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.

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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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Craft Book Review: Story Fix

Story Fix coverStory Fix: Transform Your Novel from Broken to Brilliant by Larry Brooks is intended to help authors “reinvigorate” rejected novels, but I found it lacking in tangible instruction and full of discouragement.

Why I picked it up: I was looking through Writing Voice: The Complete Guide to Creating a Presence on the Page and Engaging Readers (Creative Writing Essentials) from the editors at Writer’s Digest and started looking up the different authors who had written chapters. Because I am focused on editing and revision, Larry Brooks’s book looked like a good choice.

My Expectations: I was expecting a book on revision and editing with specific guidelines to follow as I revise my draft. With the bold title STORY FIX, I expected a plethora of tools and boxes to check.

Intended Audience: This book is for writers whose manuscripts have been rejected so many times that they are facing a major re-write or abandoning their novel to the drawer of despair, or the locked trunk in the basement. The author also assumes the reader has attended conferences.

What I liked: The examples of Mr. Brooks coaching authors at the end of the book are  worth reading. Before I got to the three case studies, I was having trouble finding anything I liked, but they were interesting. I recommend reading the case studies first and then, if you’re curious about Mr. Brooks’s terminology, going back and reading those sections of the book. I found the questions Mr. Brooks asked the authors during these story coaching sessions to be eye opening while evaluating my own manuscript.

What I didn’t like: Until the coaching examples (and somewhat during), the book comes across as very negative. Mr. Brooks appears to think he’s being honest and frank, 200 pages of tough love, one might say, but it comes across as cynical and impugning. Until I read the case studies, I felt like I had read 150 pages of how to write an elevator pitch and fifty pages telling me I might as well give up trying.

 

Rating:  ♦ ♦   2 out of 5 – only because of the coaching examples at the end.

 

Books on revision and editing I would recommend instead:

The Magic Words: Writing Great Books for Children and Young Adults by Cheryl B. Klein. I reviewed this book as my first Craft Book Review. It is not only for authors of children’s and YA novels.

The Story Grid: What Good Editors Know by Shawn Coyne

Revision And Self-Editing (Write Great Fiction) by James Scott Bell

 

Happy Reading and Writing!