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Back to Basics: From the Seekerville Archives: Battling Through Your Manuscript...One Scene at a Time

This post first appeared in Seekerville on March 14, 2016

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Battling Through Your Manuscript...Once Scene at a Time


By Missy Tippens

Back to Basics: From the Seekerville Archives: Battling Through Your Manuscript...One 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.

1.   Mine Your GMC Chart

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)

Back to Basics: From the Seekerville Archives: Battling Through Your Manuscript...One Scene at a Time


***
Example: GMC Chart for The Doctor’s Second Chance
(This changed a little while writing the full book and after critique.)

Jake:
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)

Violet:
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.
Int need: connection
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)

Scene ideas:
Jake
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)
Opening scene
Scenes where it’s difficult to get work done
Fish out of water scenes
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)

Violet:
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
Int need: connection
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!)

Back to Basics: From the Seekerville Archives: Battling Through Your Manuscript...One Scene at a Time



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
Story Question:
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?

Mid-point mirror moment:
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.]

Pre-story psychology:
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.

Transformation:
How can I show it?
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.


Back to Basics: From the Seekerville Archives: Battling Through Your Manuscript...One Scene at a Time

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.comhttps://twitter.com/MissyTippens http://www.facebook.com/missy.tippens.readers.


Having Fun With Revisions - Digging into the Seekerville Archives

The Seekerville archives are full of wonderful blog posts. I'm sharing this one from 2016 as a taste of what you can find there.

How do you find the archives? Look at the top of the page...see the button? You've got it!

Now, a trip into the past...

* * * * * *

by Jan Drexler


We all know the feeling.

You wake up early, refreshed and ready to head into the next scene of your Work In Progress. You grab your caffeine of choice (mine happens to be tea) and sit down in front of your computer.

Everything is fine until about an hour later. You read through what you’ve written and you’re ready to tear your hair out! What happened to those beautiful words that flowed through your mind during your shower? Why are your characters so…so…cardboard? Yes, cardboard!

You bang your forehead on your keyboard, sobbing. “I’ll never be a real writer!!!”

Okay, maybe I’m being a little melodramatic. Or maybe not. First drafts are – yes, we can say it – awful. But that’s okay! Look at that scene again….

I wrote 700 words this morning. It was the beginning of a scene for my next Love Inspired book that I had labeled “action leading to Twist 1.”

The problem?

Here, let me give you a sample:

“blah blah blah pigs blah blah blah mud blah blah blah father blah blah blah money…”

Do you see what I see? No action! No movement – unless you count the pigs wallowing in the mud (and I don’t). It’s just my hero, Samuel, and the pigs. There isn’t even any dialogue.

Seven hundred words of boredom. Blah blah blah.

Unless you like pigs.


But I’m not giving up. The first draft – no matter how horrible it might be – is necessary. I’ve dumped what I want the scene to look like onto my computer screen. I’ve given my ideas shape. There is something there…which is much better than nothing.

I can’t revise words I haven’t written, and revising is what makes the writing sing. 

Having Fun With Revisions - Digging into the Seekerville Archives


So how do I fix this scene?

First of all, the biggest problem is that Samuel is alone. The whole scene is introspection, with a few buckets of pig slops thrown in.

When our characters are alone, nothing happens. Think of the last time you had a moment to yourself and write it out as if it’s a scene in your book.

Jan swished the tea bag in the cup of hot water, hoping that would make it brew faster. She flipped the newspaper open with one hand and read the headline. “Mayor Urges More Spending on City Center.”

Exciting, right? Unless someone walks into the kitchen at that moment and starts a conversation. Then we have some spark. Some interest.

There is a time for our characters to be by themselves, deep in introspection, but this scene isn’t it. Remember that this is an action scene. And it’s a lead-in scene.

What is it leading into? The first plot twist. So in order to write the lead-in, I need to know where I’m going.

What is the plot twist? I have that planned already – Samuel tells the heroine, Mary, that she should stop worrying about money. “Find some fellow to marry and let him worry about it.”

Yeah. Right. She responds to that suggestion about as well as you think.

So now I know what I need to do to fix this scene. Since Mary is going to be key in the next scene, I need to bring her in here. Something she says or does will prompt Samuel to make that suggestion in the next scene that sends her off.

So instead of introspection, I need dialogue between Samuel and Mary. They can talk about the pigs, the mud, and his father. But they need to talk to each other.

Okay, I can hear some of you already: “Plot twist?” “Lead-in?” “Action scene?” What is she talking about?

Having Fun With Revisions - Digging into the Seekerville Archives


It’s time for a quick lesson in scene building 101. This is not a rabbit trail, I promise! I’ll come back to revisions in a minute.

How to build a scene:

1. Give it a purpose. Scenes aren’t just fluff and filler. Each scene has a role to play to move your story forward from the beginning, through the middle and on to the end. You, as the author, need to know what each scene’s purpose is. That will help you determine how the scene will play out.

2. Give it a beginning, middle and an end. Think of each scene as a mini-story within your book. Start by showing your reader who is in the scene, where they are and what they’re doing. Ramp up some tension that’s appropriate for this scene’s purpose. And then end with a hook…make your reader go on to the next scene with no thought of putting your book down.

3. Give it a main character. Each scene needs to have a main POV character, and your job is to show the scene through the character who is best able to convey the message of the scene to your reader. 

Having Fun With Revisions - Digging into the Seekerville Archives


Now back to revising my scene’s first draft. As I revise, I need to keep asking myself those all-important questions.

Another point to consider as I revise this scene is balance.

Having Fun With Revisions - Digging into the Seekerville Archives

I tend to write scenes with a word count between 1200 and 1500 words. In my novels for Revell, the scenes tend to be longer, around 2200 words. Why is this an important detail to know? Because I want to build my scenes in proportions the same way I do my novel.

Most novels are in three acts, with Act One in the first 25% of the book, Act Two in the next 50%, and Act Three in the remaining 25%. I want my scenes to have that same kind of proportion.

So my balanced scene would be around 300 words for the beginning, 600 words for the middle, and 300 words for the end. Do you see the symmetry?

Having Fun With Revisions - Digging into the Seekerville Archives


Okay. We have our three building blocks and our scene is balanced. How does it look now?

In the first 25%, I describe the physical setting: Samuel is in the barn feeding his pigs, the morning is pleasant, and he is happy to see Mary stop by the farm.

In the middle 50% of the scene, we have the conversation between Samuel and Mary.

They talk about the pigs, his farm, and her idea to raise money to support herself, her sister and their elderly aunt.

Then in the final 25%, we see Samuel’s reaction to the conversation and his lack of understanding of why Mary feels the need to support herself. She should just find a husband, right?

And the groundwork is laid for the next scene.

Having Fun With Revisions - Digging into the Seekerville Archives


I have an assignment for you. Don’t worry, it’s a fun one!

Find your favorite book and read it again. This time, pay attention to the scenes as they unfold. Do they have the three building blocks of a good scene? Do they end with a hook?

Now, what can you do to make your writing sing like that?

* * * * * 

Back to the present!

I would apologize for the winter graphics, but we're on the downward side of a late winter storm here in the Black Hills. Lots of wet, wet snow! So I get to share it with you!

Let's discuss scene-building. What is your favorite technique? Or do you "wing-it," working through it until it feels right?




Having Fun With Revisions - Digging into the Seekerville Archives
Jan Drexler’s ancestors were among the first Amish immigrants in the 1700s, and their experiences are the inspiration for her stories. Jan lives in the Black Hills of South Dakota with her husband and growing extended family. She writes historical Amish fiction and is published by Revell and Love Inspired.

 Website: www.JanDrexler.com
Twitter: @JanDrexler

Creativity and...Improv?

Missy Tippens

I'm re-sharing a post today from our Archives. (If you're not familiar with our blog, our archives are still available with 10 years of posts at www.seekervillearchives.blogspot.com.) This was a really fun post to research, and I've been thinking a lot about brain science lately so thought I would post it again...


Creativity and...Improv?


Creativity and...Improv?


I’m fascinated by the brain and creativity. I read the most amazing article recently in the May 2017 issue of National Geographic Magazine. It was titled “What Makes a Genius?” by Claudia Kalb with photography by Paolo Woods. (Links to all articles will be included at the end). This article blew me away.

What sucked me in was how researchers have looked at slides of Albert Einstein’s brain tissue trying to figure out if it’s different from other brains. This led me to some really interesting ideas about creativity and writing.

A few things from Kalb’s article that stood out to me about genius:

--Geniuses are nurtured.
--Lone geniuses are rare (they’re usually seen in a network).
--Even with natural gifts and a nurturing environment, genius still requires motivation and tenacity (so personality plays a role).
--Angela Duckworth believes that a combination of passion and perseverance—what she calls “grit”—drives people to achieve. 
--Dean Keith Simonton says, “The number one predictor of impact is productivity.” (He uses the example of Thomas Edison having 2000+ patents.)
--Scott Barry Kaufman says, “Great ideas don’t tend to come when you’re narrowly focusing on them.” He talks about information coming in consciously but being processed unconsciously so that we sometimes get unexpected “aha” moments. (Yes! I love those!)
--Rex Jung says research shows that thought processes like daydreaming and imagining take place in the middle part of our prefrontal cortex across both hemispheres.
--Andrew Newberg’s research shows that the genius brain has an area that is twice the size of control brains (the corpus callosum, a centrally located bundle of more than 200 million nerve fibers that joins the two hemispheres of the brain and facilitates connectivity between them).

Creativity and...Improv?


So, you and I may not be geniuses, but we can learn to nurture creativity, we can stimulate our brains, and we can hang around other people who are creative—those who challenge us, support us and inspire us. We can learn to increase productivity and to persevere.

The “What Makes a Genius?” article also sent me searching for more from Charles Limb. I watched a TED Talk called “Your Brain on Improv.” It’s based on Creativity and the Brain by Dr. Charles Limb and his collaborator Allen R. Braun.

Basically, they used a functional MRI (fMRI) to look at the brain activity of a jazz musician and a freestyle rapper in action (they developed a keyboard that they could put inside the machine). The experiment asked: What happens in the brain when doing something that is memorized and over-learned vs what happens in the brain when doing something that is spontaneously generated or improvised?

They found in the brain during improvisation:
--Lateral prefrontal deactivation (a decrease in self-monitoring)
--Medial prefrontal activation (an increase in self-expression)

With the jazz pianist, they also found that during improv, his language areas lit up, an area associated with expressive communication.

With the freestyle rapper, major visual areas lit up—even with his eyes closed. He also had major cerebellar activity (associated with motor activities). So, he had heightened activity in multiple areas of the brain.

In another article about Limb's research found in Peabody Magazine by Nick Zagorski and Keith Weller titled “The Science of Improv," they pointed out that during improvisation, the brain regions involved with all the senses lit up, showing a heightened state of awareness. The researchers said the people being tested “literally taste, smell, and feel the air around them.” They described a strange similarity to brain wave patterns that can be seen during REM sleep. So maybe there’s a connection between improv and dreaming.

Creativity and...Improv?


What does this mean for us as writers?

The first thing that struck me (a plotter/planner), is that I’d like to try doing more “improv.” I’m sure I’ll still want to do my pre-planning. But I’d like to jump in on the first draft and write so that my brain’s self-monitoring turns off and self-expression turns on.

I’d like to try writing with my eyes closed (I do this sometimes already).

I’d like to let go of some of my writing methods that have become learned and practiced and let my brain go wild while creating.

I’d like to continue interacting with all of you who participate in the blog to inspire me and support me. To push me when I need it. You’re my genius network! :)

What about you? Who wants to try doing a little improv the next time you’re working on a new story? Have you had success trying this method already? I'd love to hear what you think!


Here are the links I promised. Enjoy the articles and video, but please come back to chat with us!
The Science of Improv (Peabody Magazine)--please note this article is no longer available in 2019.




Creativity and...Improv?
Missy Tippens, a pastor’s wife and mom of three from near Atlanta, Georgia, has always been a bit of a science geek. Before staying home with her kids, she worked as a clinical microbiologist. Then the writing bug bit. After over ten years of pursuing her dream, she finally made her first sale to Harlequin Love Inspired in 2007. Her books have since been nominated for the Booksellers Best, Holt Medallion, ACFW Carol Award, Gayle Wilson Award of Excellence, Maggie Award, Beacon Contest, RT Reviewer’s Choice Award and Romance Writers of America RITA®.  Visit Missy at www.missytippens.com, https://twitter.com/MissyTippens and http://www.facebook.com/missy.tippens.readers.
Back to Basics: From the Seekerville Archives: Battling Through Your Manuscript...One Scene at a TimeHaving Fun With Revisions - Digging into the Seekerville ArchivesCreativity and...Improv?

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