Reading as a writer: Deconstructing a scene

image of the book Bad Monkey by Carl Hiaasen and a filled in scene deconstruction worksheet

This summer my wonderful local book store, A Good Book in Sumner, Wa, not only had a Summer Reading Bingo card, but came up with a Bingo card for writers as well. It looked daunting at first with squares like: Write your manifesto (turn your excuses upside down); Write seven days in a row; and Finish Something; but the more I worked on it, the more inspired I was to continue.

One of the final squares on my card before I got my blackout was, “Deconstruct a Scene.” The instructions were to read a scene from your favorite book/author and find what makes it work. I picked out scenes from different authors I enjoy and put the books on my desk with the scenes I’d chosen dutifully marked, but kept moving on to other squares of the Bingo card. Finally, I searched the internet to see if there were any forms or worksheets out there to guide me through the process of deconstructing a scene. I didn’t find what I was looking for, so I went to work creating my own.

I had recently attended my first meeting at the Pacific Northwest Writers Association (PNWA) cottage. I’ve been a member for years, but only watched some meetings online. I’m glad I went. Pam Binder gave a presentation on critique groups and created a hand- out with her ideas of how to evaluate a scene that were helpful. I also incorporated ideas from Writing Fiction: A Guide to Narrative Craft (8th Edition) by Janet Burroway, Elizabeth Stuckey-French and Ned Stuckey-French and The Twelve Questions in Frencesca Block’s The Thorn Necklace: Healing Through Writing and the Creative Process.

Deconstructing a scene

Evaluating a scene is similar to evaluating an entire story. A scene encompasses the same elements:

  • The point of view(POV) character, in a specific setting, wants something
  • Something or someone stops them from reaching that goal
  • This leads to crisis
  • Which leads to reflection and/or insight
  • Causing the POV character to change and/or come up with a new goal

The point of deconstructing scenes by authors you admire is to look for the techniques they use to make a scene stick with you. You want to identify the choices they make that appear so effortless and keep you reading like:

  • How do the characters express emotion?
  • What invoked emotion in you the reader?
  • Did something surprise you? Why? How?
  • What kept you turning pages?
  • Was there a hook at the end of the scene?

The Worksheet

I tested my worksheet on a scene from Bad Monkey by Carl Hiaasen. I chose this for my exercise because my current work in progress (I finished the first draft two days ago. YAY!) is in that vein: A murder mystery that brings a lot of eccentric characters into wild situations. The scene I chose did not specifically fit the scene and sequel structure, and I realized this by using my worksheet. I also discovered a technique to show emotion that I liked and may use in the future.

Filling out the worksheet didn’t take as long as I thought it would and the insight gleaned from filling it out was well worth the effort. The great thing about this Scene Deconstruction Worksheet is not only can I use it to read as a writer, but I can use it to evaluate my own scenes.

You can get a copy of my worksheet to use in your own reading and writing by signing up for my newsletter.

I want it button

When you do, you will receive a link to the file and a special message from me about once a month.

I hope that you will use this worksheet and find it as informative as I have.

Happy Reading and Writing!

 

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Happy May! A recap of my April adventures and what’s next

galluping purple flowersI want to start by saying thank you to all of the organizers of NaPoWriMo and A to Z Challenge and the poets of dVerse. And the poets that included my poems in their lists, especially David Ellis at Too Full To Write.

I also want to thank everyone who read my poems and left such lovely comments. Everyone was encouraging and made me feel my efforts are worthwhile.

This was a long month for me  with some very high points and some low points.Signed by Anne Lamott

The high points were: my birthday evening seeing Anne Lamott at Benroya Hall; scrolling up some of my poems for Poem in your pocket day and having them on the counter at A Good Book Bookstore; and, of course, completing the challenges while learning so many interesting new words and facts.

The low points all had to do with short story rejections, but I think my very negative feelings had to do with a bout of the flu, so actually, the low points should have been seen as high points, as in, “I have new stories to shop around.”

This month hit some milestones for Experience Writing:

♦ Most views ever: April 30
♦ Most likes ever: April 16

Thank you for the comments, likes and follows!

Now to the recap.

NaPoWriMo

I found all of the different prompts inspiring. I learned so much from the resources and examples, the great interviews and unique ways to approach the page. This was a great experience and I’m glad I did it. To my readers who didn’t participate this year, I recommend giving it a try next year. And you can dive in sooner with OctPoWriMo this fall.

My favorite prompt: I think the haibun prompt was my favorite. First, because I had never heard of haibuns before. Second, it adds another element to haiku that I really enjoy, and third, because it opened up participation in dVerse’s Haibun Monday. I wrote three haibuns during the month:Contemplating the Other

Summer Comes Too Soon

The Lingering, Long Spring Day

Self and Setting

My favorite poems I wrote:

Why Stand By? This poem, inspired by a forensic psychology course I’m taking online, really seemed to resonate with readers and spur discussion.

Contemplating The Other This poem, inspired by the Polish poems from Here by Wislawa Szymborska, is one of my favorites and my sister liked it and wants a copy for my nephew’s baby book which makes me very happy.

Then I think it’s a tie between the poems I did the most factual research for :

An Apple Is An Apple – noosphere

The Next Pasquinade – Pasquino

Flawed Reflection – Pulitzer winner Frank Bidart

The Reliquary for the Miraculous -Saint Sidonius

I really enjoy learning new and interesting things.

A to Z Challenge

I think doing the A to Z Challenge as part of my NaPoWriMo experience was a great idea. As I learned last fall, I like to use multiple prompts to enhance my creative efforts, and the word of the day often lead to more interesting poetry challenges.

My favorite words were: xanthic (xanthodont), wayzgoose, wazzock, and atresia. All of them really.

Flash! cover

Reading

Favorite poetry books: Here by Wislawa Szymborska

Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson

Favorite writing book: FLASH!: Writing the Very Short Story by John Dufresne

May Plans

So what comes next? It’s time to turn my attention back to my novel. I have scenes to draft and then another full edit. While I work, I will hopefully find inspiration from:

Between the Lines: Master the Subtle Elements of Fiction Writing by Jessica Page Morrell

Writing 21st Century Fiction: High Impact Techniques for Exceptional Storytelling by Donald Maass

The Marshall Plan for Novel Writing by Evan Marshall

How to Write a Novel Using the Snowflake Method (Advanced Fiction Writing) (Volume 1) by Randy Ingermanson

I also have a great stack of fiction and poetry to inspire me as well.

monster dancer

I’m hoping to continue to blog three posts weekly:

  1. a writing and editing post
  2. a poem
  3. a book review

Site stats tell me that my most popular day and time is Thursday at 1pm. What would you like to read most on a Thursday at 1pm: a poem, some insight on the craft of writing, or a book review?

Or is there something else you would like me to share this May?

I have decided that the photography focus for the next Gator McBumpypants picture book will be using filters. I’ll be studying an old KODAK Workshop Series book called Using Filters, so you may see some odd photos to illustrate my posts.

If you have a poem, a micro-story, a book review, or a guest-post you would like to share on Experience Writing let me know in the comments or head over to MBer Creations and write to me on the Contact page.

 

Happy Reading and Writing!

Here’s to an abundant and prolific May.

New Gator McBumpypants Picture Book Now Available!

Gator McBumpypants in Shelley Comes Out Of Her Shell is a sweet story about the challenges of making new friends. It also covers themes such as empathy and knowing when to ask for help.

Last year, I designed and made a little box turtle. I had an online contest to name the turtle and the winning name, contributed by Amy Chesler–Thank you again, Amy–was Shelley. Shelley first appears at the very end of Gator McBumpypants Doesn’t Say Goodbye. If you haven’t read it yet, it is a story about Dee Dee the duck flying south for the winter and having to part with her friends.

In this new book, Shelley gets her own story. She is finally convinced to go on an adventure with Gator McBumpypants and Herman, but she gets a sliver and then is stuck in her shell! Shelley was very fun to work with. Her fabric has a little shimmer when the light is just right. I also designed her so that she tucks into her shell.

For those of you who have been following along with my writer’s journey here at Experience Writing (and Maria Berg’s Writing Life before that), you may recall that Gator McBumpypants was inspired by a photography assignment. I needed models and didn’t have anyone readily available. I grabbed a couple of my stuffed animals and took them outside. While I posed them and photographed them, the story of how they met and became friends came to me. That was the birth of Gator McBumpypants Hears A Scary Noise.

Since publishing that first picture book, I have designed and made two new characters, Dee Dee the duck and Shelley the box turtle. Creating the characters and stories is fun and challenging, but I also continue to use these books as photography projects.

Each year I focus on a specific technique. Last year I tried out colored filters, a wide angle/fish-eye lens and a difficult setting. Though the images using the colored filters and fish-eye lens did not make it into last year’s book, the techniques may be incorporated in the future. The setting was too beautiful to distort and the fall colors did not need a bit of enhancement.

This year, I learned bokeh shape photography. The word bokeh comes from Japanese and literally translates as “blur”. Using a hand-cut filter, I am able to create shapes with every point of light in the unfocused area of my photograph. I incorporated some of the bokeh images into the book and I think it brings another dimension of magical fantasy to the already fun mix of photography and play.

As the characters and stories progress and grow through the series, I, as a photographer, grow as well. Each year is a new adventure. I hope you will think about bringing the joy and play of Gator McBumpypants books to your family this year.

Happy Gator McBumpypants Day!

Throwing Stones: I made my #NaNoWriMo Cover

Imagined book cover for work in progress by Maria L. Berg

#NaNoWriMo2016 Book Cover

THROWING STONES: Tshepo Mwendi blames fire fighters for the loss of his parents and his home. His grief, turned anger, fuels his singular mission: to make fire fighters suffer as he has by showing the world they are inept (thus taking away their funding leading to their non-existence). To achieve his goal he throws stones to stop them from putting out fires. While throwing stones at a fire outside of the city, he is joined by other stone throwers and discovers a new family among refugees and other disenfranchised of The Eternal Family. There he finally finds love, but he cannot find peace. His sharp mind and tongue along with his warped view of justice and obsessive mission make it easy for him to manipulate their leader. Though he loses his father figure and mentor, he convinces members of The Eternal Family to join him and leads his army back to the city to fight. An underhanded developer learns about Tshepo’s activities and plots to use him, along with an arsonist for hire, to be rid of some problem properties, and their tenants.

 

Wanna be my writing buddy? You can find me at nanowrimo.org/participants/marialberg

or on Twitter @authormariaberg

and if you wanted to be the first to see the book cover, you should LIKE my facebook author page