How to write scenes (NaNoWriMo Week 1)

In this throwback post from last year’s NaNoWriMo, you’ll learn how to write scenes that make your reader crave more—and will get you excited about writing more!

Lara Willard

Last week I shared my tips for Speed-Writing Your First Draft. Yesterday I talked about the five building blocks of a story. Today I’m giving you three elements of scene. In the weeks to follow, I’ll give you some benchmarks and plot ideas to keep you from getting stuck.

Every scene needs a goal (the beginning), conflict (the middle), and sequel (the end).

Goal

Your character needs to have overarching goals to push the story forward (download my free goal and backstory worksheet). At the midpoint, he or she will adapt, change, or redirect the Big Goal.

But each scene needs to have a minor goal, a step-stone goal.

These goals need to be external and active to drive the story forward and keep the reader reading.

Introspection is neither external nor active; it’s internal and passive. It belongs at the end of each scene.

Running away from something requires movement and…

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Vulnerability & Art

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A year ago, I wrote a poem on my experience with loneliness. I read that poem at an event surrounded by friends, family, and strangers. It was difficult and intimidating to be so open about something so personal. Yet, the response I received from that experience, from a single reading, garnered more impact than any other piece I’ve ever written.

And their gracious responses were not because my poem was in any way literary genius. I believe they responded because I allowed my art to be vulnerable.

This goes against most—and certainly, my—human nature. We tend to protect ourselves, guard the things we care about for fear of pain, rejections, and embarrassment. But there’s something innately beautiful that can happen when we decide to allow depth in our art: we invite others into our vulnerability.

I believe we each have something good to offer the world. For me, this can mean putting words to emotions or situations that others feel but may not be able to describe or name. I desire to bridge art with a pure, human story, and through that, to something true, something found.

So, why am I talking about vulnerability? If I may be so bold, I want to encourage you to add vulnerability to your art, your stories. Perhaps even adding pieces of yourself, your story, your challenges, losses, or fears to your characters or themes. I’m by no means saying our characters have to be exactly like us; that would significantly defeat the purpose of exploring worlds and perspectives outside our own. Yet, don’t let the pendulum swing so far that you feel your character can’t have your strength, your grace, or your loneliness. All are beautiful and human and your experience to share, a part of your greater story.

So, if this idea makes you anxious or uncomfortable, I encourage you to jump. Try vulnerable. And see what truth, what light, may come.

The Kinds of Queries that Work, from Query Shark

In the querying trenches? Maybe the query formulas you’ve tried don’t seem to work for *your story.* In this post from the archives, I’ve taken winning queries from Query Shark and sorted them by types. Which one seems to fit your story best?

Lara Willard

querylara

Two queries on Query Shark I recommend every querying writer to read. They are #246 and #179.

From 246:

This works.

The first sentence catches my attention. The rest of the letter tells me who the main character is, what her problem is, who the antagonist is and what he wants, and what’s at stake.

If I took on YA novels, I’d ask for pages.

From 179:

Yes! This is exactly how to start a query. We know what Jessica wants, and who is trying to thwart her. 

At this point we know the characters, what they want, and have a sense of who they are. There’s nothing extra here, but also nothing left out.

If you take a look at all of the winning queries on Query Shark, they aren’t all the same. Because there is no formula for writing good query letters.

But there are…

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