Conveying Emotion in Scenes

Writing emotion in a scene is crucial. It’s the only way a reader can truly connect Angerwith a character. In most cases, it’s the best way to determine whether a novel is great and will succeed. For writers, sometimes it’s extremely difficult to capture the right emotion, and level, in a critical scene.

Like a particular chapter I’m writing in my latest WIP. To be honest, I’m stuck. I can’t capture the right emotion in words and stick it on the page. And perhaps it’s because my inner conscience is telling me the scene isn’t going the right way and I need to steer it in a different direction entirely.

But I remember a scene in another manuscript I wrote where I pulled anger from one very vivid memory stuck in my mind. Which is what I think most great writers do. They use some of their experiences to portray emotion.

And anytime I need to write a scene full of pure anger, I go back to that one memory. It’s a very personal memory that took several years to get over, but I remember it so vividly that it’s easy for me to pull from. The time I was the most enraged I’d ever been (even to this day) and relive it in my mind. Needless to say, I can’t be near anyone when I do this, because it puts me in a very bad mood. But I pull from the emotions and write what comes to me through the character.never_wrong_a_writer_tshirt

Obviously, the scene may require tweaking afterwards, but it’s the main way I can make sure the emotion is there.

Writers: what do you do to invoke the right level of emotion in a scene? Do you remember the moment in your life that you were the most enraged or the most hurt? Does it help to pull from those memories, or just piss you off more?

 

Finished My Rough Draft

Major milestone, people!

After plotting for 2 months and writing for 5 months, my first draft is complete on novel #3.

*Commence happy-dance, ala Steve Carrell*

Happy Dance

Couldn’t be happier! And it’s about 3 weeks ahead of my goal I set earlier this year. That never happens. It’s about 70,000 words and I know I have several scenes I need to add/adjust (I’d like to be closer to 80,000 words), but I’ll take care of those during revisions. But how often do people reach this milestone?? I feel like I need to celebrate with a bottle of wine or something! Coffee isn’t enough of a celebratory drink.

Once I’m done with my hurrah cocktail,  I need to get back to work. I’ll set the first draft aside and work on my second novel’s revisions. That one needs a crap-load of fixing! Which means, I’ll need to pass that through my critique group. I love their ideas, and above all their honesty. I also need to write the query letter and synopsis for the second novel (which I’m sure I’ll also send through my friends). Hopefully I’ll be ready to query that one to agents and editors starting around May.

But weeks like this make me feel so justified. I accomplished something.

NaNoWriMo: To Wait or Not to Wait?

Dilemma: Start writing the rough draft of my 3rd novel, or wait until the start of NaNoWriMo in November?

If I wait until November, I can participate in my first National Novel Writing Month. It’s a lofty goal of 50,000 words in 1 month. That’s 12,500 words/week. I normally average less than 5K words/week when I’m in the middle of a manuscript. So this endeavor is intimidating. A Himalayan peak when I’m used to sand castle mounds. There’s no official prize at the end of the month, other than the incredible accomplishment of an almost-complete manuscript. Assuming I reach the summit at K2.

But waiting means I’m stagnant for another month. I’m not sure my brain can handle that. I need to keep writing to keep the ideas flowing. To keep my creativity pumping and not lose on what I’ve researched. I’m reading like crazy, even bouncing between genres, and getting advice from other writers/authors/editors. I know I could write other things until then, like short stories, articles, more blog posts. But for some reason I’m having a hard time coming up with those ideas. My fingers are itching to get into the 3rd novel and the characters I’ve created. They don’t seem to want to write anything else.

I’ve continuously pulled out the character sketches, tweaked, added, adjusted anything I could for these MC’s, including their back stories, GMC’s, likes/dislikes, and how they take their coffee’s (and why they switched from beer to coffee).  I guess I’m using those as a substitute for actually starting on the manuscript while I wait for NaNoWriMo.

Actually, now that I think about it (and write out my thoughts), 50,000 words will only be about 2/3rds of the book. Leaving me a good 25,000 words to start.

Thanks so much for being my sounding board! Virtual-land solves another dilemma, once again!

Guess what I’ll be doing? *wink

Incomplete Characters and Bad License Photo

I recently had to renew my driver’s license, and even worse had to do it in person. Despite my attempts to renew online, Texas DPS system screwed up and I had to come in and fight the long line and seedy waiting area. Over two hours later, I had my new license paperwork, along with a horrible new photo to grace the plastic card.

It’s probably one of the worst photos I’ve ever taken. Not quite as bad as the photo of my eyebrow bashed in with a baseball bat, swollen and stitched to the nines. But pretty close. Clearly in the middle of a blink, the lovely/overworked/cynical/ humorous woman at the DPS counter wouldn’t let me take another one. So now for the next ten years, I must live with a mutant zombie grimacing on the front of my license.

I feel that way about incomplete characters in my manuscripts. Or at least, if I can’t see my characters in my head, they come off as incomplete and merely two-dimensional. So it’s like writing the rest of your manuscript (driving down the road) with a hideous license. Good Lord, let’s hope writers don’t have to apply for licenses just to be writers.  Talk about a country that loves regulations!

That’s why character sketches are so important to me now. Before, I didn’t really give them more than a page or two of thought. But then my wonderful critique partner showed me what she uses, and I searched for several others, and realized I was hardly scratching the surface. I wasn’t even scratching the polish coat.

Here is a list of several sites I found with great tools to help build characters:

http://thescriptlab.com/screenwriting/character/creating-characters/23-character-questionnaire

http://www.writingclasses.com/InformationPages/index.php/PageID/106

http://www.fictionfactor.com/characters.html

You can also find several other helpful tools if you become a member of Greater Ft Worth Writers, where we have a whole bunch of downloads for our members on our website.

All of these have helped me get to know my next characters better, and amazingly found plotting even easier now that I could see them so clearly.

If only Texas DPS would let me retake my stupid drivers license photo. I’d feel even better about carrying around something that’s supposed to represent me, instead of a two-dimensional half-creature. Or maybe I can get them to have me look like Katherine Heigl or Reese Witherspoon.

Beta Reading Challenge

My writers group just started a new program called Beta Readers Round Table

Five of our members submitted their completed manuscripts to be reviewed by Beta Readers (myself included). Each Beta Reader critiques 2 manuscripts based on content (not line editing). Searching for plot holes, characterization errors, point of view switching, change of tenses, the bigger stuff (not grammar, punctuation, etc). And it’s a challenge.

This is what critique groups are for, in my opinion. Our meeting sessions normally focus on 10 pages at a time. The online critique sessions can be anywhere from a chapter to 5-6 chapters long. This is the first time we’re doing entire manuscripts in one swoop. And two manuscripts at that. This seems like a great opportunity to capture big plot holes and voice, flow, all the big stuff all writers want to know about their unfinished babies. A great opportunity, and a big responsibility.

When all of the beta readers are finished critiquing their ‘assignments,’ we’ll get together in a round table forum and go over everyone’s work. I’m sure this session will take well more than an hour, but it should be with gold-level content. Writers are supposed to walk away from the session feeling good about themselves and their stories. And feel like they’ve carried away a massive ruby or emerald in their pocket of exceptional critiques.

How many opportunities do these manuscripts get before a writer submits them to an agent or editor?

I’ve just finished the first of two, and I’m really impressed with the stories our members create. Truly original and completely new perspectives. But at the same time I’m also hesitant to be too critical. I’m not published, yet. I don’t have an agent, and no experience in what editors look for in submissions. But I’m an avid reader. I know what I like to see. I know the difference between ‘telling’ and ‘showing’ and I’m much more entertained by ‘showing.’ I love the emotion in stories. So those are the kinds of things I look for in manuscripts. When I give critiques, I try to give ideas on how to make something better (not just, ‘I don’t like this scene. Not realistic.”) I give a suggestion on how to make it more realistic, or better for the reader.

Don’t close a door for someone without giving a them a window they can open.

I hope the other Beta Readers do the same for my manuscript.

It’s challenging. Seeing a potentially brilliant story with vibrant and genuine characters in its most raw form- I want to help the writer make it better. I don’t want to ruin it with my suggestions that may not be the best ideas. Its challenging trying to help someone. But if it’s the right idea, I’m proud to say I helped make their story better.

Plotting Frenzy Over the Week

I’ve finished plotting my third manuscript over the week. I couldn’t get enough- my brain was flourishing with ideas, even over the hard parts of plotting (like overcoming the climax and how to resolve all the conflicts in the end). It feels fabulous to have these ideas come to a temporary close. I’m sure I looked something like this:

I say temporary close because there could always be tweaks and turns from my outline as I start writing the rough draft. There always are.

No, that's not me. But I write in a notebook like this.

But the best part, my friends:

It’s all on paper!!!

It’s in ink on a physical white sheet, as well as a digital file on my trusty Macbook. I can see it. Touch it. Absorb it on my skin and leave ink marks all over the place. Or maybe not, my husband would be mad with black fingerprints all over the furniture. But it’s not in my head, swirling in a massive cloud, much like the pensieve in the Harry Potter books.

But the characters are alive in my brain, each whispering their dreams, pet peeves, sense of humor, and even what turns them on. (Hey, it’s a romance. I gotta know the juicy details better than anyone).

And it took about a week to put the whole thing down. So cool!

Although don’t get me wrong folks- I’ve had this idea for the third novel in my head for over a year. I have just been more focused on the second novel and finishing the first draft and sending it out for revisions.

But I love being this productive. It’s hard to go to sleep at night because I have so many ideas churning and bursting to get out. I love this part of writing!

Yes, folks, this is how I feel right now!

Can’t Wait to Plot

So, I’ve only gone through the first round of revisions on my manuscript and have sent it out to my critique group. And I’m not stopping there.

I’ve already started plotting and creating the character sketches for the next book that’s twirling around in my head.

Some could call me a glutton for punishment, since I have at least 2 more rounds of revisions on this thing. But I’d rather get these ideas on paper than let them continue to torment me in my head. I’ve had this story idea for a little over a year, but didn’t have enough of a concrete plan to bash it out on paper.

But this time around, I’m paying more attention to the character development than before. Because in this particular story, their personalities are going to be a lot more center-stage. So for the first time in my life, I’m focusing on the characters first, and not the plot.

Even searching several screenshots of people online (Yahoo Images) to see if I can find anyone that closely resembles the image I have in my brain of my characters. I can’t draw for crap, so literally sketching them isn’t gonna work. I’m much more visual.

But I can sketch the rest of them on paper. Their goals, motivations, conflicts (GMC to any of you writers out there). What makes them tick, sing, cringe, and I can find all their buttons (and push them relentlessly!)

A writer friend of mine gave me what she uses for Character ‘Interviews,’ where she gets to know them more by playing the role of a therapist while her MC’s sit on a couch and dish out their lives and inner most thoughts. Creative!

If you peruse around on the web, you’ll find a whole bunch of different resources to help you create your characters. Character Development, character sketches, character questions… type in anything for ‘character’ and you’ll find umpteen-million.

The one I’ve used before I found here.

But clearly that’s not the only thing I’m going to use to know every inch and cranny of my characters for this iota of an idea. But you need to start somewhere.

Critique Groups are Supposed to Help, Not Hurt

I recently read another author’s blog that made me think about critique groups.

First of all, I love my writers group. And I’m not just saying that because I’m the President. My writers group and the fabulous other writers who’ve critiqued my work have been one of the best assets of my entire experience.

But the author’s blog I read claimed that her writers group ‘critiqued the voice out of her novel.’ I can only imagine session after session of sitting with her critique members and them offering suggestions of how to improve her language, grammar, and characterization efforts backfired. So when she finally read the ‘revised’ version of her manuscript, she couldn’t even recognize it as her own. Maybe it felt flat to her because she didn’t recognize her words. But her voice was gone.

How frustrating!

But then I thought about it further. She had the right to refuse those suggestions. They were just there to help, not to be vicious and purposely make her spicy work become vanilla. Why didn’t she speak up for her own writing? Why did she cave?

Perhaps she thought the other members were more experienced than she. Therefore, her opinions (while mattered) weren’t as crucial as the others.

Perhaps she believed her fellow writers were experts in the genre she wrote. Or if not experts, at least liked the genre and had read a lot of books to be knowledgeable of it.

Very possible. Even plausible.

But bottom line, its her writing. At some point in every writer’s career, they will receive critiques and ‘friendly suggestions’ from friends, other writers, editors, and agents that may not be in the best interest of the story.  I’ve had several. But I at least recognize it’s meant to help. Everyone’s critique is his or her own opinion. It’s up to the writer to determine what they’re comfortable with accepting. To determine how open minded they want to be. To find out what kind of suggestions they are getting and how credible the sources are.

I know that’s a tremendous hodge-podge of what-ifs, and can scare the crap out of any aspiring author. It still scares me from time to time.

I think it all comes down to 3 things.

First, the writers group you belong to. What kind of people are involved? Are you comfortable reading in front of them and sharing your thoughts? Are they supportive, open, and constructive? Do you feel comfortable not accepting a crit?

Second, how open-minded are you? Meaning, do you defend every tiny detail of your manuscript when someone tries to make a suggestion on a character, setting, or plot line? Or do you cave at every suggestion without getting second opinions or really thinking it through?

Lastly, and most importantly, you gotta love to keep writing. Even after all the crits, suggestions, revisions, rewrites, and gut wrenching rejections from agents or editors (if you’ve submitted), you have to love the story. The characters. Everything about it. Because if you don’t, there’s no way anyone else will. You are your story’s greatest fan and biggest cheerleader. If you don’t love it, go back and ask yourself why. Don’t let someone else talk you out of your own voice.

All that being said, I feel very lucky. I’ve found a writers group I’m comfortable with.  They’ve made fabulous suggestions for me that I’ve loved and have only made my writing stronger. But I also don’t feel threatened when I don’t take one of their suggestions. If you don’t have the same feeling about your ‘helpers,’ find new ones. Stand up for your voice.

 

Revise, Revise, Revise… I Need More Coffee

For those of you who are wondering which stage of my manuscript I’m in, and what that looks like:

Even though this cartoon shows working on 6th draft, I’m currently on the first round of revisions (just me looking through it), which should take maybe another two weeks to complete. And about three more bags of coffee beans. Preferably French Vanilla or Snicker Doodle flavor). Then I send it out to my critique partners for their full glance-through. I have no clue how long that will take, but I’m sure that’s at least three weeks. Perhaps I should buy them each a bag of coffee. Or tea, whatever floats their cup.

I think in total I may have about 4 rounds to go through, but if it takes more, carpe diem and carpe cafe!

Keep writing forward!