Tuesday, February 19, 2008

FIND YOUR OWN PATH

Saturday, I attended an Oregon Christian Writers Conference. Today, I want to share a few tidbits from the keynote speaker and award winning romance author Gail Sattler, from Vancouver, Canada.

She shared that plot trumps good writing. Craftsmanship is second to plot. You must cultivate a unique voice; a style with expressions all your own. Don’t let critiquer’s, agents or editors try to dismantle your voice and style. Make you sound like you. Don’t use exact words of critiquer’s if you do make changes. Know yourself, what you’re good at writing. Make it fresh, new, different and keep a tight POV.

Long ago, Gail’s husband found and read the following statement to her and she keeps the copy taped to the door in her writing space. ‘Literature duplicates the experience of the living in a way that nothing else can, drawing you so fully into another life that you temporarily forget that you have one of your own. That is why you read it and might even sit up in bed until dawn, throwing your whole tomorrow out of whack, simply to find out what happens to some people who, you know perfectly well...are made up.’

After Gail’s general morning session ended I trotted up to her and ask if I could copy the statement and share it with this group. She said, “I’ll do you one better.” She tore the statement from the bottom of her printed notes and handed it to me.

The first workshop I choose, entitled, SCENE AND SEQUEL was also taught by Gail.

She explained scene is the high point. Sequel is the aftermath after the scene; the wind down. When you begin your book you need to keep building the scenes higher and higher to the black moment. Make the conflict in the scene match with the scene and then bump it up. You must keep the reader moving. At the close of your book it should be a satisfying ending.

To begin your book you should:
1. Write your plot in three sentences or less.
2. Create a character. What does the character want? Why can’t they have it? What choices do they have?
3. Discover his/her greatest problem. Why can’t the conflict be solved?
4. Have him/her fail. Not all disasters have to be major.

Your story if placed on a graphing chart should show a continual uphill climb with small dips between. Not Severe highs followed by severe lows and/or a knot of squiggles between the points.

Your book should follow this repeated pattern throughout:
SCENE:
Goal - What does the character want?
Conflict - Why can’t they have it?
Disaster - Why can’t the conflict be resolved?

SEQUEL:
Reaction - Contemplations/decisions
Dilemma - Choices, why are they good or bad?
Decision - Sets goal for next scene.

Do you set your book up with a scene and sequel approach? Why or why not?

8 comments:

Paty Jager said...

Lori, looks like the conference was a great learning experience for you.

As for the scene and sequel- being a panster- I don't plot out the scenes and sequels. I just write and know that there has to be bumps along the way and the character has to react to those bumps.

I like the statement she gave you. It is so true of a good book.

See you this afternoon.

Alice Sharpe said...

Lori.

I'm glad your conference/workshop was good for you. Sounds as though you got some excellent advice. I like the saying very much, it's so true. I know I feel that way when I become engaged in a book. I've had a few letters and comments through the years, as well, that someone couldn't put one of my books down, they had to keep reading to see what happened. There simply is no nicer compliment.

I sometimes begin a synopsis with a sentence or two or three that describes what the plot will be about. It can be very helpful if done right. And if you keep that germ of truth in mind as you write, it helps to narrow the focus.

I do all the things you listed at the end. I imagine most writers do whether they realize it or not. If a chapter doesn't have a cliff hanger then it usually, for me, ends with either an uncomfortable insight or a plan for the next step.

It all adds up to tension. Keeping tension tight, never allowing everything to settle until the last page.

So fun to have you blogging!!!

Karen Duvall said...

Great blog post, Lori. Sounds like this was a good conference for you.

I do the scene/sequel thing as I write the story. I'm always conscious of how events need to play out, keeping tension and suspense high, and escalating this pattern throughout. I no longer plot these things out beforehand, but rely on my story writing instincts. Even so, I learned the scene/sequel format from Dwight Swain's excellent teachings and it's emblazoned on my brain. 8^)

Danita Cahill said...

Don't you just love coming away from a good conference, Lori, feeling all fired up and ready to swing the writing world by the horns? I felt that way after attending one of the Emerald City conferences. I got so much out of that one. Was that in 2004? I think so. Anyway, sounds like this one was great for you that way.

I love Dwight Swain's book too. He teaches the scene, sequel stuff in it too. Also love a book called GMC: Goal, Motivation & Conflict The Building Blocks of Good Fiction by Debra Dixon. I got a lot out of that book too. In fact, it might be time to brush up and revisit that book. I love reading about craft. Even if (I think) I all ready know it.

Elisabeth Naughton said...

Glad you had such a great experience at the conference, Lori.

I know this wasn't the question you asked, but I'm going to respectfully disagree with your speaker on one topic: plot trumps good writing. I think it's the other way around. Good writing trumps all else. I've read books with amazing plots, but if the writing and characters were awful, the book was awful. On the flip side, I've read worn, overdone plots with characters that came alive and writing that was new and fresh (ie: voice!) and have loved the books to no end. Suzanne Elizabeth Phillips generally writes the same plots over and over, but it's her characters and her voice that make each one unique and special. And I will read them all over and over again because the 'good writing' is that good.

wavybrains said...

Great Post Lori!

I have a personal beef with long sequels. I like a long scene/short sequel approach. I threw a book across the room this morning that had short scene/long sequels! Too much contemplating!

Lori Barber said...

Paty,Yes, I liked the statement Gail shared too. It made me giggle thinking back to the numerous times I've read until nearly dawn, knowing full well these characters weren't real...or were they? LOL

I've never sat down and penciled out my scenes and sequels but I can see benefits if one gets stuck or veers off track.

Alice, I like your idea of beginning a synopsis with a sentence or few that describes what the plot will be about and keeping that narrow focus as one writes.

Karen, Sounds like you've got the formula working in top form. How wonderful to let instinct take over.

Danita, Yes, writing conferences have a way of igniting energy and gets me excited about creating life through words. Sometimes old information can spark a forgotten concept. It's fun to plug them back in and recharge ourselves.

Eli, You know I rolled the statement 'plot trumps good writing' around in my noggin' and shook my head too. I threw it in to see what other's might think. You are the only one that took the bait. LOL I agree with your thoughts. An old plot can shine with the right characters and words.

Wavy, Got it! Long scenes, short sequels. Hope your DH and Tavy were a safe distance away when the book went flying. LOL

Thanks to you all for sharing your thoughts. If we all liked the same books and wrote the same way wouldn't it be boring!

Lori Barber said...

Paty,Yes, I liked the statement Gail shared too. It made me giggle thinking back to the numerous times I've read until nearly dawn, knowing full well these characters weren't real...or were they? LOL

I've never sat down and penciled out my scenes and sequels but I can see benefits if one gets stuck or veers off track.

Alice, I like your idea of beginning a synopsis with a sentence or few that describes what the plot will be about and keeping that narrow focus as one writes.

Karen, Sounds like you've got the formula working in top form. How wonderful to let instinct take over.

Danita, Yes, writing conferences have a way of igniting energy and gets me excited about creating life through words. Sometimes old information can spark a forgotten concept. It's fun to plug them back in and recharge ourselves.

Eli, You know I rolled the statement 'plot trumps good writing' around in my noggin' and shook my head too. I threw it in to see what other's might think. You are the only one that took the bait. LOL I agree with your thoughts. An old plot can shine with the right characters and words.

Wavy, Got it! Long scenes, short sequels. Hope your DH and Tavy were a safe distance away when the book went flying. LOL

Thanks to you all for sharing your thoughts. If we all liked the same books and wrote the same way wouldn't it be boring!