Scene and Chapter Breaks and Hooks

Hey Folks,

I love this topic, and it’s timely because it’s what I’ve been practicing in my last few WsIP. (grin)

As I write this, I have a copyediting job that I put on the back burner because I was so close to finishing the novel. I’ll begin that copyedit today.

To see what I mean by “copyedit,” please visit http://harveystanbrough.com/copyediting/.

The writer also requested I check to see whether the scene and chapter breaks “make sense.” I’ll check, but I have no doubt they will. Then again, that led me to this topic for the day.

First, let me define “break” so we’re all on the same page.

In my books, chapter breaks consist either of white space followed by a new chapter head, or a series of five spaced asterisks (in anything I send to Smashwords) followed by white space.

As for scene breaks, in my books, those consist of a series of three spaced asterisks followed by white space. Just my way of doing it.

Some writers use only white space, and that’s fine. But all writers that I’ve encountered thus far use something to clearly mark breaks.

Because the writer asked, I’ll check to be sure those breaks make sense. But I’ll go a step further and check to see whether they hook together from scene to scene and chapter to chapter.

That’s actually a three-step process.

1. I’ll check to see whether there’s a tension-building cliffhanger (physical or emotional) in the few paragraphs before the break.

Yes? Check.

No? I’ll add a comment out to the side, with or without a specific recommendation.

2. I’ll check to see whether there’s a good hook immediately after the break. A good opening sentence or paragraph.

For examples of great opening hooks, see my free book (a $6 value) Writing Great Beginnings on the Free Stuff page of my website at http://harveystanbrough.com/downloads/.

3. As long as I’m looking for a hook, I’ll also check to see whether the writer grounds (or re-grounds) the reader in the opening of the new scene or chapter.

For that, I’ll check the first few paragraphs of the new scene or chapter. That’s where you ground the reader, even amidst ongoing action.

So grounding. Yes? Check.

No? Again, I’ll add a comment out to the side, with or without a specific recommendation.

Okay, so while I’m on the topic, how do you ground or re-ground the reader in a new scene or chapter?

The only way is to allow the reader to sense (see, hear, smell, taste, touch) the setting through the POV character’s senses.

And remember to include the character’s opinions of the setting when appropriate. (When the opinion matters to the scene or illustrates the character of the character.)

One good example that I often use is a room in which the aroma of pipe tobacco lingers. Pretty much any character will notice it (smell).

But for one character it’s an aroma, and for another it’s a stench. For another the air is stuffy. For another it’s wonderful.

For another (or any of the above) perhaps it invokes a memory of the character’s father’s study.

For another (or any of the above) maybe it invokes the taste of cinnamon on toast because the scent of pipe tobacco is tied to that flavor for the character.

You get the idea. A good rule of thumb is to write NOTHING that doesn’t come through the POV character’s senses and opinion. And yes, that will flavor the character’s dialogue as well.

Most importantly, it will pull the reader into the setting and into the POV character’s head.

‘Til next time, happy writing!

Harvey

The Journal, Wednesday, 4/5

Hey Folks,

This morning I approved and responded to a comment on my latest ProWriters post over on the big blog.

After I did that, I read over the post. It was a topic from the Journal a couple of years ago. And I noticed that I had quoted some stats:

“Through yesterday, May 9, 2015 (as I write this) 128 days have passed since January 1. During that 128 days, I’ve written 284,100 publishable words of fiction. My daily average thus far this year is 2219.5312 words per day.”

That was two years ago. And that’s why I keep this Daily Journal.

Back to the present.

Through yesterday, April 4, 2017, there have been 94 days in this calendar year. In those 94 days, I’ve written 215,745 publishable words of fiction. My daily average thus far this year (including nonwriting days) is 2295.1595 words per day.”

Wow. On one hand, I need to pick up the pace, eh? By which I mean, 1-Spend more time in the writing chair, and 2-When I’m in that chair, spend more time actually writing.

On the other, is that consistency, or what? (grin)

But today I’ll be copyediting a work for another writer. More on that below. If an idea latches onto me and drags me to the Hovel, I’ll write too. Otherwise this will be a nonwriting day.

Topic: Scene and Chapter Breaks and Hooks

I love this topic, and it’s timely because it’s what I’ve been practicing in my last few WsIP. (grin)

I have a copyediting job that I put on the back burner because I was so close to finishing the novel. I’ll begin that copyedit today.

To see what I mean by “copyedit,” please visit http://harveystanbrough.com/copyediting/.

The writer also requested I check to see whether the scene and chapter breaks “make sense.” I’ll check, but I have no doubt they will. Then again, that led me to this topic for the day.

First, let me define “break” so we’re all on the same page.

In my books, chapter breaks consist either of white space followed by a new chapter head, or a series of five spaced asterisks (in anything I send to Smashwords) followed by white space.

As for scene breaks, in my books, those consist of a series of three spaced asterisks followed by white space. Just my way of doing it.

Some writers use only white space, and that’s fine. But all writers that I’ve encountered thus far use something to clearly mark breaks.

Because the writer asked, I’ll check to be sure those breaks make sense. But I’ll go a step further and check to see whether they hook together from scene to scene and chapter to chapter.

That’s actually a three-step process.

1. I’ll check to see whether there’s a tension-building cliffhanger (physical or emotional) in the few paragraphs before the break.

Yes? Check.

No? I’ll add a comment out to the side, with or without a specific recommendation.

2. I’ll check to see whether there’s a good hook immediately after the break. A good opening sentence or paragraph.

For examples of great opening hooks, see my free book (a $6 value) Writing Great Beginnings on the Free Stuff page of my website at http://harveystanbrough.com/downloads/.

3. As long as I’m looking for a hook, I’ll also check to see whether the writer grounds (or re-grounds) the reader in the opening of the new scene or chapter.

For that, I’ll check the first few paragraphs of the new scene or chapter. That’s where you ground the reader, even amidst ongoing action.

So grounding. Yes? Check.

No? Again, I’ll add a comment out to the side, with or without a specific recommendation.

Okay, so while I’m on the topic, how do you ground or re-ground the reader in a new scene or chapter?

The only way is to allow the reader to sense (see, hear, smell, taste, touch) the setting through the POV character’s senses.

And remember to include the character’s opinions of the setting when appropriate. (When the opinion matters to the scene or illustrates the character of the character.)

One good example that I often use is a room in which the aroma of pipe tobacco lingers. Pretty much any character will notice it (smell).

But for one character it’s an aroma, and for another it’s a stench. For another the air is stuffy. For another it’s wonderful.

For another (or any of the above) perhaps it invokes a memory of the character’s father’s study.

For another (or any of the above) maybe it invokes the taste of cinnamon on toast because the scent of pipe tobacco is tied to that flavor for the character.

You get the idea. A good rule of thumb is to write NOTHING that doesn’t come through the POV character’s senses and opinion. And yes, that will flavor the character’s dialogue as well.

Most importantly, it will pull the reader into the setting and into the POV character’s head.

Today, and Writing

Rolled out at 4. Spent the first two hours with the usual stuff. Then around 6:30 I made a quick trip to the store.

Back at the house, I made and ate breakfast and did a chore or two. Oh, and wrote the stuff above. And just like that, over 4 hours of the day were gone.

Then I added another book to the Free Stuff page on my website (see above), then cross-posted the topic above to the big blog for posting sometime in December.

Around 9 I finally went face down in the copyedit.

Around 1:30 or so I realized I wasn’t going to write today. Edits pick up speed as you go through them. Perhaps I’ll begin writing again tomorrow or the next day.

For now, I’ll go ahead and post this.

Back tomorrow.

Of Interest

Check the comments for The Magic Bakery: Chapter Three (http://www.deanwesleysmith.com/the-magic-bakery-chapter-three/#comments) for yet another horror story re contracts.

I enjoyed “Fourth Story Finished Sort of…” (http://www.deanwesleysmith.com/fourth-story-finished-sort-of/) because I’m glad to know it isn’t only me. (grin) Very interesting.

Fiction Words: XXXX
Nonfiction Words: 1000 (Journal)
So total words for the day: 1000

Writing of

Day 1…… XXXX words. Total words to date…… XXXX

Total fiction words for the month……… 7189
Total fiction words for the year………… 215745
Total nonfiction words for the month… 2080
Total nonfiction words for the year…… 59420

Total words for the year (fiction and nonfiction)…… 275165

The Importance of Setting (and How to Write It): Part One

Hi Folks,

Options_160This might well be the most valuable post you’ve read about writing fiction. I am not joking. I even put a picture on here so you could share it to Pinterest if you want. (grin)

Okay, first, the necessary preliminary stuff.

To start a story of any length, you have to write an opening. The opening most often will consist of 300 to 500 words.

In the opening, you introduce a character, give him a problem, and drop him into a setting. (This doesn’t have to be “the” problem of the story. It’s just to get you into the opening.)

If the opening works, meaning if the story wants to keep going (most of the time it will), you write the rest of the story. But everything stems from writing that opening.

In this post, I’m going to focus on writing the setting. The character(s) almost certainly will move through several settings during the course of the story. Those settings will vary depending on what’s happening at the moment. And where it’s happening. And sometimes why. But the setting is always important.

In the opening, you’re trying to get and keep the reader’s attention, and the setting has everything to do with that.

The character’s perception and opinion of the setting will not only paint a picture for the reader, it also will tell him a lot about the character. So it’s important to include the character’s physical senses in every scene whenever possible. Any description of the setting should pass through the perceptions of the character.

The first rule of writing a setting is to Focus Down. Don’t be vague. Give the reader something that will ground him in the story. The reader who is well grounded in the setting is engaged in the story. If he isn’t well grounded in the setting, he might leave the story at any time. So again, don’t be vague. Focus down.

For example, if your story opening takes place “on the earth” or “on the moon” that’s pretty vague. If it takes place on the the southern continent, that’s still far too general to draw the reader in. If the opening takes place in the Amazon rain forest, that’s not much better.

But if the setting is a specific, localized area near the Amazon River in the rain forest— well, now you’ve got something.

The more focused the setting, the more engaged the reader.

For example, take a look at this:

Dr. Steven Zimmer ambled along the narrow trail. The Amazon River rumbled quietly along somewhere to his left. He didn’t remember it being this close earlier. Or this humid.

Sweat. Everything was sweat in this place. The Amazon was probably made of sweat. Sweat had soaked his khaki camouflage boonie hat. It had turned his light khaki shirt and pants dark halfway to his knees. And still it trailed down his forehead and temples.

His streaked glasses kept sliding down his nose. He thought the base camp lay in this direction, but apparently not. Still, if he just continued a while longer, this trail might intersect—

He stopped, his eyes wide. He gaped for what seemed like a very long time, then came to his senses and ducked into the brush alongside the trail. He crouched in the heady scent of passion flower vines, sweeping a broad leaf away from his right cheek. The leaf was drenched in sweat too.

Maybe they hadn’t seen him. Maybe the rush of the Amazon hid any noise he had made. Still, his heart was thumping in his chest. He pushed his glasses up his nose.

Several yards ahead of him, a few native males were engaged in some sort of ritual.

And his stupid camera was miles away for all he knew. In the stupid base camp. Wherever that was.

He frowned. Lost or not, he was still a scientist. He still could observe. He leaned slightly forward, and his brow tightened as he strained to listen.

But the language was nothing more than a series of clicks and clacks. What was he thinking? Even if he could hear it plainly, he wouldn’t have a clue what they were saying. He grinned.

But the grin fled when someone gripped his shoulder.

There. In just under 300 words, the reader is fully grounded in the scene. He is crouched in the brush deep in the Amazon rain forest, curious enough to keep reading and hopeful Dr. Zimmer can get himself and the reader home.

Some will say it’s a lot easier to focus down in such an exotic setting. An exotic setting plays to the imagination. After all, how many readers have ever been in the Amazon rain forest? Then again, a LOT of people have felt sweat, humidity, heard a river, and so on. And that’s where the focus of the scene lies: in the physical senses of the character.

But fair enough. In the next post — The Importance of Setting (and How to Write It): Part Two — I’ll give you another example in a more domestic setting. (grin)

In the meantime, if you enjoyed this example, you can study it and write something similar.

Better yet, copy the techniques (invoking the five senses, using the Return/Enter key to build tension and set pacing, etc.) and apply them to your own openings.

Remember, to begin, all you have to do is create a character, give him a problem, drop him into a setting and write. That’s it. If the opening takes off, go with it. Write the next sentence, then write the next sentence. Keep doing that until the character(s) lead you to the end of the story.

I’ll conclude this with the next post, but there’s no reason you can’t write an opening right now. If you do, feel free to drop a comment in the Comments section below and let me know how it works out for you.

An exciting announcement — I’ve wanted for awhile to turn my personal website back into a writer’s website and let my publisher over at StoneThreadPublishing.com deal with all the other stuff.

If you’re reading this in your email, please stop by HarveyStanbrough.com and visit the My Publisher page. And when you have time, I hope you’ll take a few minutes to drop by StoneThreadPublishing.com as well. There are and will continue to be some pretty sweet deals over there.

By the way, for those of you who enjoy NaNoWriMo, there’s an excellent blog post you need to read over at Dean Wesley Smith’s website. Scroll down to the Topic of the Night. It isn’t long, and if you follow his advice you’ll enjoy NaNo a lot more. (This is what most long-term professional writers do every month.)

Be sure to be back here next time for The Importance of Setting (and How to Write It): Part Two.

‘Til then, happy writing.

Harvey

Note: If you find something of value in these posts or on this website, consider dropping a tip into Harvey’s Tip Jar on your way out. If you’ve already contributed, Thanks! If you can’t make a monetary donation, please at least consider forwarding this post to a friend or several. Again, thank you.