Archive | June, 2007

Sequels vs. Scenes

We’re switching gears today to talk about various aspects of the craft of writing fiction. So . . . no more talking about marketing or branding for awhile!

I’ll start with a question Vennessa sent me last week by email. I’ll summarize the question here: How do you handle Scenes and Sequels in a multi-POV book?

Randy sez: That’s a good question. I’m going to define a few terms so that anyone just joining us will be up to speed on the language.

“Scenes” and “Sequels” are terms invented by Dwight Swain in his book TECHNIQUES OF THE SELLING WRITER. I give a quick summary of Scenes and Sequels in my article on Writing the Perfect Scene.

A “Scene” contains three major elements, a Goal, a Conflict, and a Disaster.

In Swain’s theory of fiction, a “Scene” should be followed by a “Sequel” which contains three major elements, a Reaction, a Dilemma, and a Decision. A “Sequel” is then followed by another “Scene” and they alternate through the story.

A “POV character” is a “Point of View character”–the character whose head you try to get inside when you’re writing a particular scene. It’s common to use a number of POV characters in a novel. But you should only have one in each scene.

The problem comes when you try to write Scenes and Sequels using multiple characters. If you write a Scene in your hero Jim-Bob’s POV, then it seems like you’re obligated to write a Sequel in Jim-Bob’s POV too, and then another Scene, still in his head, and then another Sequel, and so on. And if you do that, you can’t ever get out of Jim-Bob’s head and into the POV of his girlfriend Sally-Jane. Nor can you ever get into the POV of the villain, Wicked Willie.

What’s a novelist to do?

The truth is that fiction these days moves faster than it did in the old days. Maybe you like that, or maybe you long for the old days when it took twenty pages to explain why Lizzie Bennett’s family estate got entailed away. It doesn’t matter whether you like it or not, fiction moves faster. There is less telling and more showing. There is less family history and more exploding helicopters. There are fewer Sequels and more Scenes.

These days, it’s common to write a novel in which Sequels are played out off-camera, and then the result of each Sequel (the Decision) is reviewed briefly in a later Scene.

This doesn’t mean less work for the author. It means more work. You, the novelist, still need to know what happens in all Sequels. But you now have to figure out a way to just give the reader the meat of what happened in the Sequel (without “telling” it) and work it into a Scene somewhere.

So if you have a Scene from Jim-Bob’s POV, it’s fine to move into Sally-Jane’s POV and show a Scene that ALSO gives the high points of the Sequel for Jim-Bob that happened off-camera. Then you can move to a Scene from Wicked Willie’s POV. Maybe that Scene will just happen to be the Sequel for poor Sally-Jane (in which case you can show it). Or maybe it won’t (in which case you STILL have to know what it was and find a way to tell it).

I like to think of a novel like a braid. Each strand of the braid is the storyline for one of the characters. You could, in principle, show only one strand all the way down and it would all make sense. But you get a richer story by alternating, having one strand on top, then another, then another. The other strands can be seen (or felt) but they’re not always visible. The alternation adds interest and texture.

Does all this make sense? If so, I’ll pick another question tomorrow from the comments we got today (there were plenty to work on for quite a while!)

Wrapping Up Branding

I think we could talk forever on branding, but there are many other things to discuss. Here are my thoughts on what we talked about yesterday:

For branding Bonne: Bonne has her genre and target audience well defined. (Mythic fantasy for teen girls.) For her tagline, I would look for emotive words. Note that “Dancing” carries a lot more emotive punch than “Choreography.” I liked Christophe’s suggestion of “Dances with Words” but in view of Bonne’s genre (fantasy) I wonder if it might be better to use “Dances with Worlds”. Or maybe “Dancing on Another World.”

For branding Karla: As I said yesterday, “Biker chick lit” might work, but only if that’s what Karla really cares about. And as I suspected, it isn’t. Karla would rather write fictional biographies for young people. As she said, she’s still early in her writing career, and she doesn’t have to decide immediately. But it’s getting time to make a choice. Pick a genre you love and stick with it.

Tomorrow, we’ll switch gears and talk about craft again. I know I haven’t answered every question that was asked on branding. But we’ve covered the subject enough for now. This isn’t the “branding blog,” it’s the “Advanced Fiction Writing Blog.”

If any of you have any burning questions on craft, post them here in a comment. I already have one that was emailed to my privately, and I’ll be tackling that tomorrow. But I’d like to get a feel for what sort of issues you all struggle with.

Branding Bonne and Karla

OK, folks, let’s apply our collective brainpower.

Bonne wrote:

My genre is (somewhat) literary mythic fantasy, geared to teen girls. I am a dancer and performer of many genres, and the common thread in what I do is personal expression (and worship) through beauty.

I want my stories to a) be a glorious escape from the cruelties of daily life b) stir their hearts to consider their own cosmic significance, that there is more to this world than what we see,and they are more important than they’ve ever dared to hope.

I can’t guarantee that b) will happen, but I do my best to tell a great story and pray it strikes a chord.

The two incarnations of the first tagline are:

Making words and worlds dance.

Choreographer of words and worlds.

The second tagline is:

Reflecting the greatness in girls.

Possible substitutes for “reflecting”: awakening, kindling

Randy sez: OK, to begin with, part of your brand is your genre and you’ve got that nailed down well. You’ve tied this in with your target audience very nicely: Mythic fantasy for teen girls.

That’s good! You’ve identified your genre and your target market very precisely. The target market is not a huge market, but it’s big enough and it’s renewable, because they keep making more and more teen girls all the time. And girls read more than boys do.

Your background in dance also ties in very nicely. Dance is something that is going to appeal to teen girls who like mythic fantasy. You might want to find a logo designer or graphic designer to put together some graphical elements that you can use on your business cards, web site, etc. Graphics, as Allison told us Monday night, are part of your brand.

As for your tagline, that’s where my blog readers can help. What do you all think? Do you like Bonne’s suggestions for tagline? I have my own opinions, but I’m going to withhold them for now, because I’ve learned that this group is smarter than I am and I want to hear your opinions.

Can anyone suggest a better tagline for Bonne?

Karla wrote:

The only ideas I’ve had for myself are:
“Biker Chick Lit” (because I ride a motorcycle and I could include bikers in my stories but that’s never been my emphasis)

Randy sez: “Biker chick lit” could work. The only question I’d have is whether that’s truly what you want to write. It sounds like you’re a lot broader than that, based on the rest of your comments. Do you read chick lit? Do you like it? Do you respect it? If so, then this might be your genre. But of course then you can’t do ancient historical fiction or biographical fiction, which you also say you like.

The first thing is to figure out what you really want to write. Then build a brand around that.

A Few More Answers

I was pretty tired Monday after doing the teleseminar with Allison Bottke, and my brain fell asleep on me when it came time to blog Monday night. But I’m back now. There are still many questions to answer, so I’ll try to deal with some of them today. In a day or two, we’ll switch gears and talk about the craft of writing for a while.

Donna asked:

I see how branding is done and used when you have something going into print, have an agent and that already, but I’m still a bit confused on how to use a brand/promotion when you’re only still writing that first novel, freshman or maybe sophomore level. I guess what I’m asking is: how can you go about establishing it when you have nothing specific to promote yet?

Randy sez: Please bear in mind that YOU are part of your product. Readers don’t just buy books, they buy authors. Ever been to a movie just because it was a Harrison Ford movie? Or a Mel Gibson movie? Or a Julia Roberts movie? You’re not just seeing a movie, you’re seeing an actor.

Of course you have. Maybe you’ve popped into the bookstore and bought the latest Grisham or Clancy. You’re not just buying a book, you’re buying an author.

So no matter where you are in your career, you should be thinking about what it is about you that your readers are going to be buying someday. This is uncomfortable, unless you are an incurable egotist. But it’s part of branding.

I’ll mention Camy again. Part of her brand is her great big smile. I teased her a bit about the fact that she laughs a lot, but that’s part of her brand. As her editor once said about Camy, she lights up a room. She’s fun to hang out with.

Camille wrote:

My options, as I see them:
1.Toss the current baby out the window and begin fresh with something that reflects my “brand factors.”

2.Beef up the baby to include bits of my bf’s, so that it somewhat resembles the style of future stuff

3. Finish current wip all serious as first intended, count it as practice, cross my fingers and send it away. Then have a blast cramming my NEXT novel full of fun, twisted, provoking stuff.

Randy sez: Only you can make that decision, Camille. My advice is to work hard on whatever book you’re working on until the day comes when you decide that this story is never going to work and your heart is no longer in it. Then set it aside and work on something your heart is in 100%. You will know if and when that day comes and you’ll know what you’d rather be working on.

Camy wrote:

It took me all five manuscripts to figure out what I wanted to write. I had tried suspense, and while it was fun, I discovered I liked writing chick lit better. When I came up with my tagline, “Romance with a kick of wasabi,” I purposely made it applicable to both chick lit or suspense, depending on what I wanted to focus on. After I decided to pursue chick lit, I didn’t have to change the tagline. I wrote more chick lit manuscripts after that.

I guess what I’m saying is that it might take you several manuscripts to figure out what your brand is and how you want to focus your writing. You might write 2, 3, or 10 manuscripts before you discover that unique marketing angle that will become your brand.

Randy sez: This is typical, folks! It’s OK to take some time to figure it all out. We don’t all have to succeed instantly at everything we do. It’s common in publishing to say, “Joe took ten years to become an overnight success.”

Success comes and success goes. Pursue your dream, write what your heart is screaming for you to write. Whether you ever make megabucks or not, whether you ever even get published or not, you are doing what many people only TALK about doing. You’re writing a novel. You’re feeding your soul. If you make a few bucks or get famous for your allotted 15 minutes, that’s gravy. Be authentic to the writer you were born to be. When the money’s gone and the spotlights go out, you’ll still be authentic. That’s its own reward.

Val wrote:

I am really intrigued by the concept of branding as a writer and most interested in Camy’s story. I am from South Africa and writing Christian “teaching” books and ebooks on various topics, but especially end times. They are “easy to read” and understand, though full of doctrinal truth. Often devotional. Always challenging.

Randy, do you have some helpful comments? Right now I “brand” myself (if you can call it that) as “ – reaching our generation one book at a time.”

Randy sez: Sounds a little vague to me. That could be about anything. I’ll toss you something off the top of my head. It sounds like you write “Truth For The End Times.” Please remember that these taglines are only a small part of your brand. Your name is part of your brand. Your genre. Your style. Your angle. Maybe your haircut. (Those of you who know Ted Dekker, wouldn’t you say his hair is part of his brand? And for sure, Einstein’s hair was part of his.)

The tagline can be useful, but it’s just a piece of it. Personally, I think authors spend too much time angsting over taglines and not enough thinking about consistency in their genre. I’ve certainly fallen down on that score, and I’m hearing a number of you who also want to write 3 and 4 different genres. Remember what Allison said Monday: A brand requires Quality, Uniqueness, and Consistency.

Mary wrote:

I don’t know if what I’m writing now could have such a specific brand. What about a tagline like, “Seeking to Satisfy the Searching Heart” or is that too vague.

Randy sez: It’s vague. Now I’ve got a question for everyone: What is Stephen King’s tagline? Quick, no cheating! No looking at his web site. Does anyone know?

Honestly, I have no clue if Stephen King even has a tagline. I don’t think his sales are suffering for it. Stephen King is the best in the world at writing horror fiction. And he’s a master character creator. Those are the things he’s known for. Not his tagline, if he even has one.

Bonne wrote:

Clearly I should spend more time on it, but I got a rough draft of the WHAT you do, WHO you are and WHY you do it settled down. Next was the nefarious tagline (Brand Identity Statement).

I came up with two that I actually like (room for improvement I’m sure) but now face a dilemma. One tagline expresses WHO and WHAT, the other deals with WHY and the target audience. As an unpublished writer, should I focus more on selling myself and my style or demonstrating who the publisher would sell it to?

Randy sez: Good question. Tell us what genre you write and a bit about yourself and then run your taglines past us and we can vote on it.

Crystal wrote:

This is a great series, Randy. I wish I could’ve done the teleseminar. Will you offer this in a downloadable format for later? Or offer it again?

Randy sez: It takes a lot of time and energy to put together a teleseminar. So we record them and never repeat them. By the way, the recording is already available. The engineers sent me the recording today, so I’ve posted it on the same page with the three handouts. If you missed the teleseminar, you can still get it here.

Lizzie wrote:

What about, like, a very strong theme/pattern that crosses genres, like, “Friendships tested in the face of terror” or something? That could be suspense, fantasy . . . It sort of narrows it down to a thriller-type thing, but could involve many different elements.

I’m still quite the freshman, but looking at my passions and tendencies, I enjoy writing about strong relationships with bouts of action. Perhaps it should be “Relationships tested by terror” or something. What do y’all think?

Randy sez: This sounds like a good start. My one concern is to be sure that you know what genre you’re writing for. Crossing genres is all fine, but every book needs to have one main genre. A gothic romantic mystery western spy novel sounds cool in principle, but which shelf do they put it on??? So specify your genre first!

Jenness wrote:

Okay, Randy. You’ve got me actually thinking about maybe narrowing down my nine genres. LOL. My question is, WHAT am I supposed to do with all these story ideas that keep popping into my head?! Think we could set up some kind of story idea exchange forum where I could dump all these other genius ideas that don’t fit into my genre of choice? (Whichever that one turns out to be.)
And what if the genres are close? Like, romantic suspense, cozy-mystery w/ romance elements, and contemporary romance? Would that be narrowing it down enough?

Randy sez: LOL, like I was just saying . . . pick a genre, any genre. (I’m preaching to myself here. Those of you who’ve read my books know I’ve worked in about 3 different genres.)

Here’s what you do with those extra story ideas: Write ’em down. I have a thick file full of story ideas, some several years old. When I need a story idea, I go riffle through that file. The first novel I published sat in that story idea file for probably five or six years while I worked on other things. Then one day, after getting some comments back from an editor on yet another rejected manuscript, something she said made me go to my file and pull out that story and start writing.

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