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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Working on your novel, or just dreaming about it? Plan now for next year’s writers conference(s)

Map of US with writers conferences by state and month

If you would like me to add your favorite writers conference to the map, please let me know.

I wanted this map, it didn’t exist, so I made it.  It took a little extra time, but I created what I wanted and there is a lot of information there. Enjoy (and site me).

Last post, I went into detail about some of my favorite aspects of The Pacific Northwest Writer’s Association Conference. Now, I want to speak more generally to what you can get out of going to a writer’s conference. The main point being dive in and buy your ticket as soon as you can.

For a first time author, or someone only starting to write their first novel, a writer’s conference is a huge decision. There are a lot of costs to consider, not only monetarily, but emotionally, and physically. So that brings us back to my final notes from my last post:

Was going to PNWA16 worth the time, money and stress? Absolutely.

 

Let’s go into the details of why:

Meeting other writers – Everyone is at the conference for different reasons, but they all have one thing in common, they write.

Many writers spend the majority of their time alone and avoiding social situations. Spending time with others might be in critique, or in fear of critique, so the idea of a conference feels like throwing oneself to the slaughter.

Okay, I’m talking about me. I almost didn’t go. I imagined myself hiding somewhere. If I hadn’t made myself responsible by volunteering, I most likely would have excused myself and psycho-somaticly died of the plague. The moment I walked in, however, I didn’t feel a moment of nervousness. Not a moment of disrespect or why is she so weird or they are talking about me or why does she have that look on her face. I felt accepted, wanted, interested and interesting and it was AWESOME. I did what I needed to do and it turned out that I was good at moderating sessions. I made others feel strong and good about themselves. That is a great feeling.

Many of the sessions at writer’s conferences are about creating your writers platform on social media. I had done everything I could for my Gator McBumpypants books, but I had one true fan for my efforts (totally worth it) and it was the daughter of a person in my writer’s social group, not anyone from my social media efforts.

Social media is way more fun when there are real people you met and care about to read your messages. Who knew that a romance writer might be my best twitter friend and the Seattle Library Summer Bingo would turn summer reading into crazy discussion? Suddenly I want to be there  when before it was a terrible chore.

Also, it is a great way to meet people who will look at your work before you send it out and let you help them with their work which is a wonderful honor.

Pitching to agents and editors –

This was definitely the most stressful part of the conference AND the reason I was there. I thought it was the only reason to go to a conference and had prepared for my pitch for over six months.

I was surprised to find people that were there and didn’t pitch. Those people have a year up on me.

I was prepared. First day, I walked sheepishly into a room that said practice pitching. It was a round-table of people talking to each other, sounding very knowledgeable while waiting for me to get my nerve up. None of them shared their pitches. A wonderful older man joined us and shared his pitch.He had a good story, but it wasn’t a pitch. He was appreciated and given good feedback. I felt ready. I volunteered my pitch.

I was given praise. I was not asked much in the way of questions. I was told my pitch was awesome. I thought I was ready. I had prepared correctly.

I was not ready.

My months of research and all the nice people couldn’t prepare me for my pitch session.

I thought, I was told I’ll see four to six agents today, I’ll probably see everyone who’s interested in my work. I want to see these agents first, then I will go through the best on my list. From what I was told, I had the impression I might see everyone I wanted in one session.

I got shut down. I felt like I was hit by a truck.

Again. If I hadn’t volunteered to moderate sessions which was  stressful, I might have given up and crawled under a rock and died. But somehow, the writers sitting in chairs upstairs where I sat down to decide if I could take another second of thinking I am a writer or should just give up completely were so kind and accepting of my little breakdown, it was like all the horror never happened because one had been through worse and one wasn’t ready to try yet. So, you know, you have to get ready for tomorrow. They helped me decide to stay for the evening presentation. By the time dinner was over, I was ready to try again.

My point is, I thought I had made all the wrong decisions, but I hadn’t. The first day I found out who wasn’t my match and the next day I was ready for the questions that come after the practiced pitch like : Why did you write this? What happens next? What is special about your protagonist? And the best question I got all conference: So how does it end?

I didn’t get to the rest of the wonderful reasons why you should think about going to a writers conference in this post, there is too much to talk about and I have too much reading and writing to do, but I am happy with my info-graphic of possible conferences to think about.

Chuck Sambuchino wrote a great post about choosing a writer’s conference over at The Write Life

Marketing: Societies, Associations, Meetups and Clubs

A tiny shiny hummingbird on a branch

Like this tiny hummingbird, our books need to shine to be seen.

I apologize for neglecting you last week, dear readers. I received the fully copy-edited version of my chapter book and dove into choosing agents to query and revising my query letter. As I believe I’ve mentioned before, querying is a nerve-wracking full time job. Today, I posted my second revision, after many helpful critiques, on Agent Query Connect and hope I am getting closer. But that is for tomorrow’s topic.

In the past I’ve looked at writing societies and associations and didn’t see past the expense to the value. Now that I have two self-published books to promote and another that I’m trying to get agented, I joined both the Pacific Northwest Writers Association and the Society for Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. I’m also really enjoying a biweekly writer’s social meet-up and many online clubs.

So, what are the benefits?

SCBWI: SCBWI is an international society with local chapters. Once a member, you have access to current information in every aspect of children’s book writing, illustrating and publishing. That alone is worth the membership price.They also offer many tools to promote your work and connect with other professionals. They have conferences and an online members’ bookstore.

PNWA: They have a member library to show off members’ work. As a member, you get a discount to their convention (which I’m thinking I might attend this summer). You can attend meetings from home on a conference call when you don’t have the time to drive out to a meeting.

Meetups and Clubs: These are great places to make personal relationships with other authors. I’m hoping the aforementioned are too, but I personally have found meetups and clubs to be a good place to ask questions and get feedback. You can also see what topics are important to other authors and learn from their experiences.

An important part of marketing is getting your book into people’s hands to create word of mouth. Meeting people through local associations, societies, meetups and clubs can help you get the word out.