Ciao, SEers. I’m currently wrapping up edits on a full five-book series. It’s hard to revise all day, every day—especially when it’s your own work instead of a client’s—so sometimes, creative breaks are necessary. They actually serve two purposes.
- They let your analytical brain take a rest, so you’re less likely to make editing mistakes due to mental fatigue.
- They give you fodder for your next work.
And, let’s face it. If you’re a writer, you’re probably not a one-and-done artist. You’ve got a lot of stories to tell. There are no shortcuts. If you want to write multiple books, you have to write multiple books. So, while you’re doing the post-work on your soon-to-be-released masterpiece, you might as well also be thinking about your next one.
I’ve got a pretty cool concept for my next series. It’s combining two genres I love plus lore that I adore. (Sorry for the rhyme; I promise, there is no poetry planned for my next work.) But that got me thinking about left-brain and right-brain writing tasks. The table below shows (in the most general terms possible) where story crafting takes place.
What is that XXX you ask? Well, I noticed as my brain has been dividing its time between creative and analytical endeavors, there’s a part of writing that uses both. In different ways, but both.
That’s the actual writing.
Most people will tell you creative writing is a right-brain activity. After all, it says “creative” right in the name. But there is also a meticulous, analytical component. And I’m not just talking about sentence structure and grammar, though those things are also left-brain. (We forget that because crafting sentences is something we’ve been doing since we were infants, but there are formulas we follow to convey our messages coherently.) I mean the structure of the story itself.
It doesn’t matter if you’re a pantser, plantser, or planner. If you’re writing a strong story, you’re following a prescribed structure. You just might not realize it because story craft comes naturally to you.
A series is a compilation of novels. A novel is comprised of chapters. Chapters are made up of scenes.
What, exactly, is a scene?
A scene is a discrete unit of your text that reveals necessary information to advance your story. That’s it. There are probably as many definitions of “scene” as there are writers who write them, but in a nutshell, that’s what a scene is.
- It’s self-contained, with a beginning, middle, and end.
- It could advance the plot.
- It could propel a character’s story arc.
- It could reveal necessary information.
- Its size makes the information easier for a reader to take in and retain.
Let’s face it, scenes usually combine two or more of the above points. If they didn’t, we’d have chunks of text in stories that read more like dossiers or travelogues than fiction.
Dwight Swain wrote a book called Techniques of the Selling Writer in which he explained this process in great detail. According to Swain, every scene in your book should alternate between scenes and sequels. (Before you think I made a mistake, let me explain about the use of “scene” here. It is correct. His information is incredibly useful, but his terminology is unfortunate if not downright mindboggling.)
Scenes are the “proactive” units of a story. They introduce and advance goals, conflicts, and disasters.
Sequels are the “reactive” units of a story. They include reactions, dilemmas, and decisions.
Swain posits these units should always follow each other. If one of your scenes is a scene (yes, I know that sounds weird), the next has to be a sequel. It not only helps with pacing, it’s simply logical. If you state a goal, you need to reach for it. If you encounter a conflict, you need to (try to) resolve it. If you endure a disaster, you have to start to recover. The converse is also true. If you’ve reacted to something, you need new actions or the story stalls. If you encounter a dilemma, you need to try to solve it. If you’ve made a decision, you need to put it into effect.
In other words, after you act, you react. And after you react, you have to take action again.
I’d love to know if you think your writing follows this formula (whether innately or purposely). Do you think your craft is all creative, all formulaic, or a combination of both? Where does your process fit on the scale? Let’s talk about it below.