Antonius M. Hogebrandt Author—-Dreamer

Getting your ducks into a row

A pen, an open notepad and steaming tea by Carli Jeen

2.1: Consistency

You should by now have a complete story with few plot holes, though you still have a long way to go. If you need to go back to prior steps, that’s fine, but in the ideal world you shouldn’t.

First step here is to read through the story carefully and jot down notes for yourself. What do you need to fact check? What contradicts itself? How’s the timeline holding up? Did you remember to introduce the Mother that gives the final clue before she waltzes onto the stage? And please tell me the heroine didn’t magically get, well … magic without anything foreshadowing it?

True story: I’d written the first draft, started going through the timeline and realise that based on my set timing, there’s Christmas and New Years that apparently my characters didn’t celebrate. Funny that!

Once you’ve noted all of the things you need to fix in consistency, find out what you need, plot out new Scenes and Sequels if you need to, and get all of those details down in their right place.

2.2: Character development

Didn’t we do this in step 1.3-4?

Yes and no. In those steps we made sure that the arcs were as they should. Here we make sure that every character, whether they have a written arc or not, reacts in a logical and coherent manner.

Example 1: I have a very cool, calculated character. She doesn’t take nonsense from anyone, and is quite capable of handling her own battles. Yet, in one scene where her drunken ex is calling her names, she shrinks back like a wilting violet, hiding behind her big, strong Love Interest. Nope. That didn’t fit at all, so in the rewrite she handles her ex, and snaps at the Love Interest when he tries to save her. She leaves the interaction annoyed, but not freaked out.

Example 2: Same character does, however, have a few scenes where she panics for what seems like no reason. Those stayed in the narrative, what gives?

Simple: You need to know the character’s reactions, and you need to understand them. It’s okay if the readers don’t immediate understand why situation X got this reaction, but similar situation Y didn’t, as long as you do. It needs to be consistent for the character, with their experiences, and where they are in their development. If you don’t know how they should react, then find out.

Tips & Tricks

If you have Scrivener, you can use the Keywords to only select the documents where this character is present.

2.3: Scenes-by-paragraphs

First you need to understand Motivation-Reaction Units. For more comprehensive details, check the resources at the end. Like the Scene-Sequel Pattern, Motivation-Reaction Units (MRU for short) were codified by Dwight V. Swain. Everything that happens can be broken down into two pieces: Motivation (which is something that happens) and Reaction (which is how the PoV acts based on the prior Motivation). Simpler put: Motivation is the cause, and Reaction is the effect following the cause.

The theory behind this is that it needs to come in the right order.

  1. Motivation
  2. Reaction, with the following responses (not all of which need to be present, but which need to be in order)
    1. Feeling/thought
    2. Action (including involuntary physical response such as heart racing)
    3. Speech

Example:

Motivation:

"I’d love to go with you to the dance." A smile played on Jayne’s lips.

Reaction:

We’re going to the dance! (thought). My skin flush with excitement (action). "Alright! I’ll pick you up at seven, okay?"

Practice

Each paragraph now needs to be gone over.

  1. Is it necessary? Only you can decide. If it isn’t necessary, cut it.
  2. Is the PoV perceiving things that’s beyond them? This is mainly an issue with a limited PoV, obviously, but you don’t want your blindfolded character to see that someone’s walking into the room (though they may hear), or the hard-of-hearing character picking up on a whisper on the other side of the room, etc. They also can’t know that the person they’re talking to is hungry, though they might guess based on body language or dialogue.
  3. Is the PoV deep enough? Are you using enough senses to build a vibrant image? Sight, while easy to describe, is the weakest, and you’re not writing a movie. Let your readers smell the decay of the dungeon, hear the dripping from the tap, and experience bare feet digging into wet soil.
  4. Is it a Motivation or a Reaction? Both of these can be more than one paragraph, as a note, and might also be a single paragraph with both. Once you’ve decided where it fits, order the sentences/paragraphs properly. Note, MRUs aren’t a law, and occasionally it is far more interesting to introduce a Reaction before a Motivation is perceived by the reader.

Resources

2.4: Pacing

This is on a scene level, but goes into paragraph/sentence to fine-tune it. I’d start with marking up each scene with a keyword on what the pacing is supposed to be (in my case using Scrivener’s meta data). I have the following pacing words:

  • Urgent/Normal/Ponderous: These are steady, using techniques to suggest the pacing it’s using.
  • Crescendo: Slower to faster, likely Ponderous -> Normal, or Normal -> Urgent, though the full Ponderous -> Urgent might be doable.
  • Diminuendo: Opposite of Crescendo.
  • Rollercoaster: Pace is specific to this scene. Maybe it’s supposed to start out Ponderous, then set the heart racing, and slow down to Normal.

Mix these up. A story with only Ponderous/Normal scenes is going to feel incredibly dragging. A story with only Urgent scenes are going to have the reader need to put the story down to rest. In theory, Scenes are likely to be on the faster spectrum and Sequels on the slower, but that is not a rule at all. Do the pacing that’s necessary for your story.

Practice

For a slower/less urgent pace, use:

  • Descriptions
  • Longer/more complex sentence
  • Extended dialogue
  • Longer scenes
  • Longer paragraphs
  • Showing
  • Detailed reaction

For a more urgent pace, use:

  • Condensed descriptions; cut them down to a minimum
  • Short, snappy sentences
  • Less dialogue, and shorter sentences/action beats
  • Telling
  • Mixing shorter and longer paragraphs

Each sentence should still be necessary, even in a slower pace, but in the more urgently-paced sections, be even harsher in what you let through. Focus on key elements to build up the setting. In a more ponderous Sequel, you can probably afford to describe the soil under their feet, as well as the scent of gunfire in the air, and the taste of blood in their mouth, but in a tense scene, decide which one of these is most poignant. What will paint the clearest picture in the fewest words?

I often write characters who suffer from anxiety, and with that I enjoy using a diminuendo/crescendo pace (depending on whether they’re starting or ending up anxious). When their heart races and they’re short of breath, paragraphs are often only 2-3 sentences. When they’re calmer, they become longer and more complex.

Once you’ve finished this section, you should have a compelling, coherent story with a nice pace that will set the reader’s hearts racing at times, and at other times allow them the breathe and relax.

2.5: Chapter/act division

I don’t think that too much theory is needed behind dividing your story into chapters or acts, but I’ll run through how I think.

First, you don’t need chapters or acts or anything like that, unless you want there to be and the story wants them. For novels I generally use chapters, but acts/books/whatever-you-want-to-call-them are a larger segmentation that may or may not help the structure of what you’re wanting to tell. We’ve talked about acts before, but note that there doesn’t need to be a correlation between the "acts" of your structure, and the "acts" of your story. You can have three acts where the first ends with the first plot point and the third starts with the third plot point, or you can have only two, etc, etc.

Second, the length of the chapters are irrelevant. You can have long chapters and short chapters and mixed-length chapters. What’s important is the story.

You will probably need to rewrite the beginning/ends of each chapter once you’ve decided on the division, to make sure they flow properly, and that the end of the prior chapter leads the reader into the beginning of the next, without being a good place to put down the book. In the resources I’ve linked to an article by John Yeoman on several ways to keep the reader hooked.

Practice

Divide the scenes in whichever way is necessary, then go to work with writing the beginning/end hooks. Keep in mind the pacing of the scene so that the hooks doesn’t mess it up. Unless, of course, you want the pacing to be mixed up–maybe picking up the speed in the last paragraph to lead into the following, action-filled chapter?

Oh, and don’t end a chapter with a character going to bed, unless there’s something else to entice the reader to read on.

Resources