Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Writers Wednesday : Break Into Fiction

What is left for a writer to do when she's done all she can and still the book doesn't feel 'right'? The Pink Heart Society editor Jenna Bayley-Burke tells how an intensive workshop can turn the whole thing around.

Each year, the romance community rallies around Brenda Novak's auction to raise money for juvenile diabetes research. My local RWA group was luck enough to win the auction for a two-day workshop from Break Into Fiction authors Dianna Love & Mary Buckham. 

The two best selling authors got together to create the book to show (not tell) how good stories are woven together, turning point by turning point. Now, the two work travel into their busy writing schedules to give workshops based on the lessons from the book.  

BREAK INTO FICTION Power Writing Day with Dianna Love & Mary Buckham

Opening Hooks :: What makes this book break out and intrigue readers? Readers resonate to different hooks. The more hooks you incorporate, the more likely you are to draw a reader in. Action, surprise, raising a question, introducing a new element.

Use hooks in the opening sentence, end of opening paragraph, end of first page, end of third page, end of 3rd chapter, opening a chapter, beginning of every scene, final sentence (when writing a series).

An editor/agent tends to read the first 3 pages and if they like it, they’ll flip to the synopsis to make sure your story is solid. If they like that, they’ll read the 3 chapters.

If you are targeting an agent, editor, line, read books by newer authors to see what hooks work for them.


SCENES are units of action and emotion that stamp indelibly upon one’s awareness. A scene as a unit of conflict, of struggle, lived through by the character and the reader. Multiple points of view dilutes the emotion of the character.

Thank ACTION. The sequel, which is also an element of pacing, is the REACTION

3 functions of a scene

• Move your character toward their goal or show how the goal has changed
• Bring the character into greater conflict
• Strengthens or changes motivation

We spend our whole lives trying to tone down conflict – make the kids and the husband and boss are all happy. If you do that in a novel, nothing is going to happen. To avoid that, you work with scenes, conflict on the page. If your scene is not functioning, it is not working hard enough.

Dwight Swain’s Scene Advice :: Establish a goal that is clear for the character and thus for the reader. Each scene begins with a goal, then comes conflict.

Conflict is what creates the tension on the pages. Great conflict happens when the stakes are high, when the forces of opposition are equal.

When goal meets conflict what must happen next is a DISASTER or COMPLICATION. The STORY QUESTION

SEQUELS : Sequels are the reaction to the preceding scene. They create breathing space.

3 parts of a sequel

• Reaction
• dilemma
• decision

Clarify motivation for your character, and thus for your reader. Sequel clarifies the motivation for the reader.


Use settings to make your sentences do more than one thing. Relate your character to the setting. It can be more than just the description of a place.

Use setting ::

• to share backstory

• in an action sequence

• as a segue in a scene
• to show characterization
• to impact pacing
• to create sensory detail
• to show emotion
• to create complication
Make setting work hard by ::

1. Add one or more of the 5 senses
2. Add an emotion or reaction
3. Use action in this setting
4. Introduce new information
5. Slip in some backstory

Day two ofthe workshop focused on characterization. We started with ennegrams. I love using them when creating characters. I have an abbreviated method for character charts I call point-and-click characterization -- ennegrams, archetypes, astrology and sex. What more do you need?

Knowing our ennegram type helps us learn our default personality type for characters, and what to look for when comments on our story come back saying our heroine is acting out of character - it's probably when she's reacting as we would, not as she would.

Next, we moved on to character traits. We saw how using unexpected traits made for more rounded characters. Mary taught us not to write default characterization, more dimensional characters are what editors are looking for when they say they want the same, but different.
Character traits for career choices
COP -- controlling, helper, jaded, dominant, observant
FACTORY WORKER -- exacting, reliable, disenchanted
EXOTIC DANCER -- exhibitionist, confident, resourceful

What if they are spun around, and we change the assumed gender of the character?

female COP -- exhibitionist, confident, resourceful
female FACTORY WORKER -- controlling, helper, jaded, dominant, observant
male EXOTIC DANCER -- exacting, reliable, disenchanted

TOTALLY different characters come to mind, and they are much more interesting than before.

To explore character traits, we wrote five character traits of our hero or heroine...these were collected and doled out. We took the traits provided and then expanded on them. And then we passed it to the left and did it again. This really opened up personalities.

Here's mine
  1. busy > hyperactive > high achiever
  2. responsibile > stodgy > reliable
  3. determined > stubborn > persistent
  4. adventurous > reckless > curious
  5. charming > manipulative > self-assured
Not every suggestion works, but it does help brighten the picture of your character.

Next, the conversation turned from characters to plot structure. As a proud non-plotter, I mainly listened. One thing I was able to see yesterday was that I naturally work in scene and structure. I didn't understand it twenty-four hours ago, but was able to find the elements easily in the story I'd brought to analyze.

We worked through goals and turning points, fears and black moments. Getting back to the basics of the story really helped me see where my story had snagged...and hopefully can be repaied and knit back together.
Jenna's juggling the last few weeks of having the taller kiddos home for the summer, getting the small one ready for preschool, and finishing the road trip book right now. Until it's ready, be sure to check out her latest. Private Scandal is ripe with secrets, sass, and sensational sex. Keep up with Jenna's spin on things on her website & blog