Tag Archives: scene

Using Dirty Fighting To Escalate Tension In Your Story

Great books are filled with conflict, and great characters who learn important lessons.

Writer and all-around-funny Jenny Hansen’s clever tips for Dirty Fighting Techniques can be applied to your main character’s friend, family member or a significant other…whoever he or she is in conflict.
Hansen asserts, “Every entry on the Dirty Fighting List is guaranteed to make the other person see red.” If you’re writing fiction, anger and tension is a fantastic vehicle to move your story quickly and appropriately introduce backstory. The following are excerpts from her post.

One difficulty with reading about dialog is that every character is unique and, even though the examples may be excellent, your characters would not necessarily say those things. How do you think of creative things to say that would apply ONLY to your character?

One answer is to make him or her fight.

Since gratuitous fighting in a story is like gratuitous sex (kinda boring if there’s no real connection or reason for it), the author needs to find a great reason for the fight. The easiest way to pave the road is to discover what your characters really want. Then dig down for what they really, really want.

DON’T give it to them.
Or at least, don’t give it too soon.

Then flake away more layers to uncover what your character really fears. Then what they really, really fear. DO give it to them!

This is where things get interesting. You not only have characters who are upset, you’ve also found myriad ways to slide everybody deeper into your story. To do this, ask your character questions:

  1. What matters most to this character? (What is he or she most afraid to lose?)
  2. Who matters most? (This is usually the person they are most afraid to lose.)
  3. How did the character’s parents fight?
  4. How did the character’s parents interact with him or her?
  5. What does this character wish he or she had gotten in childhood?

All of these questions can provide you with cues about where your character is “broken” and give you ideas about fixing the broken part (i.e. Fix = Lesson).

Now it’s time to unleash that fight! BRING IT ON.

Below are Jenny Hansen’s top five Dirty Fighting Techniques for adding tension and plotting options to your story. (Get ready to flex your sarcasm muscle – which is always used in a dirty fight.)

#1 – Triangulating: Don’t leave the issue between you and your
conflict partner (could be a family member, friend or love interest), pull
everybody in. Quote well-known authorities who agree with you and list every family member whom you know has taken your side (and lie about the ones you haven’t spoken to, yet).

Uses: Triangulating is incredibly useful in fiction because you can expand the discussion to more characters and stir up some real drama. Let’s not keep this issue between just us, one character says to the other. Oh no, lets involve everybody.

If you have extreme Dirty Fighting Talent, you can stir the pot and then step back and play a new game called, “Let’s watch the other two people fight.” Good times.

#2 – Escalating: Quickly move from the main issue of the argument
to questioning your partner’s basic personality, and then move on to wondering whether the relationship is even worth it. Blame your partner for having a flawed personality so that a happy relationship will be impossible.

Uses: Excellent tool for keeping two love interests apart. But, the fight better be about something that really, really matters.

Escalating also allows for plausible use of Back Story. When you’re moving from the main issue to what the REAL issue is (often happens at the end of Act 2), escalating the argument will make someone lose control enough that they blurt out something juicy. Way to go, Author!

#3 – Leaving: No problem is so big or important that it can’t
be ignored or abandoned all together. Walk out of the room, leave the house, or just refuse to talk. Sometimes just threatening to leave can accomplish the same thing without all the inconvenience of following through.

Uses: My favorite use of this is employing it when the two characters really need each other. It completely ups the betrayal factor: I can’t depend on you, I don’t trust you, you’ve let me down.

You noticed how dirty those last three statements were, right? Not a clean fight to be found anywhere with “leaving,” which is fantastic for your story! The farther your character falls, the harder the journey is on the way back up, right?

#4 – Timing: Look for a time when your partner is least able
to respond or least expects an argument.

Uses: Think about this from a story point of view. A really great time to pick a fight is just before the main character embarks on a journey, has a new murder to solve, is called on to save the world. Anything
with high stakes. Be sure the character ambushing them is a likeable one so the reader REALLY gets drawn into the conflict.

#5 – Rejecting Compromise: Never back down.

Uses: This is a kickass Dirty Fighting trick to use on the main character. If there is only one winner, there is automatic conflict involved for the person who “loses.” The solutions are endless, but here’s some scenarios that come to my mind.

The main character could:

  • Realize the universal truth in fighting: the person who says “no” always has the power. Perhaps your MC will change their motivation so that the other character’s “no” doesn’t bother them so much.
  • Learn never to accept “no” from someone who doesn’t have the power to say “yes.” In other words, your MC could learn to stand up for they really want and find a way around their primary obstacle.
  • Find a way for there to be two winners. This a continuation of the point above

What do you think? What are some other ways you could use a good fight to help your character grow or advance your story? Do you use any of the five techniques in your own life…come on, you can tell! Let’s hear your fabulous Dirty (Fighting) Thoughts!

Jenny Hansen’s creative life is filled with humor: writing memoir, women’s fiction, chick lit, and short stories. Find Jenny on Twitter @jhansenwrites, read her blog or look for her over on the Writers In The Storm blog.

4 Comments

Filed under Best Writer Tips, Fiction Novel Writing, Guest posts

Fiction Writing: 7 Elements of the First Page

First pages are like first dates. No, worse. First pages are more like the ten seconds it takes your blind date to come into sight and walk toward your table. It’s often a make-or-break deal, and in many cases, a delusive representation of what follows in chapters behind.

Or am I jaded? More often than I care to admit, a book’s finely-crafted opening pages evoke lovestruck stars in my eyes, much as one too many nervous cocktails over tentative introductions. But when I dig deeper, get to Chapter Two–or the second date, as it were–the luster of those brilliant opening lines fades to a dull incompatibility. But, we can discuss second dates/chapters in another post!

The dating world and the publishing world share a urgent requirement to hook the bait from that first glance. Below, a guest post from  Linda R. Young’s W.I.P. It blog shows us the seven elements a first page should include. (I’m tempted to share seven first date tips, but then you’d have to “red-mark” me for digression.)

1. A distinctive voice. A unique voice is essential to capture the imaginations of the readers and pull them into the story. Voice will make your novel stand out above the rest.

2. A strong character. Readers will engage with strong and interesting characters.

3. A sense of time and place. This grounds the reader into the story. They should be able to recognise the story’s genre in the first page. These should be markers only. Avoid wads of descriptions.

4. Questions. Don’t answer all the reader’s questions at once. Don’t give them everything they need to know about the characters, the history, the setting. They don’t need paragraphs of backstory. They don’t need–or want–everything explained too soon.

5. Intrigue. More than simply holding the cards to your chest, tease the reader into wanting to know more.

6. The point of change. The story should start at the point of change. This
change should reflect conflict. Note: the conflict doesn’t have to be explosive.

7. No wasted words or throw-away lines. Keep it tight. Every word should have a reason for being. Try to avoid redundancies.

Can you think of other essential elements in the first page?
How many times have you rewritten your first page?

Lynda R. Young writes fantasy and science fiction short stories, and is working on two Young Adult novels. One is an Adventure Fantasy set on the High Seas and the other is a Steampunk Fantasy. She also writes Christian articles and maintain a Christian Devotional Blog: Fearfully and Wonderfully.
Also, please read this article, Something Has to Happen. (Seriously, this is important. Something HAS to happen in the first 250 words of your story.)
Let’s connect on Twitter? @TheRJLacko

6 Comments

Filed under Best Writer Tips, Fiction Novel Writing, For the love of writing, Guest posts

Feel the Heat: Sex and Fiction. 8 Tips for Building Tension

Will your fictional characters, at some point, hit the sheets?

As most of us creative types enjoy a delicious romp in the sack in real life, it shouldn’t be too difficult to apply our trusty, book-enhancing observational skills to break down, scene by scene, moment by smokin’-hot moment, the escalating tension between our first horny thought and the ultimate coupling of bodies. Right?

Wait, should we depend on our own experiences, and are we willing
to “expose” our own life experiences on the page for everyone (hi mom) to see?

Dallas romance writer (and bewitching twitterati) Roni Loren  posted some effective advice for amping the sexual tension on her blog, fictiongroupie.blogspot.com. “From YA all the way to the steamiest of romances, this is a vital ingredient if you have any kind of romance thread whatsoever,” says Loren. “Even if a kiss never happens, you can have your reader sweating through a scintillating ‘will they/won’t they’ tension so that even if the characters grab one other’s hands, your reader will hold her breath.”

So how do we create this tension so that when you finally give your reader the big payoff–the kiss, the “I love you,” the boom-chicka-wah-wah?

Author Roni Loren’s advice for building sexual tension:

1. Make the attraction that each feels for the other obvious to the reader.

The characters are hyper-aware of all the little details of the person when he/she is around. Use all the senses not just sight. (Note: this is an
opportunity to illustrate aspects of your characters, whether those  are physical traits, or emotional: her Daddy issues, his preference for redheads thanks to an unexpected overture by a cherry-haired vixen in his youth, her need to learn to trust again, his tendency to rescue, etc. -RL)

2. No conflict = no tension

Make sure there are good reasons why these two can’t be together–internal and external.

3. Use internal dialogue

The hero may be clenching his hands at his sides, but tell us why: the urge to reach out and touch the heroine’s hair is overwhelming him.

4. Always on each other’s mind

If your hero and heroine aren’t together in a scene, then have their thoughts go to the other so that we know he/she can’t get the other off his/her mind.

5. Patience, grasshopper

Don’t relieve the tension too quickly. Frustration must build and build. There’s a reason why the first love scene doesn’t usually happen until 2/3 the way through a book. (Note: be true to your characters. Maybe it
has been a pattern of your character to hop into bed right out of the gate, but the reader must walk the long road with them as they uncover feelings of real love. -RL)

6. Here we go, wait, not so fast

Give you characters a taste of what they could have, then make them stop. This is the famous device on sitcoms where they start to kiss, but then someone bursts in to interrupt. It doesn’t have to be that obvious. One of the characters could be the one to stop (usually for some internal reason related to the conflict between them.)

7. It’s addictive

Once you do let the two get together the first time (be that a kiss or full-out lovin’), leave them wanting more. Instead of satisfying their need/curiosity/etc., they want each other even more. Now they know what they could have if not for all that pesky conflict. Damn those mean authors who put so much in their way.

8. When all looks like it’s going to work out, pull them apart again.

Romantic comedy movies do this all the time: The characters seem to resolve some conflict and get together. Oh but wait, there’s more! Some conflict wedges between them again.

Don’t resolve the relationship until very near the end. Otherwise, the reader will lose interest.

So how about you? Does your novel have a romance or undercurrent of one?

What author do you read that is a master at creating sexual tension?

Roni Loren’s debut novel, CRASH INTO YOU, will be published by Berkley Heat in January 2012! Represented by Sara Megibow of the Nelson Literary Agency. Follow her on Twitter @RoniLoren or visit her website at RoniLoren.com.

9 Comments

Filed under Best Writer Tips, Fiction Novel Writing, For the love of writing, Guest posts

Television as Teacher: 5 things we can learn from TV writers and their characters

A few weeks ago I attended the Writers Faire at UCLA. There were over 45 seminars on the craft of writing, presented by a humbling variety of the nation’s finest authors, poets and screenwriters—who just happen to teach at UCLA. (I’m salivating as I write this. I live just a few hours south–too far to attend classes in person, yet close enough to be heart-broken by this geographic tragedy. However, I will take advantage of the faculty’s 1-day and 4-day programs… and possibly its online offerings. More on that later.)

What I discovered at the event was an unexpected illumination of creativity spawned by the screen-writing instructors. I’d attended to learn more about the art of novel-writing, but ended up rapt by the pace and passion offered by the screenwriters, and have since been more open to finding inspiration in unexpected places.  Janice Gable Bashman, co-author of the new book Wanted Undead or Alive: Vampire Hunters and Other Kick-Ass Enemies of Evil (Citadel Press, 2010) and contributing editor of the Big Thrill (the newsletter of the International
Thriller Writers) suggests we writers look to television of all places to learn more about shaping more captivating scenes, characters and storylines. Here is her advice:

1. Jump Right In—Television shows start smack in the middle of the action to grab and hold our attention from the get-go. This method discourages the viewer from flipping the channel to find something more interesting. Once we’re hooked, backstory is revealed. Tune in to any drama or even the news and you’ll see this method in action. Today’s readers expect the same from their books. They want to be hooked after reading that first paragraph, the first page, the first chapter. They want a book so exciting that they can’t put it down, a story that captivates their hearts and souls and fires up their imaginations. They want a story that pulls them into a new world and threatens to hold them there until the very last word. It’s up to writers to hook the readers, to keep them interested enough to keep reading. And it all begins with the first scene. Make it exciting.

2. Use Hooks and Cliffhangers—What keeps us hooked to television shows when the distractions of home,

family, friends, work, the Internet, etc. threaten to pull them away? It’s simple really. Good storytelling. But it goes beyond that. Just because it’s good doesn’t mean viewers will stay tuned, especially once a commercial comes on. Television shows tease us when going into a commercial or ending the show. They leave us hooked with an unfinished question or scene that makes the viewer want to know more and makes us wonder what will happen to the characters in the future. This process is a deliberate effort to keep us watching the shows. And it works. For writers, it’s important to begin and end a scene with a hook. It can be an unfinished question, a line of dialogue, or a bit of action—anything that grabs the reader’s attention and make the reader wonder what comes next. The hook compels the reader to turn the page and read more. As readers, we’ve all experienced that book that keeps us up well into the night when we have to get up early the next day. What keeps us reading each page, each chapter, when we know we should really go sleep? It’s simply a good story combined with great hooks.

3. A Break From Writing Is Not a Waste Of Time—We’ve all seen the television character who can’t solve a problem but who is then hit with a great idea while fiddling with the remote, hanging out with friends, playing basketball, or cooking. Some of the best ideas come to us when they’re least expected. Some writers believe that writing is the only way to find new ideas or resolve problems, but sometimes taking a step back from the process yields wonderful results.

4. It’s Not Always Best To Brainstorm Alone—Ideas don’t occur in a vacuum. Television cops don’t work alone, the women on “Army Wives” solve problems together, and the creative group on “Mad Men” is just that—a group of individuals who work together to brainstorm ideas. Many of the ideas are terrible and are rejected, but then a unexpected gem emerges from the give and take among the group members. When stuck for ideas or for solutions to plot problems, writers often stew in their chairs, surf the internet, knock out chores, or play games on the computer with the hopes that the solutions will magically appear. Sometimes it does; sometimes it doesn’t. Shooting an idea past a colleague or brainstorming with a friend can be just the thing to bring freshness and excitement to your work.

5. Diversification Is Key To Success
—How many good television shows have gone stale? They show the same twist on an old story line over and over again. As a result, we become bored, abandon the shows, and find new ones to watch. Also, have you noticed how advertisers don’t focus on only one market? They diversify among television, print, radio, and the internet and adjust their advertising to each market to achieve the highest success rate and to reach the widest audience. As writers we must diversify in order to succeed in this ever-changing industry and to ensure our work is constantly in demand. If we focus on only one market and that market becomes stale or fails, we’re out of work. But if we diversify and continually look for new opportunities in untapped markets, the opportunities are endless.

What forms of media have inspired your writing, and how?

Leave a comment

Filed under Best Writer Tips, Fiction Novel Writing, For the love of writing, Guest posts, Who is Writing What?

Crafting the Perfect Outline Identifying 5 Major Plotpoints

We can all agree on one thing: there is no one perfect recipe for cooking up a good story. The same goes for crafting an outline. Trust me, I’m elbows deep in it, and everywhere I seek advice, I’m given a different perspective. I am a big fan of Dramatica‘s approach, but at the same time, it requires a thorough understanding of the software to achieve a concise result. Whether you think of your outline as the “best-laid plans” or a treasure map leading to the pot of gold (a satisfying ending) The Script Lab offers a blueprint: How to Write the Perfect Outline.

Let us also agree on another thing: It is downright foolhardy to write anything–a screenplay, a novel and non-fiction book–without an outline. The necessary web of plot points weaved with multiple layers of character development, place, time, mood and dialogue demand detailed forethought if we are to begin, work and complete a piece that makes sense, that presents and resolves a conflict, that satisfies both the writer and the reader (not to mention the agent, editor and publisher).

According to The Script Lab, “nothing is universally perfect. Some writers put together comprehensive 20 page point outlines, plotting in every scene, even tossing in lines of potential dialogue. For other writers, breaking down the broad strokes of the eight sequences and making sure there is a clear central obstacle within each sequence is enough. But still others simply clarify the five major plot points.

“A movie, I think is really only four or five moments between two people; the rest of it exists to give those moments their impact and resonance. The script exists for that. Everything does.” – Robert Towne

Regardless the many variables, however, The Script Lab argues that the most rudimentary outline must include these FIVE CORE ELEMENTS:

1. INCITING INCIDENT

Often called the point of attack, the inciting incident is the first premonition of impending trouble, dilemma, or circumstance that will create the main tension of the story. It usually falls at the end of the first sequence. But it can sometimes appear in the first few minutes of a film.

2. LOCK IN

The protagonist is locked into the predicament that is central to the story, which occurs at the end of Act I, This lock in, therefore, propels the protagonist into a new direction in order to accomplish his/her new objective throughout the second act

3. FIRST CULMINATION

The first culmination generally occurs around the midpoint of the second act and is a pivotal moment in the story but nat as critical as the Lock In or Main Culmination. Consider the first culmination as the second highest or second lowest point in Act II, the second highest hurdle to be faced.

4. MAIN CULMINATION

The final culmination occurs at the end of the second act and brings the main tension to a close while simultaneously helping to create a new tension for the third act.

5. THIRD ACT TWIST

The twist is an unexpected turn of events in the third act. Without a twist, the third act can seem too linear and predictable. It can also be the last test of the character of the hero.

Hungry for more? Check out 8 points to consider when writing your synopsis

Follow me on Twitter @RebeccaLacko

Browse the Best Books of 2010… so far.

4 Comments

Filed under Best Writer Tips, Fiction Novel Writing, Guest posts

Act 1, Scene 1, Page 1. Need your critique!

OK, my writer and reader friends, I need your help. I’m attending an exciting event in July, the Pen on Fire Speaker Series at Laguna Beach Books. On hand will be literary agents Barbara DeMarco Barrett, Jamie Weiss Chilton, Jill Marr and Sally van Haitsma who have agreed to review a single page of selected attendees’ fiction works in progress.

If you’ve been reading my blog, you know that I have just begun Chapter Three–although the truth is that I lay in bed scribbling notes on ways to improves Chapters One and Two. (And, so the process goes on and on until we are satisfied that we’ve offered our very best.) In an effort to offer my very best, would you, could you, be so kind as to read the one page I’ll be offering? Your honest critique is so valued!

Here it is:

Tossing a long tendril of sun-bleached hair behind her shoulder, Treva stared at her reflection in the driver’s side window of a late-model sedan. She considered sweeping the loose, wavy mass into a clean updo. She preferred a more mature appearance–no one wanted to buy a car from a little girl–and with her hair back she could direct her gaze with unerring confidence. Relentlessly determined, Treva’s impressive sales record demonstrated a stubborn unwillingness to back down, but she’d barely rested the night before and this morning it required all her energy to show up at the dealership dressed to sell, dressed to lead–dressed for success.

Treva wanted what Liam didn’t: partnership in the family’s used car dealership. No, more than that. She wanted what her father Mike Hayden wanted–growth, profitability, market share, recognition. In truth, what Treva really wanted was her Daddy’s attention. He’d spent his life pouring every spare moment into building the lot around her, and the fact was he didn’t have much to show for his hard work. But Treva would change all that. She knew she could, if he would just give her a chance.

The morning had been a blur. Ignoring the iPod on her nightstand, she showered and dressed in silence. Every limb felt numb, her heart strangely fuzzy. A tinny, unpleasant hum rattled faintly in her ears. Her mother’s funeral the day before went as expected. Camille had made most of the arrangements herself, with the help of Liam, ever present at their mother’s side. Treva considered this a morbid preoccupation; shouldn’t Camille have focused more on getting well? If it had been her, Treva would have fought the cancer, she would not go down without a fight. She sighed. Camille had done her best with the luck that had been dealt her, and she knew it. She missed her mom already.

7 Comments

Filed under Fiction Novel Writing, For the love of writing

Chapter Three, I know you’re in there!

I’m really struggling to flesh out Chapter Three for several reasons; to begin, I’m introducing Liam Hayden, brother of my protagonist, Treva. The structure of my narrative rotates between the perspective of three family members: Treva, Liam and father Mike Hayden. The narrative reads distinctly as the thoughts of each, and therefore, in order to write Liam’s chapter, I must speak from his knowledge of the world, see things as he does.

I’m surprised that he has presented me such a struggle. The truth is this was supposed to be “his” story. At first blush, Liam was the protagonist, and I only saw the story from his eyes. So why am I not better acquainted with him?

I’ve only written the first page of Chapter Three, but it is enough to show me that I’m sadly trying to make him something he was never meant to be, and I am essentially shooting us both in the foot (can I shoot a fictional character’s foot?) by not figuring out what makes him tick.

In fact, I’ve found the challenge of writing for him so complex that twice now I’ve gone back to my outline to see if my story might work better if he just went bye-bye. Liam, however, is a critical character to both my main and impact characters without whom they would not be who they are “today.”

Everybody needs him, so I’d better find a quiet place to sit, envision him, and hopefully begin to see his choices and actions from his perspective.

Writer Michael Imlay aptly encouraged me to “Give him his due. If he’s so pivotal to so many lives, how does HE feel about that? Is he even aware of it?”

Good questions. I think I need to let go of my plan for his outcome, remembering that he doesn’t yet know what the future holds. I mustn’t allow him to behave as he will when he’s resolved problems that haven’t even even happened yet. He needs those conflicts to learn and grow.

1 Comment

Filed under Fiction Novel Writing