The sun is only capable of burning your skin off between the hours of 1 pm and 3.

    That another month has somehow slipped past us in a year that’s simultaneously moving glacially slow and yet zooming by at uncatchable speeds?

    WR-WELL. SURE. Actually. Yes. You got me. Time is a social construct, I tell myself as I watch the sand grains of my life trickle relentlessly away.

    Wait … where was I?

    It’s time for Camp NaNoWriMo?

    YES. THAT WAS THE THING. It’s April, which means one thing and one thing only.*

    * (Okay, it means a lot of things, such as Easter, and April Fool’s Day, and Fred and George Weasely’s birthdays, and April showers, and that thing about time being universally infinite and but for each of us individually finite. Anyway. S’mores?)

    April is the first round of Camp NaNoWriMo, the spunky lil’ sis of November’s huge, exciting, Write Your Novel In a Month over-achieving older sibling. Camp NaNo is a more relaxed, easy-going sister—she doesn’t care if you set a different goal for yourself than 50,000 words. Or if you want to edit a novel instead of write a first draft. Or—a novel? Hell, she doesn’t care if you write a screenplay, or an epic poem, or an anthology of short stories! She’s easy-breezy. All she wants you to do is devote a little time each day to writing—to set a goal for yourself and follow through with it.

    And to eat lots of of S’mores. Probably.*

    * (I actually have weird, occasionally negative bursts of emotions when it comes to S’mores?? I love them, they’re yummy, they’re an exciting summer treat, sure. But I once made a plate of four or five S’mores for my family and excitedly went around to each of them offering them this UNIVERSALLY ADORED SUMMERTIME SNACK, only for every single person to wrinkle their nose at me and say no. Which led to me sitting alone in my room eating an entire plate of S’mores by myself so they wouldn’t go to waste. Huh. I’m a little choked up, recalling this particular bout of pathetic-ness. Maybe I’ll stop leaning into the camping metaphor so heavily and just get back to talking about writing.)

    So. YES. Camp NaNoWriMo is a chance to make a goal and see it through. I’m going to try for the traditional 50,000 words, I really am. I’ve been having a hard time staying motivated and productive this year, so I’m looking forward to a little structure and discipline. I’m also looking forward to winning Camp NaNo and potentially having a WIP that much closer to completion.

    So, the question begs—What am I writing about this April?

    For April’s Camp, I’m going to be working on a first draft of a murder mystery novel I’ve been quietly cooking up ever since reading Lord of the Flies last year, currently entitled The Long Cold Night.

    The Pitch:

    (You can find this on the Camp NaNoWriMo page for this project, as well)

    MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS meets LORD OF THE FLIES. In THE LONG COLD NIGHT, a high-speed rail train on an overnight ride breaks down in the middle of a snowstorm, stranding its passengers in an icy and isolated countryside. The doors won’t open, nor the windows, and the passengers of Carriage Nineteen can’t get in touch with any of the crew. They huddle together for warmth, cracking nervous jokes, awkwardly getting to know their seatmates, everyone expecting the lights to come on, the engine to rev back up, sometime soon.

    Then they see the body at the back of the train. The man who has fallen, dead, from his private compartment.

    Some think it’s a prank, a set up for a hidden camera show; others say the man was murdered, which means the killer is still there, sat amongst them. Accusations fly, tempers flare, as the night only grows longer and colder and more cruel. Eventually, the surviving passengers, struggling for warmth and sense and safety, knowing that help might be hours away, decide to solve the crime themselves — and to take its justice into their own hands.

    The Aesthetic:

    Why I’m Excited:

    BECAUSE IT’S A MURDER ON A TRAIN. AND EVERYONE TURNS ON EACH OTHER. DIVIDING INTO FACTIONS. MAKING ALLIANCES. SHOWING THEIR OWN INTERNALIZED PREJUDICES. The cast is diverse, there is at least one LGBT couple in my outline (with the potential for another). It’s funny. It’s a little suspenseful. And I think it’s going to be a lot of fun to write. The outline has already been a joy to work on, and I’m in love with at least 85% of my characters.

    Where Can You Find Out More?

    I’ve actually shared an extended version of this “Meet My Novel” post over on my brand spankin’ new Patreon Page! (My adorably teensy Patreon page that so far only my dear sweet mommy has donated to.) There are actually snippets from my outline (!!!) over there, as well as looks at my July CampNaNo novel and, locked for Patrons, a look at my editing project The Other Side!

    My Patreon is nothing fancy, just a way to support this blog and keep the fire to my toes, so to speak. If you’d like to show your support, consider becoming a Patron! I’ll be posting even more Camp NaNo updates over there throughout the month, along with previews of upcoming blog posts, behind the scenes looks at my writing life, and a couple more snippets and scenes than I can share publicly on my blog. I purposefully kept the tiers low, only one dollar or three, to keep it relaxed and low-pressure!

    Rest assured, I’ll still be posting these weekly posts right here on Happy Writer. For the month of April, it’ll be all about Camp NaNoWriMo—my progress, my advice, my occasional breakdowns of panic and crippling self-doubt, etc. and so forth. So unpack those S’mores, unfurl those sleeping bags, unscrew your canisters of glitter — we’re going to be singing around the campfire, sleeping under the stars, and making some truly questionable arts and crafts.*

    * I’ve decided to lean back into the metaphor. le shrug

    It’s Camp NaNo time, everybody! This is going to be fun.

    Happy Writing, and I will see you next week!

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    For Writers

    Write What You Know: Creating Authenticity in Your Fiction

    Write What You Know

    mimesis – (noun), imitation of the real world in literature, art, etc. Art imitates life.

    We want our writing to be mimetic, to draw readers in as though they’re looking through a window — or into a mirror — that shows them a world that feels as real as their own. This is what a reader is looking for when they say they want to relate to a character; they want to feel like that character, and their story, is real to them. The most immersive creative works play out almost like a documentary — not in style, but in experience. You leave the film or the book feeling as though you watched the real life of a real person. When that suspension of disbelief breaks, the immersion shatters; when you’re aware that what you’re watching or reading is fake, it’s harder and harder to keep yourself in the right headspace to enjoy the story. That’s why good writers want to achieve a level of mimesis — you want your art to feel real.

    But how to create that level of authenticity? How do we bring our fictional worlds to life?

    Read more…

    For Writers

    Trouble with Transition Scenes | #Writing Advice

     

    When you think of your story, you think of the Big Scenes, right? The important plot points, the vital Moments that challenge your characters and move your book along. But what about the transition scenes, connecting all those story events together? Transitional scenes can be incredibly difficult to get right. They’re a spot in your novel that’s rife for info-dumping, and a poorly written transition scene can drag like dead weight. But sometimes cutting it off entirely can mess up your story’s pacing!

    A good transition scene is seamless. You don’t notice it’s a transition, because you’re engaged in what you’re reading and the information you’re being given is naturally setting up for the next Story Event. The transition gives you something — a funny moment, a beautiful description, a thrilling bit of mystery, an enlightening character detail, a hint at the conflict or tension to come — that makes it move along smoothly.

    To start things off, what is a transition scene?

    A transition scene is the thread connecting disparate parts of your novel. Take some of these examples from Harry Potter and the Halfblood Prince

    It might be a scene of time passing, such as snow falling over the Hogwarts grounds as the seasons change:

    Snow was swirling against the icy windows once more; Christmas was approaching fast. Hagrid had already single-handedly delivered the usual twelve Christmas trees for the Great Hall; garlands of holly and tinsel had been twisted around the banisters of the stairs; everlasting candles glowed from inside the helmets of suits of armor and great bunches of mistletoe had been hung at intervals along the corridors. Large groups of girls tended to converge underneath the mistletoe bunches every time Harry went past, which caused blockages in the corridors; fortunately, however, Harry’s frequent nighttime wanderings had given him an unusually good knowledge of the castle’s secret passageways, so that he was able, without too much difficulty, to navigate mistletoe-free routes between classes.

    Read more…

    For Writers

    Am I Writing This Right? | A pep talk for writers struggling to be themselves

    Open Book with Text Am I Writing This Right?

    Writing can be a difficult and intimately personal undertaking. We all have different approaches, different voices, and different methods for the way in which we weave words. There are lots of ways to write a book, and a problem I’m seeing a lot in writing classes, blogs, and instructional books is the expectation of imparting the One True Way to write.

    As writers, we all develop our own voices, our own styles, and it can be discouraging — demoralizing, even — to be told that your style is “wrong”. That the only sentences worth writing are ones that Work Like This. (This crops up a lot when your writing class is bent towards literary fiction, but you want to write for speculative fiction, like fantasy or science fiction. Sometimes those books just work differently, don’t they?)

    It’s like being told the only way to walk down a street is by carrying yourself in a very specific posture. Yes, maybe it’s effective to throw your shoulders back and walk an even stride, but what if you want to run? What if your leg hurts, and you have to limp? What if you’re so happy, you want to skip? You still get yourself down that street, don’t you?

    Think of the books you’ve read.

    Some were mostly dialogue, and read like screenplays.

    Some were densely detailed, with evocative, lyrical prose.

    Some focused entirely on the character’s internal journey through an intense emotional change.

    Some were all plot, with twists and turns that blew your mind and characters that were mostly just vehicles for the reader to hop into and enjoy the ride.

    Some writers used clipped, sparse writing. Short sentences with which to convey their worlds.

    Others use sentences that twist and turn in their own right, snaking down the page like a coiling of ribbon.

    Some books are works of art.

    Some books are popcorn.

    Some stories stick with you your whole life.

    Some entertain you for an afternoon.

    No story, no book, and no writer’s style is inherently more valid than another’s.

    So when people heap rules on you, that This is the way your sentences should work, This is the kind of writing that is worthwhile, This is how to tell a story, and This, and This, and This makes you a good writer, while This, and This, and This does not–don’t worry. Don’t panic. And don’t quit.

    Every story is going to tell itself differently.

    No two writers are going to wield their pen in the same way.

    There are lots of ways to write a book.

    And there are lots of books left to write.

    Don’t worry so much about whether you’re doing it correctly. Don’t worry so much if your writing is “right”. Every book is different. Write yours however you want.

    ~

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    For Writers

    There And Back Again (Wait, Where Did We Go???): Juggling Lots of Locations In Your Fantasy Novel

    One of the writing classes I’m taking had a forum discussion where writers posted some of their most prominent worries when it comes to their novels, and one of the questions posted really struck me: the writer felt like their fantasy story was whisking from one location to the next too quickly. The reader, they worried, would get whiplash zooming around their fantasy map, seeing too many locations without any one of them leaving a deep impression.

    Cue me quietly sweating onto my keyboard, because this is the realest concern, for any fantasy writer.

    When you’re writing speculative fiction — or, really, any story that has a big, big world for the character to explore — there’s an instinct to show off that world. To move your character around a lot. Usually, it’s because the story requires it — characters have quests to go on, wars to fight, journeys to undertake, sacred mountains to hike up, haunted forests to fight through, scaly slobbery monsters in vast acid-filled lakes to bring fabled jeweled tea cups to — you get the idea.

    * Is this … not … a normal plot point for any novel?

    But, sometimes, we writers can get carried away. It can be fun, and fruitful for your story, to take your characters on a dizzying roller coaster ride across your fantasy map. But how do you know when you’re taking your readers on too dizzying a ride? How do you keep that fantasy map from becoming one big, confusing, smeary blur in your readers’ heads?

    Keep your fantasy map from dizzying readers by giving each location emotional and story significance for your characters.  

    Your character, especially in a quest or journey-based fantasy novel, shouldn’t just be walking through a sideways scrolling sequence of set dressings. Every location you showcase in your story should be there for a reason

    As far as I can tell (and I am by no means an expert on this), the trick is to make sure the locations have emotional context for the characters, and to root your settings in your story’s plot. Make your locations matter, in other words, to both your characters and to the story at large.

    Let’s get a little deeper into what that means…

    Rooting Your Locations In Your Story’s Plot

    Let’s say your character is going on that epic journey where they hike up that sacred mountain to retrieve the mythical teacup, fight through that haunted forest to reach the acid lake, and then row across the poisonous waters to meet the sea creature whose ire can only be assuaged by the delivery of that bejeweled cup. You might have noticed something about each of those locations I listed…

    They all have a clear purpose related to the story. 

    Read more…