Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Cut-to's and Scene Profiles: A Second Draft Life Saver

You've written your novel. The creative juices were flowing, you hit a few blocks and snags, but you got past them, and it feels so great to have reached the end.

And now you have the second draft to deal with.

The drafts that follow that magical first one can be magical too, except this kind of magic comes with a price, that of lots of toil, pressure, overcoming self-doubt or self-delusion, sweat, and more dark valleys than bright mountain peaks. It's worth it; trust me; you don't want to put that first draft in a safe and leave it as is. Your baby has to grow up.

There are lots of ways to tackle subsequent drafts. I've tried many of them. I still use many of them. My favorite is quickly becoming the art of the scene profile and cut-to. Screenwriters use this technique and so can you. It's like rewriting your novel before you actually rewrite it and it'll save you having to do lots of other rewrites.

For example, have you ever started a rewrite - even with an outline - and at a certain point you realize that the whole things isn't going to work? Or maybe the story's been derailed or sidelined. Outlines are great to help prevent this, but outlines aren't written in stone and can easily be overturned or go astray. Outlines are pretty distant too, even the in-depth ones, giving you a panoramic big picture view of your story and where you expect it to go. The problem is when you settle in to write and all the little things start accumulating, you find that that big picture wasn't so accurate or that you're in a tussle to try to make the little things tow the line and keep to the outline.

By all means, use outlines as tools. I do. But after you've had your panoramic glimpse of the big picture, may I suggest using scene profiles and cut-to's before you start rewriting in order to keep the big and little things from creating an epic battle that will threaten your sanity and eat up extra time as you try over and over again to make them agree with each other.

What are scene profiles and cut-to's? How do you use them?
A cut-to is an overview of a scene, like a close-up glance, or play by play of the action.
A scene profile is where you've gathered your pertinent information on the scene and the characters in it.

Together the scene profile and the cut-to list makes rewriting your scenes easy and efficient. They'll help you spot inconsistencies, plot-holes, will help you decide if you need minor tweaks or an overhaul, or let you know if a scene needs to be dropped because it has no purpose. While these sound like extra effort and work, they actually save you a lot of time and effort in the long run.

Here's an example of what I do:
1. Create a list of scenes that are in the novel or that I know need to be in the novel.
2. Working one scene at a time, plug in the information about the scene (whether directly from my first draft or the outline or both) into the scene profile.
3. Create the cut-to list for each scene.

I have a template I build off of for each scene:
Scene name or number: I'm a big proponent of naming scenes because it encapsulates the purpose of the scene and makes it easier to keep them straight rather than using numbers.
1. Date: This refers to the date in your story. Is this scene during Day 45 or on the 27th of March. It seems like a little, unimportant thing, but it's not. Knowing the date helps set your chronology and makes you step back and think about how realistic your time frames are in the narrative.
2. Time of Day: This affects your characters and your setting. What if your main character is a morning person and this scene takes place in the evening? They are more apt to be tired and cranky. Didn't think of that the first time you wrote this scene did you? Or what if it's night time and your characters are at a university? What are they doing there at night? Little details like this enhance your narrative and pique reader curiosity.
3. Weather: Yes, what is the weather like during this scene? Did your first draft read like a perpetual summer's day? How might knowing the weather affect your characters, the setting, or the plot?
4. Setting: This is where you plug in the details of your setting. And I do stress details. You should write it all down in a separate file, envision it. And then be prepared to pull what you need from it and let the rest go, or bring out some details in this scene and other details later on when revisiting this same place. Make a note here of the details you've chosen to reveal.
5. Objects: Good novels have objects. Memorable characters are associated with objects, like Snow White and the apple or the Beast and his enchanted castle. Objects are symbolic of what is happening in the plot or to the characters. What objects are noticed, sought after, obtained, or lost in this scene?
6. Characters: Write down which characters are actively in this scene. This is also the place to mention if there is something new, off, or otherwise different about any of the characters. If you're introducing or exiting a character, you can make a note of that as well.
7. Scene cut-to's: A list of play-by-play action that goes on in the scene. This is where you very briefly and succinctly write the scene before actually writing it with fleshed out details. For example: 
     i. Main character walks into the room with a book.
     ii. Side characters B & C stop talking about Main character and look guilty.
     iii. Main character asks them what is going on.
     iv. Character C pulls out a letter from their coat pocket and hands it to MC
     v. MC opens the letter and starts to read.
     vi. Character B makes an excuse to leave the room.
     vii. Character C tells B they can't go yet.
     viii. MC reads that their teenage child has run away from boarding school.
     ix. Character C tells MC that they aren't surprised, launches into a tirade about MC neglecting their child.
     x. MC slams the book down on a table.
     xi. Character B makes a hasty exit through an outside door.
     xii. MC laughs and Character C is shocked.
     xiii. MC tells C that they helped their teenager escape.
     xiv. Character C reaches for their phone.
     xv. MC twists C's arm behind their back.
     xvi. Character C drops the phone in the pool.
    xvii. MC whispers in C's ear that they know C was the reason the teen was sent to the boarding school to begin with.
    xviii. Character C asks what the MC intends to do.
    xix. MC lets C go and walks toward the door.
    xx. C repeats the question with greater agitation.
    xxi. MC tells C that they won't hear from MC or their teen again.
8. Flashbacks or backstory reveals: Here's where you plug in your backstory material that has any relevancy to what is happening in this scene. It can be pages long or a quick sentence. Not all scenes should have flashbacks or backstory reveals, but you as a writer need to know where these things are simmering in the subtext.
9. Foreshadowing: This is the place where you have your big picture outlook come down to manageable size. Not all scenes have foreshadowing, but good ones do. It may be a simple remark a character makes, an event, an object, or a decision that will have big consequences later. Stop and think about this scene and your book at large and make this scene stronger by adding an element of foreshadowing.
10. Notes: Here is where you jot down any additional notes you have, like psychological development of the characters, things to watch out for, research data that you've collected that will have a bearing on this particular scene, etc.

See what I mean about writing the rewrite before actually writing it? By putting together this information you get to know your scene, its purpose and place in the novel without expending the time and sweat writing it. And it's much easier to tweak, change, or discard as you build your other scene profiles than going back and rewriting pages of prose.

Once you've made up all of your scene profiles and cut-to's and everything is fitting into place and all your insights, twists, and details match up as they should, then comes the fun part - rewriting your novel. And the best part is that it will be quick because you have everything thought out and jotted down, everything.

Give it a try and tell me what you think. I know I've avoided repeating details too much, found plot-holes, and developed stronger subtext by employing this method. I've also been able to chuck scenes that don't really do anything for the story. Sentimentality is avoided when working in a scene profile and with cut-to's. And usually, a writer's sentimentality is the biggest stumbling block of all to overcome.

Monday, July 4, 2016

Yesternight's Voyage: Changes

The blog will be undergoing some background maintenance as well as a few outward changes. More good content to come. Thank you for your patience.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Writing Update for April

April's been a pretty good month. I devoted two weeks to writing and made significant progress on Trefury: The Secrets of Callorin. But even the best made plans don't always pan out as you hope they will. I had hoped to have the book done by mid-April. Life has a way of intervening, as usual.

I have learned that even if you have a story written, and even if it's technically good, you can usually make it better. And sometimes making things better derails what you've already written. That bothered me a lot when I wrote the first Trefury book, but this time around I'm ripping out original or recently revised material without a second thought. I suppose that's a sign of writer's maturity? While the essence of the original story remains, it doesn't control the wonderful new directions the story has taken. If you don't let go and try, you'll never know how good it might have been. Just make sure you keep a copy of the old stuff in case the new bright idea doesn't pan out after all.

The last week and a half I set aside my novel to read someone else's. I'm always so grateful for these opportunities, especially if I enjoy the writing style of the person I'm critiquing for. While evaluating and trying to help them make their story stronger, I'm always taking notes in the back of my mind. Things like, "Oh yeah, I make that same mistake too!" or "Look how well this person handles (fill in the blank); I need to work on that." And I'll admit, because I try to be honest in my critiques, I go through several days, after turning it back in, of inner anxiety and misery. I'm always scared to death that the other person's going to hate me or think I'm crazy. The overall goal is to help them out and I always try to find good things to note as well as voicing my concerns. No one has sent me hate-mail yet. And I have to admit, I get a thrill out of seeing books I got to read before they were published, in published form. If only Goodreads would let me count them for my yearly books-read count.

Now I've got to swing back into writing mode for a couple of weeks before I get to beta read again for someone else. And I found out a couple of days ago that I get to do some copy editing and formatting for my mom as she gets ready to submit/publish her first books. I'll admit, it's awesome to look at my bookshelves and see novels written by family members. You see a different side of a relative when you get into their creative mind. At any rate, collectively, we're amassing an impressive family history collection of novels. I should mention all the artwork done by relatives too. To top that, my daughters have begged me to teach them more about creative writing and we've done some serious workshopping together this week. It's a growing legacy, and something I'm so happy to be in the middle of.

So that's it for now. Thanks for reading. I'd be delighted if you wanted to post your own writing update in the comments section. And as always, happy writing to all of you.

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Writing Update for March

There comes a time, I think in every manuscript, where the writing grows sluggish. It's not that I've grown less enthusiastic about the story or have hit a block, the ability to write just isn't there. I hate those moments. The mental torture is excruciating as one part of my brain is still churning out ideas and tweaks, and the other side is stubbornly resisting all attempts to write even a sentence. Burn out phase? Maybe. It's always good to take a break. I had gotten a lot of writing done in December and January and a fair bit in February before this not-so-pleasant writing phenomenon took place.

That's not to say there hasn't been progress. There are days when I make myself sit down and work. The going is slow and laborious, but internally I'm happy because I'm doing something.

I finished up Part 1 and went to start on Part 2 and realized I needed to trim and streamline events to keep from getting redundant in sections. Whenever you can combine events, characters, story revelations, etc. it's always best to do so. Drawing things out to highlight each neat idea also draws out the pacing and often gets repetitive, much to the story's detriment. I blew apart Part 2, did a lot of combining, threw out some material and added in new material ideas. I love where it's going now. I know if I'm not bored with the story lines there's a good chance readers won't be either.

My time has become much more constrictive than it was two months ago, but at least when I sit down to write I'm no longer struggling to write a paragraph. It's become easier to let go of my surroundings and get into the zone of the story. The funny thing is I'm always positive that I'm writing a lot of drivel that will need massive edits once I come out of the zone. Yet when I go back and read what I put down I find the writing is better than when I'm not in the zone. That's kind of cool when you think about it.

So things are taking a darker turn in Trefury #2. I thought I'd get bogged down in large-scale, outside events rather than things closest to the characters, but so far I haven't. I suppose I could go back and write a ton of short stories or off-shoot novels dealing with those other things. Maybe I will sometime. The neat thing about detailed world-building is there is no limit to the stories you can tell, the scenarios you can explore, and the characters you can develop.

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Happy Valentine's Day!

Ah, Valentine's Day. Cue the cuddling, frustration, or depression depending on what camp you're in, "The Mad Scientist Ruins Valentine's Day":

I'm a day early, but I don't blog on Sundays. To celebrate this weekend, here's some more insider tidbits about me. Let me know in the comments if you like what I like, or just what you like in the same categories.

My favorite love stories:
(Okay, I don't really read romance and if I do I prefer sweet romance to anything hot and heavy.)

The Blue Castle by L.M. Montomery
At twenty-nine Valancy had never been in love, and it seemed romance had passed her by. Living with her overbearing mother and meddlesome aunt, she found her only consolations in the " forbidden" books of John Foster and her daydreams of the Blue Castle. Then a letter arrived from Dr. Trent, and Valancy decided to throw caution to the winds. For the first time in her life Valancy did and said exactly what she wanted. Soon she discovered a surprising new world, full of love and adventures far beyond her most secret dreams.

Daddy Long Legs by Jean Webster
When Jerusha Abbott, an eighteen-year-old girl living in an orphan asylum, was told that a mysterious millionaire had agreed to pay for her education, it was like a dream come true. For the first time in her life, she had someone she could pretend was "family."
But everything was not perfect, for he chose to remain anonymous and asked that she only write him concerning her progress in school.
Who was this mysterious gentleman and would Jerusha ever meet him?

Emma by Jane Austen
Beautiful, clever, rich - and single - Emma Woodhouse is perfectly content with her life and sees no need for either love or marriage. Nothing, however, delights her more than interfering in the romantic lives of others. But when she ignores the warnings of her good friend Mr. Knightley and attempts to arrange a suitable match for her protegee Harriet Smith, her carefully laid plans soon unravel and have consequences that she never expected.

My favorite love songs:
"Truly, Madly, Deeply" by Savage Garden

 "If Your Not the One" by Daniel Bedingfield

"Stars Dance" by Selena Gomez

"Whenever You Call" by Mariah Carey

My favorite romantic movies:

 Daddy Long Legs (based off the book but different)
In this musical, American millionaire Jervis Pendleton (Fred Astaire) becomes taken with an orphan named Julie (Leslie Caron) while vacationing in France. Determined to improve the quality of Julie's life, he secretly sends money so she can receive a good education. After receiving a flurry of letters thanking her mysterious caretaker, Jervis decides to visit his pet project. When he arrives and sees that Julie has grown up into a beautiful young woman, he quickly falls for her.

I Love Melvin
Insignificant assistant photographer Melvin Hoover (Donald O'Connor) is instantly love-struck after meeting struggling actress and chorus line dancer Judy LeRoy (Debbie Reynolds). To win her over, Melvin greatly embellishes the importance of his position at a trendy magazine, claiming that with his help Judy could appear on the magazine's cover. Their budding romance is threatened, however, when Melvin's ploy is exposed to Judy and her entire family during a staged photo shoot.

Sabrina Fairchild (Julia Ormond) is a chauffeur's daughter who grew up with the wealthy Larrabee family. She always had unreciprocated feelings for David (Greg Kinnear), the family's younger son and playboy. But after returning from Paris, Sabrina has become a glamorous woman who gets David's attention. His older, work-minded brother Linus (Harrison Ford) thinks their courtship is bad for the family business and tries to break them up -- but then he starts to fall for her too.

Ever After: A Cinderella Story
This updated adaptation of the classic fairytale tells the story of Danielle (Drew Barrymore), a vibrant young woman who is forced into servitude after the death of her father. Danielle's stepmother Rodmilla (Anjelica Huston) is a heartless woman who forces Danielle to do the cooking and cleaning, while she tries to marry off her own two daughters. But Danielle's life takes a wonderful turn when she meets the charming Prince Henry (Dougray Scott).

Beauty and the Beast 
An arrogant young prince (Robby Benson) and his castle's servants fall under the spell of a wicked enchantress, who turns him into the hideous Beast until he learns to love and be loved in return. The spirited, headstrong village girl Belle (Paige O'Hara) enters the Beast's castle after he imprisons her father Maurice (Rex Everhart). With the help of his enchanted servants, including the matronly Mrs. Potts (Angela Lansbury), Belle begins to draw the cold-hearted Beast out of his isolation.

And just for fun, here's a couple more Valentine's Day clips from Studio C, "Changing Your Relationship Status":
... and "Aww Yeah":