Online Writing Workshop for Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror

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By workshop member Greg Byrne

Some kind critters had commented that some of my chapters were slow. And the truth of it was, they were right. So I read the relevant chapters, trying to get another reader's perspective and wondering what it is that makes for slowness, or excitement for that matter. I bought a book about plot development (startlingly called Plot) and read it carefully.

The author says that a story is made of scenes, and that each scene should have at least three purposes: to advance the story, reveal character, and create background/setting to underpin the first two. I realized that I enjoyed doing the third more than the first two, and also that it was the least important of the three: world-building without story would be a cultural treatise. In the same way, story without world-building would be starkly minimalist. What excites me is the challenge of creating a good story and interesting characters with the added dimension of a complex and original world.

So here's the idea, and it's probably one you've all had before anyway! On my computer, I went through the chapter in question and decided what comprised each scene. (My definition of a scene is often an event or related series of events that take place in a specific time and place: dinner at home, a day at college, etc.) I then changed the text color for that scene to green or whatever. I did the same for each of the six scenes in the chapter. Having the visual blocking of each scene to help, I analyzed each scene and asked myself, Does this advance the story? Does it reveal character? Does it create setting? And knowing that too much setting is boring, I cut all those scenes that created setting only. Of the others, I modified them until they both revealed character and advanced the story, and tried to create a laddering of tension throughout the chapter so that excitement was increased.

Much of my writing was done over the last 14 years, and a great deal of my earlier material was sloppy and directionless. This method helped to tighten it. Hope it helps in your own writing!