3 Steps to Calculate Showing and Telling

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scene-structure bickhamA writing student of mine has asked more than once in class, “I am looking for a guideline on scene, to sequel, to narrative for my writing.” Whether it’s creative non-fiction (like a memoir), or a short story or even a novel, there are no magic formulas as in screenwriting. Writing movies can be as rigid as you’d like to follow, with expected major plot points coming at 30 pages, and again at 60. The whole thing needs to be written between 90 and 120 pages.

But if you’re working outside the realm of writing movies — and screenplays can be a powerful experience to teach story structure — you’ve got to decide for yourself what’s effective for these ratios. You have a key reader look at your mix for a chapter, or a workshop group. You read it aloud to yourself.

The mix? You can single-space it printed, then color-code with a highlighter. Blue for narrative — the telling or prelude or exposition. Yellow for dialogue and scene — where two or more people try to solve a problem, or a person struggles to accomplish a goal.

Then green for what Jack Bickham calls sequel. In his fine textbook Scene & Structure, Bickham describes sequel as the writing

…that begins for your viewpoint character the moment a scene ends. Just struck by a new, unanticipated but logical disaster, he is plunged into a period of sheer emotion, followed sooner or later by a period of thought — which sooner or later results in the formation of a new, goal-oriented decision, which in turn results in some action toward the new goal just selected.

Emotion to thought, then onward to new action. Bickham goes on to point out that once you have the action selected, you add a character or a force to oppose it. You get conflict. We crave conflict as readers. And so you’re now into the next scene. (It’s Chapter 7, Linking Your Scenes, in Bickham’s essential book.) More

Limelight burns more than Twilight

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There’s a great interview with Stephanie Meyer in Entertainment Weekly’s Web site. The best-selling author of the Twilight series of teen vampire love said that being this successful — first three books becoming movies, fans clamoring for more writing — has blocked her on the project.

Everyone now is in the driver’s seat, where they can make judgment calls. ”Well, I think this should happen, I think she should do this.” I do not feel alone with the manuscript. And I cannot write when I don’t feel alone. So my goal is to go for, like, I don’t know, two years without ever hearing the words Midnight Sun. And once I’m pretty sure that everyone’s forgotten about it, I think I’ll be able to get to the place where I’m alone with it again. Then I’ll be able to sneak in and work on it again.

While you work on your first book, you can be alone. But once a book hits with the splash that Twilight gave to Meyer, you’ll never be alone again. This is the business side of writing, the one that creates fans, makes you a celebrity and rich. Meyer is about the same age as J.K. Rowling was when Harry Potter ascended. But the Twilight empire has emerged much faster (some say the writing is a little under-baked) and this is Meyer’s first dance in the limelight. She talks of a new project she wants to work on that revolves around mermaids. You can look back at the movie careers of Quentin Tarantino, Orson Wells, even Kevin Smith after Clerks to see the challenge. The limelight was so hot that their second act was where the twilight fell on them.

You can climb back to the light, but it helps to be able to foresake the fame and quiet all those voices. An artist has to stay true to their own voice. If not, then your romance in the world of vampires might be dead to you.

As for waiting two years to release the next installment of Twilight, it’s a period where her publisher gets to prove its faith. They may need to release an imperfect Twilight book to be able to let Meyer cast off the yoke of Edward and friends. Two years is an eternity for an impatient publisher. Time means something different to the undead, though. Last week Meyer was looking toward the movie screen, not the word processing screen. Her blog reported:

We only have to wait 71 more days until New Moon the movie hits theaters! In case you don’t want to have to count the days on your calendar (like I just did) every time you think about Edward and Jacob, I’ve added a countdown widget to the New Moon Movie page

How hot is Twilight’s limelight? Hot enough to withstand the wisecracks and endure self-parody. On Facebook you can find a group called Because I Read Twilight I Have Unrealistic Expectations in Men

Of course, that should be “expectations of men,” but it’s only English written by 266,000 fans in the group. This is fame and fun we’re witnessing. And after 29 million copies sold, it would seem we’re all witnessing.