Friday, October 26, 2012

Who? What? Where? When?....WHY?

Photo Credit: Free Digital
A story has to make sense. Has to be grounded. The reader has to know what's going on.

Imagine being invited to a grand party. It's promised to be in a ballroom with a twenty piece ensemble orchestra. Hundreds of the most important people are supposed to be there and you've been invited too!

Then you show up. A tumble weed is blowing across the dusty dance floor. The stands are empty, there are no guests and the tables that should be loaded with food and punch are curiously absent. Then you look down. Yep. You forgot your pants.

So okay, this is more nightmare than novel. But be forewarned, you might send your character onto the stage with no clothes if you aren't careful in setting up and maintaining your scenes!

When you sit down to write, many of us just write, am I correct? If you're any kind of self-respecting panster you feel your way through the scene and discover the story as you go. If you're a die-hard plotter then you know exactly where your character is going to put his or her foot in an exact moment. No matter how you write, asking yourself these couple key questions will help steep you in the scene and prepare the way.

Who: This might seem simple, but know who you are writing the scene about. Your characters. Their motivation, goals, conflict. What do THEY want out of the scene. What do YOU as the author want to accomplish in the scene? Pit these goals against each other and see which one wins. ;-) The lie the character believes should drive them through every scene and what decisions they make within them. Write these things for both of your characters and put them where they are plainly visible. Taking a quick glance at these goals will put the story back into respective for you as the author.

What: What is going on? Are they at a gala? A park? A ball game? The kitchen? Work? Now: WHAT are they doing? Cooking? Sitting on those awful park benches? How is that affecting your character? Is she enjoying that cool breeze and the smell of popcorn from the neighboring vendor? Or is she craving the ice cream from the truck pedaling through town? What is your character's attitude in this scene and how does her surroundings impact or change her point of view?

Where: Where are they? This ties in closely with What. But is very important that you don't shirk the duty of this task. Dressing the scene is as important as dressing your character. We don't want the characters to simply be talking heads in the scene. Have them interacting with their surroundings. How they close the door, slam the coffee pot, clench the dish rag, all speaks for body language and puts your reader in the middle of the scene. (can you tell that many of my scenes in my latest WIP took place in the kitchen?) To get in this head of crafting your setting, think of your most comfortable spot in your home. The place you feel the most competent. For me, it's the kitchen. I know every utensil in that room and how to use them. I can come up with all kinds of tension in that room and how it plays with the character's body language. Incidently, it plays a pretty big role in my latest story. What's the room you're the most comfortable in? Maybe it's your sewing room, so go in there, close the door and imagine a confrontation taking place. How would the setting work with the mood of the character?

When: Don't write a modern day story that could be misconstrued to be set in the 50's. That's what was told of me when I had a friend read my first three chapters. Um...oops! No, my story is very much a modern tale. So I had to think in terms of including the occasional modern slang. The mention of electronics that ground the moment in today's era. Don't be afraid to use these tools to subtly clue your reader into the time and moment.

Why: WHY are you writing this story? What about is making these characters push their way through the story to get to their happily ever after? An HEA is often not good enough for your characters, not when they can give up half way through and deal with an average existence  So ask yourself: What is your characters dark moment? Wound from their past? The lie they believe? And their noble quest? Keep these key points directly in view of where you write and when you lose contact with your direction and wonder if emotions are staying true to their motivation and lie, then look at the answers to these questions and you'll be back to the WHY of your story.

Jotting just a couple ideas down when it comes to these concepts listed above will give you a jump start into the scene and will only take 15 minutes to complete.

Let's talk: What are you doing already to set up your scene?

Casey Herringshaw is a homeschool graduate and has been writing since high school. She lives in rural Eastern Oregon in a town more populated with cows than people.


Yüz Germe said...

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Yüz Germe

Sherrinda said...

Casey, you are so smart! I love this and I'm sure it will be helpful to so many people. Way to go, girl!

Jeanne T said...

Fabulous, Casey. I love how you give specific suggestions for implementing each of the 5 W's. :) Thanks for sharing! This is a keeper.

Melissa Tagg said...

This is awesome, Casey!

I was just at the MBT Storycrafters scene last week and Susie walked us through a great way of setting up a scene that incorporates a lot of the same stuff. Love it!

Cindy R. Wilson said...

Good stuff! I need to work on setting up my scene better. I can go pages and pages without letting the reader know where the characters are (including what state, what room - or where outdoors, or what time period :D).

Susan Anne Mason said...

Great post, Casey! And dead-on advice.

So often I have to go back in to a scene and add 'elements' of the setting - the smell, feel, temperature of the room, etc. That really makes the story come alive!

I love the part about the character's wound. Isn't it so true that everyone carries some sort of wound from childhood that causes them to believe a lie about themselves. This adds such depth to the character.

Well done!!


Casey said...

You're welcome Yuz, I hope it was helpful to you as well. :)

Casey said...

Thanks, Sherrinda. :)

Casey said...

Glad it was helpful, Jeanne! I was talking to Beth Vogt about the F W's and it inspired this post. SOmetimes it's just getting into the right skin of the story.:)

Casey said...

Melissa, someday I want to attend one of those retreats. It just hasn't happened yet.

Keli Gwyn said...

This takes me back to my journalism classes. Those questions help reporters write articles and novelists craft stories. I throw in How as well, as in "How will I start my story, end each scene on hook, maintain the flow, ramp up the tension...?"

Casey said...

Oh me too, Cindy! It's been a good exercise for me to go back through my scenes and make them more sensory.

Casey said...

Susan, finding that wound in a character's past, I'm learning, is so important to the heart of the story. It can take it from good to great.

Casey said...

Keli, they do wonders for a scene too, I'm learning! I think journalism must help greatly when it comes to crafting a scene. We should the writer's side of our brain to add the heart and emotion. :)

Jill Weatherholt said...

I just printed this post ~ thanks Casey! I'll have this at my desk when I start NaNoWriMo next week ~ perfect timing! :)

Casey said...

So glad it was helpful, Jill! I've found just writing down a couple comments on my 5 W's helps keep me focused on the scene and what I want to accomplish. Bests wishes on NaNo!

Joanne Sher said...

REALLY good stuff. But I have to tell you that I literally laughed out loud - for at least a couple minutes, when I forgot my pants. And I NEEDED that laugh. OOOHH my!And I read it again. And I laughed again.
Thanks, Casey!

Casey said...

LOL Joanne! I'm glad it didn't come across offensive! ;-)