Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Writing Lessons-- The Scene, Hooks, and Emotives

The Scene

Each scene must: 1) Advance the story, 2) Reveal something about all the characters present in the scene, or 3) Expand on the story’s theme.

Each scene may: 1) Reveal a *little* backstory, 2) Increase tension, or 3) Lower tension to relax the reader.

That having been said, let's talk about what must happen first. This is one of the checks that you can self-edit long before you finish your work. In fact, it is one of the things I recommend doing when you get "stuck." Letting your characters meander their way through the story is rarely a good idea. We've all read the kind of story that hit the wall and made us yell, "Get to the frigging point, willya?"

When you are doing your plotting, whether it is my anal-retentive method or a simple list, think about each point. "Does this really advance the story, or am I just in love with the idea of that scene?" I've had scenes that had no point and no relevance, along with "cameos" from characters that never appeared again. Bless crit partners for kicking me square in the arse for such egotism.

You're telling a story, and this is a craft. Whether you consider it art or science, it is still a craft. Each scene should have a purpose that evokes something in the reader, whether it is knowledge or emotion.

And while we're at it, let's explain that "Show not tell" mantra. What does that mean? It is the difference between letting the reader feel and simply let her be a passive passenger. They want to feel through the characters.

Telling: Joe got in his car and drove away.
Showing: Joe slammed open the car door and fell into the seat. He gunned the engine and peeled rubber, getting away from the terrible scene as fast as he could. Still, he knew he'd never wipe his memory clean of the horror.

Look at the word use in the second example: "slammed," "fell," "gunned," and "peeled". Much more evocative, and definitely in his POV, because you were told why he left. How many of you immediately wanted to know what he saw? Sucked you right in, didn't it? You wanted to know more. Welcome to the hook.

Lucynda Storey is the past master of the hook, but I'm going to do my best. A "hook" is a word or phrase that evokes a feeling of urgency in the reader. It makes them want to keep reading.

There are three kinds of hook, and all have to do with placement. The opening hook is at the beginning of a scene, and the most important one of all is at the beginning of the book. You open your story with a hook. Something that evokes that urgent emotion in the reader and pulls them in, and it is usually the emotions of the main POV character. Remember what I said before about making sure your story starts with an Inciting Incident, that moment when their lives change? Well, no one likes change unless they're already in a bad situation. No matter what, the character's emotions will be intense. Show it. An ordinary day is boring. We don't care. But that precise moment when things change is rarely boring.

The next instance most commonly used for a hook is at the end of a chapter or scene. Same idea --keep the reader's eyes glued to the page because her emotions are on high, and she's got to know what's going to happen. What will the character do about this new development? It's like being on the edge of an orgasm and your partner stops whatever they were doing. "Don't stop or I'll kill you!" is the nicest thing I say at that point. Again, no one gives a rat's ass if your character falls asleep. You do that, and so will your reader. Having your character lie awake, worrying, asking questions, or chilled with fear means your reader will be just as insomniac.

The final opportunity for a hook is the most overlooked by authors: backloading. Look at my example above. What's the last word? Horror. I loaded the end of that paragraph with an emotional word. I could have done better, but that's just an example. Backloading is putting emotion at the end of a sentence, paragraph, and/or scene.

You don't backload every time, only when you need to raise tension or "explain" an emotion. Emotive words are your friend, and so is your thesaurus. Now you must consider what emotion you want. I'll change one word for each example.

Boring example: He walked across the room.
Better example: He strutted across the room. (Do you see an arrogant, self-assured man?)
Funny example: He minced across the room. (Do you see a funny guy?)
Sad example: He trudged across the room. (Aww, is he weighed down by a burden?)

Okay, think about each scene in your book. In each scene, choose the character whose eyes you will be looking out of. This person should be the one with the most emotions, the most to lose, and the one to whom what is happening is most important. Now think of their emotions and what you want the reader to feel.

Now, here's a dilemma for you to think upon: The hero, heroine, and villain are all in the room. The heroine decides she must seduce the villain to allow the hero the opportunity to do something. Whose eyes will you look out of? The villain, since he's feeling lust and suspects a trap? The heroine, who is nauseous at the thought and knows it will hurt the hero? The hero, who is anguished and jealous? Which will move the story along? Which tells something about the characters? Which tells more about the story's theme? Only you can decide.
Now, let’s use the reader’s own psyche against them to construct a scene.

Stimulus – First, something must happen. Something takes place that causes the characters to react, emote, and it must move the story along. Example: the villain tries to hit the hero in the face.

Up to now, it could have been anyone’s POV. Last chapter, an explosion rocked the building, or the heroine (in her POV) saw the villain swing, and that was your previous chapter hook. Of course, this could also be from your main POV character’s perceptions. Now it must be in one specific POV, usually that of the character who has the most emotion.

Automatic reaction- Hero ducks, flinches, his face gets knocked silly, or whatever is the appropriate automatic and unconscious reaction to the stimulus.

Perceptions- Use at least two (or three) of the five senses (sight, scent, touch, hearing, taste) to give the reader more of the story. In our example, the hero might feel the wind passing because he ducked away from the villain’s blow. He might smell the villain’s distinctive spicy aftershave. He might hear the heroine’s gasp. You get the idea. Use this chance to describe. A rule of thumb is 1 adjective per noun, 2 per sensation. (The rusty Toyota, not just the car or the spicy stench of the villain’s aftershave.)

Emotions—This reaction can be internal or vocal, but it should convey emotion. The hero snarls, “That’s it, Murphy, I’m done playing with you.” OR The heroine laughs and remembers a similar instance in her past (giving you a chance to insert a tiny bit of back story.)

Response – This is the planned response. The hero balls up his fist and plants a roundhouse on the villain’s chin, the heroine makes a break for the door, or whatever is an appropriate response for that character.

Lather, Rinse, Repeat-- The hero just planted his fist in the villain’s face. What’s the villain’s response? Remember, this is from someone else’s POV, so you can only describe what that POV Character can perceive.

That's a scene in a nutshell. Morgan Hawke goes more into the action sequence in her book I mentioned before. I'll keep mentioning it too!

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