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Wednesday, November 4, 2009

These Shoes Are Going Somewhere

They may be going toward something, or away from something, but they are going somewhere. This is how our scenes should be. One of my favorite quotes in The Fire In Fiction by Donald Maass is this: "Most instruction in writing scenes begins with the sound advice, send your character into the scene with a goal. Well, duh." Of course we all know this, but do we always apply it? According to Mr. Maass, many manuscripts fall short here, especially in the middle. So, why does this happen? If I understand Maass correctly, it is because we fail to define what it is that our POV character wants out of the scene, and, thus, our readers don't go into it with any expectations or hope for the outcome. In other words, something has to be on the line for our character, or the reader isn't going to care. Bottom line is, we need to clearly define what our character's wants are for each and every scene, and the outcome should either advance he/she toward that goal or push he/she further away from that goal. But there has to be movement in some direction. Have you looked closely at your character's wants? Is each scene a step forward or a step back in satisfying those wants? I don't know about you, but this is something I will be paying close attention to.

40 comments:

Tamika: said...

After hearing Mr. Maas's instructons there are quite a few scenes that need attention. I have several scenes that just feel like they are moving the story along, not really advancing the plot or my character conflict.

I needed this today. No more humdrum scenes!

Robyn Campbell said...

Hmmm, I know. When I read this I wondered about some of my scenes. Movement in some direction. It is so hard for me to see each scene like that. I need a day to really look at my MG novel and really see it like he's telling us we should.

I'm glad you told me about him emailing you. What a gentleman. Robyn needs an agent like that.:) Yeah, I'm prone to dreamin'. Thanks Susan. :)

Solvang Sherrie said...

Okay, I think I need to buy this book. So much great information! Thanks for these posts. You are a huge help right now.

Kristen Torres-Toro said...

Hey, Susan--do you read the Intern's blog? Check out her entry for Monday (I think it was Monday). It's about checking to see if a manuscript is fully "cooked". I think it's a great supplement to your entry today... both work really well together!

Middle scenes... middle scenes... hopefully one day they won't haunt me! Thanks for this series!

Diane said...

Good to be headed in a direction. At least if it's the wrong way you can redirect. Standing stagnant is never good. :O)

Kristi Faith said...

Great post as always Susan. Thank you for sharing. I feel like I do this with my scenes, mostly because I tend to write in a 'suspenseful' voice. The character has something to discover or reveal in each scene.

Wendy @ All in a Day's Thought said...

I'm not sure I *have* done this for every scene. Great tip and something I'm going to be watching for as I edit. I am excited to rework my beginning today.
~ Wendy

Patti said...

Great post. Motivation is something I've struggled with the in the past. I think I'm getting better at defining my characters and their wants.

BTW you know you're just adding to my long list of things I need to edit.

Leah Rubin said...

You fascinate me, and make me want to go back to writing fiction... I'm always so impressed by your insights!

Paul Greci said...

Thanks Susan. I'll be paying close attention to this in my current WIP. I know I've got some spots that need tightening. This will help me focus.

Tere Kirkland said...

This is something I often write out before I actually write out the scene. I set scene goals for myself just so my characters aren't running around getting nothing accomplished. Keeps me on track. Keeps my characters properly motivated.

Roni @ FictionGroupie said...

This is a good litmus test for each scene for sure. I'm sure I have some that could use a little help in this area.

Also, even though I know you'll stop by anyway because you're such a good bloggy friend, you have a little gift over at my blog. :)

Jill Kemerer said...

I read this concept in books before and while it made sense, I had trouble applying it. For me, the term "scene goal" was the culprit. When I rephrased it to "what does the character want in this scene," I had no problem with the concept. Such a simple change produced big results! Thanks for the great explanation.

L. T. Host said...

I only write scenes with a purpose. Whether that purpose be to explain some of the plot, or show character growth, or a burgeoning relationship, I only write scenes that have a reason to exist. And if you can combine several purposes into one scene, even better.

strugglingwriter said...

"Have you looked closely at your character's wants?"

I have, but I'm not sure how well that comes across in my story. Hopefully it is clear, but it is another thing to keep in mind.

staceyjwarner said...

Great post, gives me pause as I think about my story and the chapter I just started.

much love

Lily Robinson said...

I've got to get this book SOON! I've mentioned before that these last pages are not what I want them to be. They're necessary, but they desperately need tweaking!

Angie Muresan said...

Lately my character did not want to do anything but sit. Can't figure out how to make her move.

Karen said...

That is great advice. I don't have any additional insight to add to this. Just, thank you!

Rae said...

You give great advice for writers and I am sure they appreciate it. I think your advice can pertain to everyday life too. We all need goal setting and a way of attaining it. Defining the outcome in advance is a sure way to achieve our success.

Eileen Astels Watson said...

I have the overall goal pretty clear usually, but as for scene goals, I tend not to make them too blatant. Maybe I should.

Natalie Murphy said...

Good quote. Thanks for sharing. I'll keep this in mind while writing! =]

Natalie said...

Great advice! Now I just have to figure out what my characters want...

Tara said...

I try to pull the reader into my MC's thoughts. I think it goes hand in hand with this: if the character knows what the MC wants, it will make more sense.

Tabitha Bird said...

This is such an important thing to know. what does our character want??? I spend lots of time on this one, cause my MC is me in my memoir :) It can be hard to nail that down, but makes for a strong book when you do.

~Ellie Kings~ said...

I feel like I'm reading Mr. Maass book myself. Thanks to you Susan! These posts have all been so insightful and much needed. You've definitely motivated me to ask the right questions.
xo

La Fleur said...

This is good advice. I wonder how many of the classic novels actually follow this premise? I know there are some, for they would provide a little synopsis at the beginning of each chapter(remember those?). In college, I can trudging through quite a few of the 'classics' that just seemed stuck for many chapters. I found myself flipping through.

Am I guilty of the same sins? Probably so. ;-) But the authors who immediately come to mind who adhered to this rule are Shakespeare and Zora Neale Hurston. I am sure that there are many others, but they pop into my mind.

I guess that I say all of this to say that it is my belief that writers should focus on the story. What are the characters telling us? Sure, it is cool to adhere everyone's style advice, but should we compromise our stories for it, if there is a conflict? I believe that 'a good read' is in the mind of the reader. There are many literary masterpieces out there that continue to sit on the shelves, unread. But I think that we tend to remember the works that capture our imaginations and souls.

LOL... But remember I am an unpublished writer. What do I know? Squat! LOLLOL As you were, writers!

Stephanie Faris said...

Have you ever read Goal, Motivation, and Conflict? I know it's probably old school but the basic premise is every character should have a goal, a reason for that goal, and something standing in his/her way from getting it.

Melanie's Randomness said...

If I can't get in touch with the main character of a story I usually get lost somewhere in the middle of the book. If the character doesn't build or get those goals it's like Oh um so what was the point of that? It's like in movies. lol I always relate things to movies but I guess that's because I'm a very visual person. Well if the movie didn't go anywhere, no goals were reached I'll probably do the "That's it?". I'll make sure I keep my story interesting & collective in it's events & have things mean things.

This Fire in Fiction book must have been amazing. I think I might take a look at it.

Dawn Simon said...

Thanks for another helpful post, Susan. :)

Kathryn Magendie said...

Wonderful advice! and on the flipside - to make sure the writer creates that scene realistically so the reader doesn't know what the writer is up to! You know, when you read something and it's obvious it is a device put there by the writer to move the plot or whatever :)

Stephanie Thornton said...

In my first draft the middle is where the story sagged. There was a lot of meandering and not a lot of purpose. So there was a lot of slashing.

Great reminder!

Matthew Delman said...

My MC has been out of the proverbial loop for awhile. Because of this each scene is a chance for her to see precisely how horrid the culture of the city has become. If I do it right, and believably, the goal for each scene is have a little bit more of her heroic personality fall into place.

K. M. Walton said...

I am going to go back and put my stuff through that filter. Thank you for posting about this!!!

Carolyn V. said...

I find if I have a goal for my character, the writing goes so much better. The chapter is cleaner and I know where to send my character.

Erica said...

You know- it does make sense! But I know I've forgotten to give the MC a goal before as well as other characters. I struggle with what the supporting cast's goals are too.

I'm more cognizant of the characters needing goals now that I've researched writing for a while. I never understood before :)

Great post!

B.J. Anderson said...

This is great! And kind of one of those "duh" things that I don't always do. Thanks for the reminder!

Faith said...

This was actually something I was struggling with in the planning stages... I knew what my MC would NEED to do, but what was it she actually WANTED out of life? I think I'm on the right track, but haven't quite refined that part yet. It's definitely important -- she can't be properly motivated without knowing what it is she truly wants.

Midlife Jobhunter said...

Ah, as I just wrote a scene to only further the tale. Going back to it, going back to it.

Heather Sunseri said...

Wow, Susan! I'm catching up on some blogs today, and you're giving me tons to think about that are very timely as I'm revising. Thanks! Keep it coming.