I'm one of those writers that dread the first draft -- the process of taking the perfect vision of my story out of my head, feeding it through my fingers onto a blank screen where it becomes a pale, messy, distorted reflection of the perfect story I thought I was writing. *shudder* It used to overwhelm me. It was never perfect. Heck, it wasn't even good. I finally had to accept that this is the way my first drafts work. I had to learn to just let whatever happens in that first draft happen. It's the only way I ever hack my way through the first draft jungle. Once that job is done I'm faced with sifting through the chaos to find the true story, the one I really wanted to tell.
For me, this is where the fun begins. I love revisions but I didn't always know how to fix the mess I'd made and so I began my continuing quest to learn how to craft a story. Over a lot of years I've learned many techniques to apply to my manuscripts while revising, but there are two I find the most useful in solving a multitude of problems: scene goals/disasters and sequels.
Every scene I write must have a goal/disaster pair for the point of view character. If I don't have a clear goal and pair it up with a strong disaster I can guarantee my pacing will be off, the conflict will be weak or nonexistent, I may even have the wrong pov character, and the reader won't have anything to worry about. A reader without anything to worry about -- will the goal be achieved? -- has no reason to turn a page. Something as simple as tweaking a goal and/or the disaster is often all it takes to resuscitate a dying scene.
However, there are times where what you have, or what you need, isn't really a scene in that there isn't a goal/disaster. What you need is a sequel. This gives characters an opportunity to reflect on something that has happened to them and form a new plan (ie, goal!). Sequels are particularly useful for getting the emotional layer of your story across to the reader and for sneaking in backstory and motivation. They also help slow down the pacing to give the characters and the readers a chance to take a breath, metaphorically speaking, before diving back into the action. If you are told your characters aren't coming alive on the page, this may be the technique you need to master.
Do you know how to craft a strong goal and a great disaster in every scene? Do you know the structure of a sequel and when to use one? I learned these techniques from a wonderful book called Scene and Structure by Jack Bickham. It's my number one recommended how-to book for writers. However, you can learn these techniques from me in an interactive workshop where you'll learn the hows and whys of the techniques and apply them to your own work so you, too, can master these easy, yet powerful, tools of the writing craft.
Scene CPR: Breathing Life into Ailing Scenes with Scene Goals, Disasters & Sequels, presented by Laurin Wittig, runs from February 6, 2012 through March 4, 2012.
Laurin Wittig is an award-winning author of Scottish historical romances. She has been published by Berkley Publishing, independently, and with Amazon's Montlake Romance line where two of her backlist books will be re-released on Valentine's Day, February 14th, 2012. She has 20+ years in the writing industry as an author, a critiquer, and a creative writing teacher. Her passion is story craft and she loves sharing what she's learned with other writers.
Visit her at LaurinWittig.com.