Monday, March 26, 2012

Scene & Sequel: How to write emotion into your sequel without making everyone want to puke

Holly wrote:

HELP!!! I just wrote a scene where my protag hacked into a thumb drive of her recently murdered dad. She finds porn-pics her dad took of her childhood best friend. She knew this had happened--he did time for it--she just didn't know he immortalized it with pictures. She is shocked and horrified and grossed out. Now i need to move into a sequel of that & go into more emotion. I'm having a hard time because i'm trying to keep tension up, not do too much exposition, not too much "woe-is-me... this is so, so, so icky what i found". I tried to move on with her getting a plan of what she should do next, trying to ramp up tension, but i need more sequel. Got any ideas for how to do more emotion without the melodrama?

The best thing to remember when writing emotion into a scene (or sequel) is that there is a difference between drama and MELOdrama. What is the difference? Drama is the natural, outward expression of our emotions. Melodrama is all about the wringing of the hands and wailing unto the heavens at the injustice of it all type crap. Drama--good. Melodrama--bad.
Try this exercise: close your eyes and pretend you're your protag. You've known for years that your father was a child molester and that he did horrible things to your best friend... but knowing is different than seeing it with your own two eyes. While you're "in your protag", think about how this makes you feel--being confronted with visual proof of what you already know. Are you shocked? Hurt? Sad? Angry? Now think about the first time you knew something was wrong between you and your best friend.. The day the two of you were playing hide and seek. You saw her come out of your father's study. She was pale, looked sick--like she'd been crying. Your father followed her out. He looked flushed and a bit on edge. That was the day she left without saying goodbye. After that, she refused to come to your house anymore. How did that make you feel? Were you confused? Hurt? Did you think you'd done something wrong or did you have that funny feeling that told you it was about your father and what'd happened in that study? How did that effect your relationship with her? Did you remain friends? Did she start to ignore you? Was she mean to you? Is there a physical reminder of your friend and the way it used to be between you? What are you doing while you entertains this memory? Looking at a picture of your BFF (Not a gross one)? Holding the friendship necklace the two of them had halves of? Only you know the answers. Remember, you're supposed to BE your protag right now.
This is where developing relationships with your characters come in handy. I know it sounds a bit crazy, but it helps. If they become real people to you, with distinct personalities, then their outward expression of emotion will come naturally to you--and them.
After completing the above exercise, write a few paragraphs, telling about the day your protag knew something was wrong with her best friend. Let her feel the emotion of that memory. No wailing. No sobbing. No shaking her fist skyward and screaming "WHHHYY!!" Just her natural outward expression of emotion. It doesn't have to be long, just enough to give us an idea of how finding these pictures effected her. In short, let us know what is at stake for her, emotionally, and that she's not a robot. :)

Got a plot problem? Email me at

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

My nine weeks in Hell...

On July 9th, 2010, I finished my first (and only... so far) novel. I was elated. I felt like I’d just discovered the meaning of life, given birth and had been launched into space, all at the same time.
In short--I was a badass.
Fast forward a month. I’d put out some queries and had felt the sting of rejection… and realized that 750 pages was a bit heavy for a thriller. I began to cull—or rather, I wanted to cull, but how to do that when every word you write is breathtakingly crafted? How do you kill your darlings when each is perfect? It was an impossible task...  not one I could manage on my own. Perhaps if I got a second opinion, they could tell me where to make cuts, maybe help me with typos… you know, just clean it up. Get it ready to wow the literary masses.
Now, fast forward a few weeks. I signed up for a college writing course (which took some doing considering I’d never taken a CRW class before in my life). The instructor seemed nice enough, so even though I was nervous, I felt confident he would recognize my brilliance. I logged onto the school black board and posted my first submission. And then promptly had an anxiety attack. Even though my head was between my knees and I was breathing into a paper bag, I was positive that my instructor would read my work and promptly nominate me for the Nobel Prize in literature.

Instead, he told me that I sucked… over and over and over again. Weeks rolled by--I no longer believed I was brilliant.
I grew frustrated. My instructor was no longer nice. He was vile—the very axis on which evil spun. He told me my prose was the color of eggplants. That I was melodramatic. Cryptic. A writer in love with her own words. He started rambling about modern story structure. Inciting incidents. Proper beginnings.  I started banging my head on the wall. My husband bought me a helmet.

But I held on, and I’ll tell you why… somewhere, buried deep in the weekly hack and slash he’d delivered to my submissions was this sentence:
Maegan, obviously you’re a good writer.

There was a light at the end of my deep, dark tunnel. It was faint and far, far away but I was desperate enough to hang on to it. I cut and pasted it into a blank document and printed it out. I stuck it to my cork board and stared at it for a while. It was exactly what I needed to hear.
I was a good writer.

I kept at it. I kept producing crap. I’m pretty sure my instructor wanted to kill me. That’s okay, the feeling was mutual. The shine of those words—Maegan, obviously you’re a good writer—began to wear off. I began to think he was yanking my chain. I wanted give up, but two things kept me from pulling the trigger:

1)      I’m way too stubborn to give up. Ever.

2)      If I quit, I’d never be able to write again without feeling like a complete fraud.
So I kept at it… and somewhere around week 9, all that banging my head against the wall knocked something loose. I delivered a workable inciting incident that was neither wordy, melodramatic or the color of eggplants. I used proper punctuation and shared important information with my reader.

I’d actually done it… and I kept doing it. Every week I got better. I stopped banging my head. I canceled the contract I took out on my instructor’s life. I gained confidence. I stopped feeling like I was going to pass out every time I sent in my weekly submission.
I wrote better.

I finished the final re-write on my novel on January 6th, 2012 and when I sent it in, I got this in response:

Hi Maegan,

 I just finished reading your reworked chapter one. I got chills. Do I need to say anything else?
This is ready to fly.

 I read this e-mail about a million times—unable to believe that what I’d started so long ago was finally ready. That I was going to have to let go. I started to have doubts, felt the sting of those earlier rejections—from the agents I queried years ago and from the instructor that had become my friend… and then I saw that piece of paper stuck to my cork board, read what it said:

 Maegan, you’re obviously a good writer...

And for the first time, truly believed it.

don't forget: Let me help you solve your plotting woes...

Sunday, March 11, 2012

The Plot Doctor is in!

I'm proud to say I've finished my first novel... and it's good. I mean, really good.

What’s my secret? It’s plotting. I'm a kickass plotter--it's something I love to do. It's like a puzzle that I get to change and shift until it fits perfectly together. What's not to love about that? So... if you have a plot dilemma, e-mail it to me at I'll feature one or two plot problems a week on my blog and I’ll do my best to help you get your story moving forward again.

Come on, what've you got to lose?