Category Archives: Resources

Scenes: 2 types, 7 tools

A little advice from Writing Fiction for Dummies.


Authors Randy Ingermanson and Peter Economy categorize scenes into two types – proactive and reactive. Each scene has a recognizable beginning, middle, and end.


Beginning – define the “simple, objective, worthwhile, achievable, and difficult” goal.
Middle – conflict. Hit your POV character. When he tries to get up, hit him again.
End – setback. Make sure he’s down for the count.


Beginning – he reacts to a setback from previous scene.
Middle – Box your guy in. No easy outs.
End – he’s got to make a “simple, objective, worthwhile, achievable, and difficult” decision.

Writing-Fiction-For-Dummies-B002XGICAO-LVery helpful as a sort of checklist for analyzing, and in some cases rearranging, my scenes.

I can see how one scene type segues into the other, so even though the authors don’t really say, I’m guessing the idea is to go back and forth throughout the story. I might put “P” and “R” on my index cards and see if it pans out.

Note: not every scene is going to be knock-down-drag-out, but all of them should do their part to propel the story forward. Those middle bits have to be exciting enough to keep readers turning pages. (Chapter 14)


“Show, don’t tell.”

We’ve all been told, but have we been shown? Showing presents the sights, sounds, smells, tastes, feelings and thoughts of a character. Telling skips over all the sensory stuff and just gives the facts.

In order of importance, 5 tools to help you show:

      • ACTION
      • DIALOGUE

and 2 for when you need to tell:


That “in order of importance” bit bugs me. I’m pretty sure I tell too much, show too little. Anyhoo, there’s some good advice about how to get in and out of a flashback. Even better advice: don’t overuse the technique.

And these are smart tips for writing narrative summary:

  • BE INTERESTING. Not boring. Only surprising facts, critical info about your story world, and vivid imagery.
  • BE STRONG. Distinctive voice, entertaining delivery.
  • BE BRILLIANT.  (Chapter 10)

This post has probably been none of those four things. Brilliant.


Beat Sheet Mini

Beat Sheet for a Novel is the #1 post on this blog. Meaning it gets viewed every day, but is it helpful? Beats me.

In an effort to be useful, I thought I’d share my BEAT SHEET MINI. This is a quick fill in the blank beat sheet you can use to beat out any film, screenplay, or novel.

The (#s) are minute marks at which events happen. For example, the midpoint of a movie/screenplay occurs around minute/page 55.

Novels, being longer than screenplays, tend to stick to the script only for the first few beats— you get the opening image on page 1, a theme by page 5 or so, and you’re well into the set-up by page 10.

After this, books get more longwinded with each beat. No page 55 midpoints. We’d be disappointed if there were. But it just so happens in The Truth of Me (reviewed yesterday), a 114 page children’s book, the turning point comes in the last sentence on page 55. Patricia MacLachlan must be a Blake Snyder fan!

I use the BEAT SHEET MINI for two things:

  • As a bookmark, to keep track of key plot points of novels I read
  • As a mini-outline, for fleshing out a story idea I might write

Here’s the PDF:

Beat Sheet Mini

Let me know in the comments if and how you use it.

Little Free Library

LOVE the hand-painted artistry.
Hand-painted, can you believe it? A lot of book love went into this little gem!

I’ve been meaning to take a picture of this all summer. It’s a Little Free Library! We found it perfectly located at a little free park, on the path to a little free beach where my little free spirits like to swim.

Doesn’t it remind you of “the P.C. and P.O.” from Little Women?

I have set up a post office in the hedge in the lower corner of the garden, 
a fine, spacious building with padlocks on the doors and every convenience for the mails,
also the females, if I may be allowed the expression. 
It’s the old martin house, but I’ve stopped up the door and made the roof open, 
so it will hold all sorts of things… Letters, manuscripts, books

—Laurie, aka “Sam Weller” of the Little Women’s Pickwick Club

Close-up. This has got to be the cutest LFL.
Close-up. This has got to be the cutest LFL.

At first we thought it was the local library’s clever idea, but it’s actually kind of a ‘thing.’
A big thing, too– thousands of these have popped up in front yards all over the globe, hosted by regular old bookworms like you and me.

There was even a contest to design unique book houses in NYC. (Houzz has an article with cool pictures: Little Free Libraries Take Manhattan.)

Even the back is amazing. Wish I knew the artist's name!
Even the back is amazing. Wish I knew the artist’s name!

Ah, New York. If I still lived there, I’d totally host one. In the mean time, I’m inspired to contribute some fun titles to make sure this box stays well stocked.

“As a means of promoting friendly relations between adjoining [neighbors],” I’m quite sure Mr. Lawrence and the March sisters would find this “a capital little institution.”

Have you seen one? Used one? Hosted one?

Definition of a writer

“The definition of a writing career is:
Write a book. Write another book. Write another book.
—Holly Lisle

Holly Lisle writes books. She also writes articles and courses on how to write books. And they’re awesome. Her step by step instructions and no-bullshit approach offer a much needed kick in the pants and make you think, “I can do this.”

I’m almost done with my first draft, which means it’s almost time to revise. Enter Lisle’s One Pass Manuscript Revision:

“My first drafts suffer from the same little shop of horrors as everyone else’s: poor plotting, crappy characterization, logic leaps, redundancy, aimless wandering, bad writing, worse writing, and utterly execrable writing.
But my first revision is my last revision. If you’d like to cut years off the process of revising, I’ll be happy to show you how.”

Yes, please!

Lisle busts the myth that you need to labor over your WIP for years. She smacks the dilettante pout off your misunderstood-artist face, then with the other hand offers a system for revising that makes total sense and actually gets the job done.

Steps include writing a micro-summary and list of themes; reviewing scenes, conflicts, chronology; how to take notes to remind yourself of threads, character arcs and plot lines you’ve changed or killed off; and offering yourself suggestions on story and theme evolution.

She acknowledges that revision is a slog, but manages to make tearing your baby apart sound fun and doable. “Think of your novel as “A Life: The Good Parts Version.” All the sex and violence, passion and struggle. None of the teeth-brushing.”

“Doing a seventeenth revision on a project does not make a writer an artist
or move him above the writer hoi polloi any more than
dressing entirely in black or wearing tweed jackets with leather elbow patches
or big, black drover coats. These are all affectations, 
and smack of dilettantism.
Real writers, and real artists, finish 
books and move on to the next project.

Without this smart advice, I think I’d wallow in an unpublished novelesque pigsty forever. The One Pass approach gives me hope.

(Note: I’ve never met Holly and no one paid me to tell you she rocks.)

5 NEW Verse Novels for grown-ups

They’re novels! They’re poems!
They’re glorious forums
For talented writers to show off their prowess
At meter and rhythm and plots that will wow us.


Yeah, okay, I’m no Novel-in-Verse writer, but I read them and FIND them like a boss.

Most stuff in this format is for kids, but 5 recent offerings are written for ADULTS:

The Marlowe Papers
Ros Barber’s debut novel in blank verse envisions the life and staged death of Christopher Marlowe, a real guy who may or may not have been the real William Shakespeare. Winner of this year’s Desmond Elliott Prize.

Love, Dishonor, Marry, Die, Cherish, Perish
A somewhat erotic novel-in-stories by the late David Rakoff of NPR’s This American Life radio show. We follow as an old photograph changes hands, learning along the way the story of each person who possesses it.

Doggerel style.

Your Own, Sylvia: A Verse Portrait of Sylvia Plath
” A celebration, this is.” Stephanie Hemphill fittingly combines poetry with biography to capture the famous poet and novelist’s life story.

Hemphill has a bio of Mary Shelley, Hideous Love: The Story of the Girl Who Wrote Frankenstein, due out next month.

The Water Mage’s Daughter: A Novel of Love, Magic and War in Verse
McKenzie Bodkin’s sci-fi fantasy novel, written in iambic tetrameter, tells the story of a girl whose love affair– and very existence– were never meant to be. The blurb boasts assorted word- and math-based puzzles to solve, AND smart enough language to suggest keeping a dictionary handy.


The Wherewithal: A Novel in Verse

I, one
Henryk Stanislaw Wyrzykowski,
Head Clerk of Closed Files,
a department of one,
work . . .
In a forgotten well of ghostly sighs

Author Philip Schultz explores war themes via a dude hiding from one war while translating diary accounts of another. This one comes out early next year.

Bonus! YA crossover novel:

The Lightning Dreamer: Cuba’s Greatest Abolitionist
Margarita Engle’s free verse fictionalized biography of Cuban poet and abolitionist “Tula” Gertrudis Gómez de Avellaneda. Tula fought against her own arranged marriage, fell in love with a slave, and bravely stood up against the regime that marginalized them all.

Recommended for high schoolers, but if, like me, you’re unfamiliar with Cuban history circa mid-1800s, this looks like a great intro.

Need more? Check out this boss-like list of prose-poem gold nuggets, circa 2012 and earlier: