Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Writer's Wednesday - The Story and the Pea

Jennifer Hayward is talking to the Pink Heart Society about what happens when something is not quite right with the story you're working on...

You know that feeling when you really love a story but like the princess who couldn't quite find the right feather bed in her quest to get comfortable, your story isn't quite right? It's not pulling together as well as it should? 

I was recently working on a story like that. 

When I finished it, I could tell something was missing, but it was difficult to put my finger on it, so I went back and analyzed the book. Gave my brain space to think. And I realized what the problem was. I had left out a couple of key sequels in the story as well as a key scene I needed to demonstrate my hero and heroine’s character arcs.

It isn’t always possible or necessary, for that matter, to include a sequel for every scene your characters appear in, particularly when you’re using multiple POVs. Often I blend them into a subsequent scene in a fast-paced story. But you can’t forget about them entirely. You’ll notice it in your flow, in the cause and effect sequence of your story.

In the case of my story, had I followed my usual practice of blocking out the consecutive scenes and sequels for my book I would have picked up on this sooner and likely wouldn’t have had this problem. But I was flying along and I got careless.

In Scene and Structure, the classic story structure book, Jack Bickham writes about the crucial building blocks of scene and sequel that will push a story along to it natural conclusion, while maintaining a high degree of tension along the way. It ensures your characters act in a logical action, reaction sequence so they’re making real three dimensional choices. For every action a character makes, there is a consequent reaction that pushes the story forward and so on and so on. It sounds simple, and it is, but it’s easy to get caught up in a story and forget the basics. 

That’s when holes appear.

A few tips for:

Scenes – Begin with your character’s goal. The goal is hijacked by your conflict (lots of it) and a disaster occurs (except in those rare scenes where your character has a success/resting point)

Sequels – These are your transition moments that follow on logically from your disaster. Your characters must experience the disaster, go through all the logical thought processes – their reaction, the dilemma they have (the choices, the consequences) and then make their decision. If you cheat this process and don’t explore it fully, your transition moments will not be as powerful as they could be. 

Beware of rehashing things the reader already knows or belaboring the same point you’ve been through before. Introduce new information each sequel that allows the character arc to move forward, to provide the nuggets the character needs to make his/her decision and grow as a person

So if you're scratching your head and can't figure out what's bugging you about your story, take a step back and look at your building blocks. It may be as simple as a few tweaks to get everything working as it should!

What're your favourite techniques for building stories? 

To find out more about Jennifer and her books, you can visit her website or find her on Facebook and Twitter.

You can read the prequel story to Jennifer’s kickoff book for Harlequin Presents’ Society Weddings series, Society Wedding Secrets, on Harlequin’s website. Or read an excerpt from The Italian's Deal For I Do.


  1. So interesting, Jennifer! Yep, still scratching my head over here aka struggling with craft! Does this mean a character ONLY arcs (i.e. moves forward/changes) in the sequel, rather than the scene? And if you block out each scene and sequel for every chapter - what happens when a character refuses to play ball?! Or have you first-drafted before you get to that stage?
    Thanks so much for the post! Mx

    1. Oh no - characters grow in action scenes as well as they are showing and not telling their change - eg: if a character realizes they need to stand up for themselves and be proud of who they are/where they come from, they might realize that in a sequel through reflection, but put what they've learned into action in a scene by telling off the bully. Make sense? And so on, until they've learned what they need to learn. I outline my book loosely for turning points first, then I start blocking scenes and sequels as I go. This allows me to incorporate those 'not playing ball' moments you mention and adjust for the flux of my story as I go. Jack's book is really amazing if you haven't read! Glad you found the blog interesting and thanks for stopping by!

  2. And THAT's why you're a top writer Jen! Your technical know-how is so well developed but you craft so naturally too. A great read and I'm off to Amazon again! Thanks for the tips #alwayslearning

    1. aww thanks Bella! So awesome you dropped by with your fabulous self! x

  3. Great practical tips here! I'm going to try opening the scene with the characters goal, I think sometimes I do it subconsciously but this has made me think more about it. Thanks!

    1. thanks Stef! It does really help me when I'm consciously putting my character's goal front and centre in every scene. It really solidifies their motivation for the reader.

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