This post first appeared in Seekerville on March 14, 2016
Battling Through Your Manuscript...Once Scene at a Time
|Photo credit: Bigstock/Yastremska|Have you hit a wall? Do you often get to Chapter 4 or Chapter 5 and say, “What in the world is going to happen now????” Are you at the midpoint of Speedbo (the Seekerville book-in-a-month writing challenge) and having a moment of panic, wondering where your story is supposed to go? I’ve been there with you, and I’m going to give you two methods that have helped me battle through. If you’re stuck trying to figure out what’s going to happen in your next scenes and chapters, go back and take a peek at your Goal, Motivation and Conflict Chart (for more information, check out Debra Dixon’s book, Goal, Motivation and Conflict: The Building Blocks of Good Fiction). If you haven’t already considered your characters’ GMC, then take some time to figure this out. I’ve already done a couple of posts on this (Click hereand here.) Also, Tina Radcliffe once shared an example of her chart on her white board, so you can take a peek at that (click here.) [Note: many photos from our Archives blog are no longer available.] So once you have your chart, look at each block on the chart. Brainstorm scene ideas that have to do with that particular block, scenes that will show that particular aspect of the character. I thought I’d share an example. Below is my GMC chart and scene ideas cut and pasted directly out of my brainstorming file for the book that became The Doctor’s Second Chancefrom Love Inspired. (note: I = Internal and E=External, G = Goal, M = Motivation and C = Conflict) Example: GMC Chart for The Doctor’s Second Chance (This changed a little while writing the full book and after critique.) EG—Work hard and play hard EM—he’s enjoying his freedom; he deserves to have some fun after the responsibility that was thrust on him from a young age (parents’ death and aunt and uncle who worked all the time leaving him with brat cousin) EC—Cousin Remy has dumped a baby on him (and he goes back into responsible mode) Int need: secure family unit of his own IM—deep need for security/belonging/connection IC—He doesn’t believe that it’s possible so tries to act like it’s not important (instead goes for freedom and living in the moment—even dangerously) EG—build her new practice and take care of children EM—she didn’t like impersonal large city practice/clinic and felt rootless EC—it’s a small town where everyone knows everyone, and she’s an outsider so business is not picking up like she’d planned. IG: Have kids by doctoring in a small town community IM: she gave up a child for adoption and thinks she’ll never have her own (thinks she doesn’t deserve it) IC: She really does want her own but is afraid to risk loving (maybe harbors bitterness toward parents who made her feel worthless for her huge mistake. Needs to forgive and let go to get rid of the bitterness) EG—Work hard and play hard (although this is really a lie—he’s just a hard worker, and has always felt he needed to earn his way) Scenes that show him working Gets asked to go camping but can’t. Asked to go skydiving but can’t (first inkling of having someone to care about besides himself) Show in charge and strong in his job/contrast with lack of confidence with baby EM—he’s enjoying his freedom; he deserves to have some fun after the responsibility that was thrust on him from a young age Discussion with Remy so we know he took care of her Comment from someone at church about him always being responsible Scene where he realizes the baby is like him—“deserted” by parents EC—Remy has dumped a baby on him (and he goes back into responsible mode) Scenes where it’s difficult to get work done Int need: secure family unit of his own Flashbacks/dialogue where we hear of him missing parents and family of his own—especially when Remy resented him. Showing him realizing he likes time with Violet and baby better than skydiving or time outdoors with friends (it gets easier to turn down offers of fun adventure) IM—security/belonging/connection Realizes Violet is filling needs he didn’t know he had Doesn’t feel like the 5th wheel with her IC—He doesn’t believe that it’s possible so tries to act like it’s not important (instead goes for freedom and living in the moment—even dangerously) Scene where he’s scared of how close he feels to Violet; feels vulnerable and doesn’t like it. Says he doesn’t need that closeness or someone to know him and makes plans to go skydiving, which V doesn’t like. (or does something else against her wishes on purpose to push her away) EG—build her new practice and take care of children She agrees to help Jake just because she’s helping a baby She checks up on Abigail, worries for her Tells him she did not rip off his family—tells him he doesn’t know details Begins to ask patients to spread the word that she’s good EM—she didn’t like impersonal large city practice/clinic and felt rootless Show her enjoying small town life—she sees advantages of being known, appreciates that others know her business Goes to church and meets people; show first time she goes out and someone recognizes her, making her feel good EC—it’s a small town where everyone knows everyone, and she’s an outsider so business is not picking up like she’d planned. Show her going to church and no one really knows her; she’s an outsider People call her Doc, but she realizes they don’t really know her at all; there’s no one around who knows her likes and dislikes or about her past; they don’t know Violet She has struggled and fought her way through medical school and now has trouble opening up and being vulnerable with new friends Scene where she meets a new friend—in lab, Darcy, gets to know her better, feels she’s actually met a friend (could meet over the winning of the auction) First time she attends church since the auction—a few people remember her by that. It’s a small sense of connection She remembers that one time she went and decides to go back because of connection of the auction. It’s her only tie other than work. IG: Have kids by doctoring in a small town community Show her bonding with a patient; child reaches for her, which warms her heart. This could actually happen at church or in town so Jake witnesses it. IM: she gave up a child for adoption and thinks she’ll never have her own (thinks she doesn’t deserve it) Scene with Remy, can relate to feeling she’s not worthy. IC: She really does want her own (family/child) but is afraid to risk loving Scene where fear over loving Jake makes her want to give up Realizes she needs to call parents and make effort to heal Goes to see parents, takes Jake/baby for moral support As you can see, I got a lot of scene ideas just from mining my GMC chart! If you’ve read the book, you may recognize some of these ideas that became scenes. (If you haven’t read The Doctor's Second Chance and want to, here’s a link!) 2. Know the Middle … And Then Aim for It I love James Scott Bell’s book Write Your Novel From the Middle: A New Approach for Plotters, Pantsers and Everyone in Between. Since I bought the book, I’ve read it each time I’m plotting a new story to help with the scene ideas. (BTW, it’s a short book.) I’ve found that deciding on the mirror moment in the middle gives me something to aim for once I get past the opening chapters. So no more sagging middle! The basic premise of Bell’s how-to book is that once you know your mirror moment in the middle, that moment when the character takes a hard look at himself and wonders what kind of person he is, what he will do to overcome his inner challenges, then you can go forward to figure out the pre-story psychology or go backward to figure out how the character transforms by the end. Knowing this middle scene will help all the scenes have unity. And like I said, for me, it gives me something to aim for. I thought I’d share another example. Again, this is from my brainstorming notes, directly cut and pasted, for the story that became The Doctor’s Second Chance. (Spoiler alert! I give away a lot here, all stuff I figured out before I finished writing the book.) Example: Midpoint Brainstorming for The Doctor’s Second Chance Will Jake be able to take care of this newborn and locate his cousin before Violet gets the court involved? Can Violet fulfill her goal of helping children without falling in love with the baby…and with Jake? Or might the two of them discover that family comes in all shapes and sizes? Jake: Is there really such thing as a secure family…this ideal little family bubble? For me? And if so, do I dare go for it? What if it got taken away? Show him taking a risky step: asking her out on a date. It’s a concrete move toward making them a unit. Violet: Do I deserve to be happy? Can I really move forward and let go of the past? Show her admitting some weakness to him. Maybe she shares about rift with her family (but not why), how she’s felt she has to do everything herself. And then she opens up with how she needs him somehow (maybe she needs him to support her in town, by letting people know his opinion of her has changed). [but I’d kind of like him to do this on his own, and she discovers he’s done it because he cares. So maybe she doesn’t ask him to do that. Maybe she just opens up and shares her hurts.] Jake: Parents died, “abandoning” him. Aunt and uncle took him in but he always felt he needed to be good for them to keep him. That “being good” alienated his cousin, so he never felt part of the family. His aunt and uncle worked a lot, and he got stuck trying to keep Remy out of trouble since he felt like her destructive behavior was probably his fault. Once she ran off, he felt a sense of relief, of freedom. Has been working hard so he can play and enjoy that freedom. Thinks he has just what he wants. The baby being dropped on him limits that freedom, and he feels that renewed sense of guilt, as if he does owe her. Plus, he’s just naturally responsible. Violet: Parents were socialites, valued what others thought of them, worried about appearances. Were often gone, lots of baby sitters. She fell for a guy who needed her, and got pregnant. Parents insisted she give up for adoption, would not consider helping her keep baby, claiming she couldn’t give up her lifelong goal to be a doctor. But she felt they were more worried about how it would make them look. She resented them. No relationship since, even though they’ve tried and dad has apologized (mom insists it was best for everyone). She has been independent, putting herself through school and medical school. Feels she was weak and failed her child. Decided she would help other children by becoming pediatrician. Didn’t like large clinic and impersonal medicine. Bought small town clinic to be part of patients’ lives. Both have had ideals of the perfect family that they never had. Have to learn to let go of that. Have to accept a new picture of what family means to them now that God has brought them together, and to let go of fear of the rug being yanked out from under them. Must learn to trust God instead of themselves (what I’m learning now). Jake: In the beginning, he’s still trying to be responsible and take care of others, finding it hard to ask for help. Connection is out of a sense of duty rather than out of love. Needs to extend love. Needs to accept love freely given. He doesn’t have to earn the right to be part of a family. To show his transformation…He’ll ask her to be his family (scary and risky but worth it). And he’ll ask it even while she’s still acting cool toward him, so it’s even riskier. He’ll do it with God’s strength (when he is weak, God is strong). Violet: In the beginning, she’s independent and all business, only willing to reach out for the good of the child. She feels driven to work to deserve anything good that comes to her. She’s driving herself, fighting her nature to want closeness and family. She learns she doesn’t have to work hard to earn happiness just because of her past. Needs to accept love freely given. She is worthy of love, because God loves her just as she is. Or maybe what she thought she needed was control over her life when what she really needed was to give up control, to just accept love. To show her transformation…she’ll sleep in past sunrise. (maybe in epilogue? On honeymoon?) So you can see how I started by figuring out the middle. Then I backed up to figure out some backstory and scenes that will show it. Then I figured out how to concretely show the ending of the story with my characters in a new place emotionally.
I hope sharing my methods helps some of you! If you’re stuck, try brainstorming using these two methods. Come up with as many ideas as you can. You most likely won’t use them all, but you may find some nuggets that you end up loving! And at least you can keep moving forward on your first draft, even if you change some of it later.
After more than 10 years of pursuing her dream of publication, Missy Tippens, a pastor’s wife and mom of three from near Atlanta, Georgia, made her first sale to Harlequin Love Inspired in 2007. Her books have since been nominated for the Booksellers Best, Holt Medallion, American Christian Fiction Writers Carol Award, Gayle Wilson Award of Excellence, Maggie Award, Beacon Contest, RT Reviewer’s Choice Award, and the Romance Writers of America RITA® Award. Visit Missy at www.missytippens.com, https://twitter.com/MissyTippens http://www.facebook.com/missy.tippens.readers.