How to Write Scenes that Keep Readers Up All Night

By Your Blog Owner and Dragon Writer, Sandy Lender

Every writer experiences some moment during his or her manuscript when he or she stares at the computer screen and wonders, “Oh my God, how can I fix this crap?” I think the number of these moments increases as a deadline for an editor nears. Something that helps writers is to take individual scenes apart from their start to finish. Treat each scene as a mini-book.

The mini-book/scene requires a start, middle, and “end”; a hook and a climax; a completed purpose, no matter how trite the purpose may seem; and a clear goal for the character who stars in the scene. Here are some tips to help you check your scenes to be sure they pass the mini-book test.

Bob Gelinas at ArcheBooks Publishing recommends every book have at least three to five “big” scenes that stun and impress the reader. He’s talking about the kind of scenes upon which the reader dwells long after he or she has finished the book and is standing in the grocery store line recommending your book to the cashier—and anyone else who’ll listen.

I challenge you to make every scene at least healthy and effective, if not Hollywood-memorable. Make sure each scene has a purpose that furthers the story and gives the reader more information than he or she had before the scene began. You want to be sure the character’s goal (the purpose) is clear, but fraught with some level of tension or conflict.

As an example, in Problems on Eldora Prime, available everywhere, the crew of the Instigator has a simple goal in the second half of chapter six: stack crates against the cargo bay door to keep zombie-like monsters out. That’s it. Simple. The conflict hampering their progress is their awe/confusion and arguing over the dragons in the cargo hold with them.

By the time the MC has gone through the scene, the reader has a better understanding of the dragons in the story, and is ready to turn the page to see if Khiry will release the beasts or not. That’s right: end the scene on a cliffhanger.

The last thing you want to do is tie up a scene all nice and pretty with a bow. If a reader finishes a scene with a contented sigh and a smile, he or she will likely close the book (or set down the eReader) and turn off the light. Will she pick it back up the next day? There may be something else on her reading list…

Keep character traits in mind when producing the memorable scene. Each of your characters has personality traits and motivations to which you want to remain true. If Kor, the marksman from the Instigator in Problems on Eldora Prime, were to lag behind the group on the way to what they hope is a safehaven on Eldora Prime, dragging his gun in the dirt and ignoring his surroundings while others take on the responsibility of guarding the crew, the reader would wonder what had happened to him. It’s his job and his prerogative to support his leader and protect his crew. If you have a strong character, beware of giving him or her “weak” phases. If you have a weak character, beware of how quickly you advance him or her through an arc toward strength.

If you find yourself facing an “Oh my God, how can I fix this crap?” moment, consider a complete rewrite of the scene in question. Don’t be afraid of the delete button. Maybe the scene needs to be shown from a different character’s point of view. Maybe it needs a new purpose. Maybe it needs a rush of adrenaline or a hint of humor. Maybe it needs an explosion or two to make it one of the three to five unforgettable scenes that your reader will tell fellow grocery shoppers about.

If your current scene fails the mini-book test or doesn’t “work” for you on some other level, invest the time to rewrite with these tips for memorable and successful scenes in mind. When you view the scene through one character’s eyes and with one goal in mind, you set yourself up for best success. Build on that with tension, conflict, consistent character traits, a cliffhanger ending, and more to give the reader a scene that makes him or her turn the page, eager for more.

“Some days, you just want the dragon to win.”

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Dragon Wine and Old English Lit Thesis Suggestions

I’ve got this bottle of Chaucer’s Mead aging in the wine rack. There will come a day…probably the day Choices Meant for All is released, when I’ll pop that baby open and sip away. Overall, I enjoy a glass of wine on occasion to savor the sweetness. Reislings are my friends. Ice wine is a newfound joy. The experts aren’t kidding when they tell you it’s made with sweet grapes. Sweet frozen grapes, that is.

Like a good dragon, I drink my wine at home so I don’t have to drive afterward. I used to be so much more tolerant of alcohol in my system, but the “stuff” I’m dealing with health-wise actually lowers one’s tolerance. Go figure! It’s a symptom.

My random wine-drinking reminds me of the beer commercial with the World’s Most Interesting Man. The announcer goes to all this trouble to convince you this guy is “all that,” and then shows the dude in a shadowy bar (and aren’t they all?) with a beer bottle. Yeah, THAT’S interesting. Boring! So they had to give the guy lines. “I doDragon Winen’t always drink beer, but when I do, I drink [this stuff right here].” I’m purposefully leaving the name out because, really, do I want to advertise beer on my blog? No. No, I do not.

Dragons don’t drink beer.

In fact, I bet dragons get tummy-aches after eating warriors who’ve been drinking copious amounts of beer. It may be why you see so many tragic scenes of drunken, dead warriors who haven’t been eaten by dragons…merely slashed and killed.

There’s a thesis for an Old English Literature student right there. What beverages make a warrior more palatable to dragons?

Whatever your views on dragons eating warriors, I share a toast with you. May the wine of which you partake this evening be sweet enough to entice dragons to join you in your repast, and not to encourage them to munch on you…

“Some days, you just want the dragon to win.”

Published in: on January 15, 2011 at 6:35 pm  Leave a Comment  
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That Wasn’t the Way I Planned NaNoWriMo

I went into National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) with a great idea for a steampunk novel. About two weeks and a mere 7,000+ words into it, I hated several of the characters and saw no way to redeem the main protagonist. He was just too weak and simpering. Luckily, I still had the rest of the month to develop a new novel. I was only two weeks behind.

Funny how life treats you when you’re on a deadline. I don’t have a lot of sympathy for people who tell me they “don’t have time to write” when there’s a whole thirty days in which to work. Would you like to know what life threw at me November 2010? It’s not so different from what any other writer went through, I’m sure. You can gauge the measure of a professional by what she does with those setbacks and bits of bad luck. She can moan and complain and turn them into excuses for failure. Or she can tell the universe who’s really in charge.

That would be me, by the way.

One thing I did plan to have taking place during NaNoWriMo: two online book tours. The ladies at Goddess Fish Promotions helped me put together an online tour for Problems on Eldora Prime (a YA novel released from Night Wolf Publications in October) mid-month. I didn’t plan for it to go haywire when some of the tour hosts had problems holding up their end of the bargain, but, hey, it worked out! The other tour starts tomorrow for What Choices We Made, Volume II. The launch is at a book party site of some sort that ought to be pretty cool! I’m giving away a book to a lucky commenter from the tour, so you’re welcome to stop by a blog and discuss the topic of the day at any time…WCWM II Cover

November 2010, I had two trips that took me out of town. One was a surprise for work that didn’t get nailed down until the weekend before it happened. So I didn’t know if I’d begin NaNoWriMo on a plane or in the comfort of my den. The second trip involved a quick weekend hop to the other side of the state for my cousin’s wedding. I intended to write in the car for 90 minutes each way while my date drove. At the last minute, we realized my date couldn’t get out of work, so I drove myself. No writing time for me! But I elected to get a hotel room so I could at least sit up all night writing in peace and quiet while staring at the Atlantic Ocean. Unfortunately, that weekend was the coldest yet this year for Florida and the hotel had not yet turned on the central heating. I froze and was unable to get more than a thousand words down. Doggone! Luckily, that was work I threw out anyway (see note about irredeemable protagonist above).

Throw in the daily activities of cleaning four bird cages and keeping up with a day job like everyone has to do with a surprise doggie/house-sitting gig that required back-n-forth driving (but the doggie was adorable and catching Duran Duran on the supersize TV did NOT suck). My day job is as an editor for an international trade magazine, so there’s a monthly publication deadline to add to the non-novel responsibilities we’re discussing. In November, I also worked on and helped launch a new website for a conference I’m chairing. For that conference, I planned the program and solicited speakers during November because, although the conference is in April, I need to get the program brochure printed and mailed in early December. I also met with a fabulous woman who’s taking on the brunt of the sponsorship asks because I know I’m weak at that.

Now throw in a couple of doctor appointments. I intended to spend the lengthier of the appointments with my novel! I took the laptop, fully charged, with me, but the nurse had a fit and forbade me to type, telling me the sugars in my muscles would collect in my hands and fingers if I used the computer or blackberry while I sat for an hour waiting for medicine to course through my body. Thwarted again! Next disappointment came while waiting for the technicians to wrangle up the results of my labwork (one appt) and scans (another appt) so my doctor could discuss it all with me (another appt that took two hours after the hour drive to get there). You can’t make this stuff up!

Toss in a 90-minute board meeting an hour from my home for the Naples Press Club. Another meeting I attended in November that took far longer than I anticipated was a writers’ group meeting one Saturday afternoon. I signed up before realizing, omigod, the networking lunch started at 11:30 and the business meeting ended at 4 p.m. That’s a chunk of a Saturday that I really wanted for writing!

Of course November has holiday overtones for some folks. I’m in the U.S.A., so I celebrated Thanksgiving at a friend’s house for a few hours on the 25th. I’m a Christian, so I prep and send out Christmas cards with a Christmas catch-up letter in them. While I got the letter written, edited, and printed early in the month, I had to go through and cross out a line of mis-information before getting the cards in the mail. Only half of the cards are signed, addressed, stamped, and in the stack to be mailed right now, but I anticipate the other thirty will be ready before Dec. 1 now that I’ve hit the 50,000+ goal for NaNoWriMo.

That’s right. I succeeded despite all the crazy bits I’ve listed here. I’ve not listed them to complain about them. They’re facts of life that writers, as well as normal people, have to deal with in any given week/month. The point I want to make is that we have to roll with the punches and work around crazy bits like this. You don’t succeed in life by giving up when a few meetings run long or a few time slots get usurped by crappy circumstances. You’ve got to suck it up and rearrange the attitude, the thought process, the schedule, the den, etcetera. Whatever it takes…

I didn’t complete Military Issue (which will probably have a name change before Christmas) with 61,296 words. That word count is enough to “win” NaNoWriMo for my second year, but it’s not enough to resolve Captain Jess Ukraine and Princess Anam Cara’s issues. They have too many issues for a 50,000-word novella. Criminy. But I adore these two (and their dragons), so I’ll be finishing up this novel in between the edits on Choices Meant for All and the edits on Problems Above Pangaea Moon so we have plenty of dragony releases to look forward to in 2011 and beyond. That wasn’t the way I planned it, but that’s the way it’ll work!

From Fantasy Author Sandy Lender

“Some days, you just want the dragon to win.”

Dragons Downtown

I prepared a guest article about the dragons in my new novel Problems on Eldora Prime. That guest article is live and visible to the whole world today (Friday) at http://www.downtownya.blogspot.com/. Now, I don’t know if Sandra changes her blog every day, so you may have to scroll to read the post if you’re checking in on, say, Saturday… 😉

Enjoy!

“Some days, you just want the dragon to win.”

Published in: on November 19, 2010 at 5:42 pm  Leave a Comment  
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The Other Tour

Here’s the other tour info! I’ll be conducting on online book tour for my latest full-length novel, Problems on Eldora Prime, next week and the week before Thanksgiving. Fabulous stuff. It’s a young adult, sci-fi/fantasy novel with oodles of scary stuff, dragons, outer space, terraformers, etc.

Dragon Book Trailer

Night Wolf Designs created a book trailer for my new YA sci-fi/fantasy novel, Problems on Eldora Prime. You can view it on YouTube, where I encourage you to give it a fab rating and leave a comment! It’s moody and spooky, just like I’d hoped it would be.

Published in: on October 24, 2010 at 4:02 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Watch Out for that Funky Dragon

I recently told a friend of mine not to fret about the Nile Monitor population here in Cape Coral, Fla., because those lizards aren’t as dastardly as, say, a Komodo Dragon. I neglected to mention the monitor gets up to 7 feet long and runs up to 18 mph. These are details some people don’t need cluttering their minds.

Dragons come in all shapes and sizes, and it’s kinda cool to think there are about 1,000 of the 7-foot variety sharing “the island” with me. (I keep my birds inside.) I’ve yet to see one of these beasties, though.

I’m sure there are squeamish mothers out there who don’t keep a good eye on their toddlers who think a Nile Monitor could drag their kids into the canals, but monitors can’t dislocate their jaws the way snakes can. If someone wants to worry about a reptile, they need to get worked up about the pythons and such, right?

The dragons are cool. 😉

Now, it does break my heart to think the burrowing owls that stand in the middle of the street at night (yes, they just stand there and look at oncoming cars–it’s very strange) might be in danger from a burrowing dragon/lizard. I have to hope these owls around here are as wise as the storybooks make them out to be.

“Some days, you just want the dragon to win.”

Published in: on October 22, 2010 at 9:23 pm  Leave a Comment  
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