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Thursday, October 21, 2010

Not all Change is Created Equal: A basic guide to page turning scenes

Currently I’m reading Holly Lisle’s How to write page turning scenes, and it’s so incredibly inspiring that I decided to blog on it. I’ve touched briefly on this once or twice with a blog about hooks, found here. But I thought I would delve a little more deeply as my light bulb moments go off while I’m in the middle of my own learning process.

The first basic premise Holly touches on is the basics of a scene: Two simple steps must be included in order to call it a scene.

1. A thing to be changed.

2. Change

Sounds so simple doesn’t it? It was such a light bulb moment for me when I read this. Essentially, you’re not writing about a character but instead about a character who changes. That’s your hook, that’s what makes your story compelling. Page—turning quality.

And of course you’ll need to have the building blocks of the scene to build with: character, pacing, conflict, dialogue, action, description and backstory. If you have your characters sitting around talking about what they plan to do next, cut the scene. It’s not compelling enough to bring about a change. Instead, start the scene with them doing it. In today’s fast paced world, people don’t realize that while the world is evolving around us, so do our tastes and hobbies. Our attention spans grow shorter and shorter, so must our writing grow and change. Which translates to every scene must count. Every scene must change. Every scene must show growth and move the story forward.

Now I’m not going to give away all her secrets as you’ll just have to get the book yourself at http://www.hollylisle.com/ but I will give one or two things that helped me find my "aha" moment.

Getting the basics down on paper in twenty five words or less can help you focus on your main plot.

Sometimes we just need to know what we’re trying say before we actually say it. I know how hard it is to condense a 100,000 word project down to twenty—five words or less but sometimes that’s exactly what we need to give us insight into what we need to say.

Characters are such a complex thing it would take an entire book to explain this part of a scene, so just make sure that you know your characters. Know what makes them tick, what they want, what they’re willing to do to get it and more importantly, what they’re not willing to do to get it. And then set them in the absolute worst possible point in the story and watch them squirm. Don’t ever be nice to your characters, whether it’s an outside conflict that you’ve set them in or an internal conflict. Be harsh. It’ll do them some good.

So to wrap this up I’m going to give a fun little exercise and see what everyone can come up with. This is just for fun and I’m going to participate as well. At the end of the day I’ll post my own little exercise. Holly uses this exercise in her book and it completely changed how I looked at scenes. I’m going to twist it a bit though to fit in here.

Put a character someplace alone. In an empty church, in an old barn, in the desert, in an attic, or even in a bed trying to go to sleep and in 200 words or less, bring about change. Change the scene somehow, someway. A new character stumbles in the room, or an internal conflict comes into play. Show me the change! Good luck and have fun with this, and feel free to discuss the examples, I'd love to see what everyone thinks about the entries. And more importantly, write and count it toward your word count for the day because we all know that every time we write, we get better. Practice makes perfect, after all.


  1. Wow, Melissa. I'll have to give the exercise some thought and come back. :)

    I like how Holly boils it down to something so simple. The other night I was writing a scene and when I realized even I was bored, I knew it was bad. lol There was nothing increasing the tension. Hopefully, I've fixed it now. If not, it will get chopped in the end.

  2. I can't wait to see what you come up with Samatha!

    And I think that's the beauty of my aha moment. It seemed so simply and I think it was actually a smack my forehead type of moment. Holly has tons of free info on her website for writers as well for those of us pinching pennies.

    I'll bet you it wasn't bad but I've read many of your scenes and I know you'll do quite well with it. I love your characters and you seem to get right into thier heads so well, so I know it's a done deal.

    Thanks for stopping by!

  3. Great post, Melissa! And fun challenge...I'll see what I can come up with, but I don't want to be the first to post. LOL!

  4. LOL okay here is what I came up with this morning and it may have sparked a future story. I don't know yet. We'll see.

    The china rattled in the silence as Madelyn clicked the door shut behind her. Her father’s cough worsened every day. She leaned against doorjamb and sighed. How could she continue in this vein? Running the ranch alone? All of the servants had quit and she’d sold every piece of furniture she could afford to comfortably sell. And now, she worried she wouldn’t be able to pay Doctor Delyn while he cared for her father anymore.
    Madelyn pushed off the wall and strode down the hallway, determined to make this work. She refused to lose her beloved home, no matter the cost.
    Her father had built this place with his bare hands, what had once been a tiny little shack had grown into a magnificent adobe hacienda. Only a few pieces of expensive art and portraits remained on the cream colored walls. The click of her boots echoed off the empty walls.
    Everything she’d once loved. Gone. Including her hopes and dreams.
    Madelyn reached the elegant dual stairwell and rested a hand on the polished mahogany banister. The clump of her boots against the wood pounded in the too silent house.
    The front door broke open and revealed just briefly the metallic blue sky. The long barrel of a shot gun appeared just before a group of Mexican banditos filed in.

  5. Great post, Melissa. I'll give it a whirl.

    Arianna pressed back into the cool sheets of the bed, her breaths still coming in ragged bursts. The horn of the ship blew long and hard, reverberating in the cramped cabin, yet sending a sigh of extreme relief through her. She threw the thin, torn sheet over her burning skin, closed her eyes and said a quick prayer of thanks that she’d grown up in the slums of Paris. For surely the life she fled was the one that had just saved her. The ship groaned and moved through the water towards her freedom. She relaxed and the promise of sleep seeped through her starved body like a drug. Air swished – nothing too strange – unless you’d spent your life on the run. She snapped open her eyes and screamed. A calloused, smoke tinged hand slammed against her lips, bruising them.
    Dansby leaned toward her, the dark no cloak for the anger radiating from him. “You have something that belongs to me, Shadow Dancer.”
    She recoiled. He knew who she was. The game was played and only one person could live. She took a deep breath, blew him a kiss and jerked the knife up and toward his heart.

  6. This is the intro from my latest wip. :o)

    The sleepy afternoon silence of the Davey Lending Library ended abruptly with the harsh jangle of the door bell and rushed footsteps crossing the room. Winifred Moore turned from the bookshelf and glimpsed a dark shape disappearing behind the bookshop serving counter.

    Fearing a thief was after the day’s meager takings, Winifred hurried to protect her father’s business interests, holding a large tome before her as a weapon.

    “Please, pretend I’m not here,” a deep masculine voice rumbled from the vicinity of the floor. “I shall inconvenience you just a few moments.”
    Winifred rounded the corner of the counter and spied a Dandy lying on the shop floor. Quite unused to such a dubious honor, she took a moment to memorize the image for her later fantasies. Dark windswept hair, dark greatcoat open to expose the expensive tailoring of his superior class, matching sapphire cravat pin and signet ring identified the owner of the piercing blue eyes as the Duke of Devizes’ favorite son. His heir.

    Winifred stepped back. “My lord, you should not be upon our floor.”

    Tristan Greene, Viscount Ramsbury, propped himself on one elbow and flashed a cheeky grin. “My dear, Mrs. Moore, I am exactly where I wish to be.”

  7. Oh great examples! Love them both. Julie yours is so suspenceful! Well done! And Heather I love the ending! So surprising I am dying to read both now lol.

    Great job ladies, and I commend you for having the courage to post them here. Great job ladies!