Skip to content

Get Set: Writing Your Opening Scene(s) #ReadySetWrite

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

#ReadySetWrite: Get Set--Writing Your Opening  Scene(s) | KayeDacus.comThe first five pages. Hooking the reader. Crafting a killer opening. Writing a gripping first chapter.

If there’s a book about the writing craft, there’s likely going to be a chapter—or a whole section—on the importance of a strong opening line/scene/chapter. Actually, there are entire books focused on just writing the openings (yet none that I’ve found that focus on writing a killer ending). Rather than repeat everything that’s already been written about crafting the “perfect” opening scene, let’s discuss what it means to sit down and write an opening scene—or a dozen—for the book you’ve been getting Ready and Set to Write.

Don’t Lock Yourself into Your First Opening Scene/Chapter

Like everything else in what you’re about to write, the first scene/chapter you’re about to sit down and put into words is a first draft—it’s open for revision, rewriting, or cutting along with everything else you’re about to put down on paper.

You may have a scene in mind that you feel is the perfect opening scene for your book. I’ve had several come to me, almost fully formed, which pretty much wrote themselves.

And those were the opening scenes I either ended up heavily revising or cutting altogether. (Such as this, which was the original opening chapter of Ransome’s Honor, which got cut in order to get to the plot of the story—the scene where William and Julia come face to face for the first time in twelve years—much sooner.) After rewriting the opening of what would become Stand-In Groom multiple times before figuring out the main plot element and completing the first draft—which necessitated another complete overhaul of the first third of the manuscript—and after submitting what I thought was the final version of the story for approval as my master’s thesis, when it came time to choose a reading for my oral defense, in re-reading the opening for probably the five hundredth time, I realized how slow and boring it was—and that I’d introduced a named character who had absolutely nothing to do with the story and who disappeared after that scene. So . . . snip, snip.

TL;dr version: Don’t fall so helplessly in love with the first opening scene you write (or the tenth revision of it) that you aren’t willing to see its flaws and either revise it or mercilessly chop it off.

Write More Than One Opening Scene

A great way to keep from falling into the “precious baby” mindset with your “perfect” opening scene is to write more than one. If you have more than one viewpoint character, this is easier than if you only have one. And if you have more than two viewpoint characters, it’s that much better. Write an opening scene from each viewpoint character’s POV. Give each character a setup and an inciting incident. It may be the same inciting incident for all of your characters (and in a romance novel, it’s when the heroine and hero meet, so it’s the same scene but from each viewpoint). If you have multiple plotlines in your story, you may have a couple of different inciting incidents, and this exercise will help you figure out which is the primary/dominant plotline, which will help you hone in on which opening scene may work best for your story.

Not sure what happens to lead up to the inciting incident? Start by just writing a couple of scenes about your main character(s). What’s a day in the life like? What needs to happen to your character in order to get him/her involved in the plot of the story? Experiment. Play around.

And if all else fails, send your character to the grocery store. You never know whom he/she might run into there!

Don’t Get It “Perfect”; Just Get It Written

It’s almost 99 percent certain that no matter how much you obsess over writing the “perfect” opening, by the time you get to The End, you’re going to need to either change, rewrite, or scrap your opening scene. By giving yourself permission just to get started and get something written so that you can actually get your entire draft completed, you’re less likely to give up because you feel like you’ll never be able to get it right.

Allow yourself to start in narrative. Or start with a scene description. Open with dialogue. Open with your character going through his/her daily routine. (Knowing that you’re going to be revising/rewriting these scenes in your second draft.)

Whatever you do, just get SOMETHING written. Start writing. Go back to what we discussed last week about allowing yourself to be in draft writing mode. At this point, it isn’t important to get it right, just to get it written.

Not Sure Where to Start Your Scene? Start in the Middle

Because it’s been drilled into our heads so often to open with a hook, the draw the reader in right from the first line, we tend to obsess over those opening words—are they active enough? do they pack a punch? are they memorable?

Who cares! This is just your first draft. That kind of stuff isn’t important—getting your draft written is the focus here. The best way to make sure you don’t fall into the never-ending cycle of “making it perfect” and not moving on from the first chapter into the most important part of your book—everything else—is to start writing in the middle of a scene. And the easiest way to do that is to open with either action or dialogue. Your character is doing something or saying something on the way to the inciting incident. Skip the setup beat. You can come back and fill that part in when you’re in the revision process.

At this point, it doesn’t matter if your opening doesn’t make sense to anyone but you—that’s okay, you’re the only one who’s going to be reading the first draft. So if you aren’t quite sure where/how your story starts, or if you’re having trouble getting started because of the anxiety of not being sure of exactly the right opening line to use, forget about it. Just jump into the middle of a scene and start writing. It doesn’t even have to be an opening scene. It can be a scene that happens halfway through the book.

While writing chronologically is recommended, not everyone can do that—or maybe writing a scene that happens in the middle of the book will give you the impetus and ideas you need in order to figure out what the opening scene needs to be in order to set up the middle scene you’ve already written.

Find Your Beginning in The End

The best way to figure out the perfect opening scene for your story is to finish your first draft before you even start worrying about that.

Yes, what you write in your opening scene(s) sets up what follows, but there’s nothing that says you have to continue in that line of writing, continue with that tone, or even keep that character. That’s what the revision process is for. But there’s no point in getting so caught up in crafting your story’s opening if it’s keeping you from writing your story. Yes, you want a strong opening; however, it’s the story as a whole—and, most importantly, the strength of your ending—that will keep readers coming back wanting more.

And on that note, I’ll leave you with a reminder of the series in which I discuss writing beginnings and endings in depth:

There and Back Again: Finding Your Beginning in “The End”
Finding Your Beginning in “The End”: Is Writing the Perfect First Line Really a Big Deal?
Finding Your Beginning in “The End”: Are You a Trustworthy Writer?
Finding Your Beginning in “The End”: Dreaming of Writing a Perfect Opening
Finding Your Beginning in “The End”: The Importance of Finishing Your First Draft
Finding Your Beginning in “The End”: Ending Your Beginning

Get Set: Setting Up Your Writing Space(s) #ReadySetWrite

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

#ReadySetWrite: Get Set--Setting Up Your Writing Space(s) #ReadySetWrite | KayeDacus.comWe as writers are blessed with the ability to ply our chosen art form anywhere we might find ourselves—from jotting notes on paper restaurant napkins to what-if’ing on the order of worship during a long-winded sermon to plotting a three-book series on a butcher-paper table cloth during a dinner/concert. But this isn’t the most practical way to go about writing an entire manuscript, much less trying to do it on a deadline, self-imposed or otherwise.

Setting Up Your Writing Space(s)

If you do an image search for “famous writer’s desk,” you’ll come across a multitude of images that are at once awe inspiring and awful:

Jane Austen (source)

Jane Austen (source)

Marina Warner (source)

Marina Warner (source)

Wendy Cope (source)

Wendy Cope (source)

Will Self (source)

Will Self (source)


Yes, it’s a luxury to have a home office in which we can let go and completely take over the space with the things we need to help us write, be they books, images, Post-it Notes, or other objects that inspire. And if you live with one or more other humans, having a space where you can shut everyone else out is almost a necessity. But that doesn’t necessarily mean behind a closed door in a separate “office” in your home or elsewhere.

If you’re a frequenter of places like Starbucks or Panera, you’ll notice that more and more, these mobile (and caffeine/pastry/sugar) hotspots are becoming the creative “office space” of the new millennium—somewhere with free WiFi with quiet corners in which creative types can sit with a laptop or notebook for hours on end without being disturbed and without disturbing anyone else. So even though you’ve been told time and time again that you should approach writing as if it’s your profession (even if you’re not full-time at it), that doesn’t mean you have to force yourself into an office-style setup if that isn’t what works best for you.

This is my office setup at home (photo taken circa 2008—I have a wide-screen monitor now):

And while, when I was writing “full-time” and working from home, I did most of my freelance editing on my desktop computer here at this desk (which has never been, prior to this photo nor since, this clean/neat), it’s not where I did the majority of my writing. I actually did the majority of the writing of the majority of my published books sitting in my recliner in my living room on my laptop.

However, I still use my office (the second bedroom in my small house) as a workspace—a space designated for writing-related pursuits, leading to:



Wall Plotting |

Characters + Wall

Unplugging to Plug in to the Story

No matter what physical space you choose to write in, whether at home or at a coffee shop or cafe, there’s one very important thing you do need to do—and that’s unplug from the outside world. That may mean turning off your internet connection for the hour or two (or eight) that you’ve set aside for writing. It also means turning off the TV, video games, Kindle, iPad, or other distractions that we use to procrastinate and that can easily distract us.

I know not everyone can have music playing in the background while writing, and most of the time I can’t write with music that has lyrics—I start singing along and get caught up in the music instead of listening to the voices in my head. (I know, sounds completely sane.) But there’s something to be said for choosing/creating a soundtrack for your story. Specific songs/pieces that are meaningful to your characters and may actually be mentioned in the story. Music that exemplifies the tone and pacing of your story. Your character’s favorite singers or music types.

Or if not music, some other kind of ambient noise that will put you in the right fame of mind for writing. Is your character a bird watcher? How about something with bird sounds. Writing an outdoor scene at the ocean? Sounds of waves lapping on the shore.

If you’re home alone writing, fill the space with this sound that will help set and keep the mood of your story. If the others in your home don’t want to share in the full sensory experience of your writing, or they keep interrupting you, or if you’re out and about writing, make sure to invest in a good pair of sound-blocking earphones. I have several different pairs of earbuds with varying degrees of blockage of outside noise. It’s amazing how helpful a sound cocoon can be when trying to focus, especially when there’s a limited amount of time to write.

If silence is what you need, again, the sound-blocking earphones work wonders—it gives you a visible sign that says do not disturb while you avoid any disturbing sounds.

Filling Your Writing Space

If your writing location is mobile—going from library to Starbucks to a park to home—the way you plan your writing supplies will be different from someone who works in a home office. But even still, I feel like there are some supplies that every writer should have readily to hand at all times:

  • At least three pens—one you could let someone else borrow, one to write with, and one just in case the other two run out of ink.
  • A notebook/pad or blank book/journal. You may not always want to or be able to pull out your laptop, tablet, or phone in order to jot down an idea or brainstorm a plot point when the lightning strikes. But good ol’ pen and paper works in almost any situation. I also like to have one beside me as I’m writing on my Surface or laptop on which to quickly jot down ideas for future scenes, work out what-if scenarios, or make notes of things I need to review/revise when I have more time later.
  • Any files you think you might need saved on a cloud drive (One Drive, Dropbox, etc.). Because I go back and forth between my laptop and Surface so often now, I keep my working files for my story in progress saved in a cloud drive so that I’m not having to remember to move them back and forth and accidentally using an older version of a file. This is not only my current manuscript documents, but my OneNote notebook, notes documents, research links, images, and so on.
  • Calendars, timelines, and goals checklists. Again, saving these in documents on the cloud drive is a great way to keep up with these and to be able to revisit them and check things off of your lists as you accomplish them.
  • As mentioned already, earphones—either for listening to music or just for shutting out the outside world.
  • Post-it Notes. Because . . . Post-it Notes.

What are your must-haves when it comes to your writing space(s)?

What Are You Reading? (March 2015)

Monday, March 2, 2015

Happy First Monday of March, everyone.
It’s Reading Report time!

Open Book by Dave Dugdale

Open Book by Dave Dugdale

Tell us what you’ve finished over the last month, what you’re currently reading, and what’s on your To Be Read stack/list. And if you’ve reviewed the books you’ve read somewhere, please include links!

To format your text, click here for an HTML cheat-sheet. If you want to embed your links in your text (like my “click here” links) instead of just pasting the link into your comment, click here.

  • What book(s) did you finish reading (or listening to) since the last update?

  • What are you currently reading and/or listening to?

  • What’s the next book on your To Be Read stack/list?

#CostumeDrama Thursday: Sons of Liberty (2015)

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Costume Drama Thursday3For the last year, I’ve been living without cable TV (about to remedy that TODAY!), so I’m sure I’ve missed a lot of made-for-TV movies, miniseries, and specials over that span (like the AMC show Turn, which had just been announced when I made the decision to cut the cord). So I’m going to have a lot of catching up to do and reruns to find over the next few months!

#CostumeDrama Thursday: Sons of Liberty (2015) | KayeDacus.comFortunately, a couple of friends of mine mentioned the History Channel’s “based loosely on history” miniseries Sons of Liberty which aired for three nights in January. I know there were probably a lot of Revolutionary War buffs who were grossly offended by the liberties the “History” Channel took with the actual history surrounding our founding fathers (whether founding our country or a beer brand), but as that’s not one of my areas of historical expertise, I was able to watch it with an eye toward sheer enjoyment of the pretty, pretty actors in historical costumes in vaguely familiar historical settings.

Title: Sons of Liberty
Historical Setting: Massachusetts/Pennsylvania, 1760s–1770s
Starring: Ben Barnes, Marton Csokas, Ryan Eggold, Michael Raymond-James, Rafe Spall, Dean Norris, Jason O’Mara, Henry Thomas
Original Release Year: 2015



At first, I wasn’t buying Once Upon a Time‘s Neal/Baelfire (Michael Raymond-James) as Paul Revere, and in the first episode, I just couldn’t see it. But as the series moved on, and especially after the “event at the barn,” I not only believed him as Paul Revere, I actually started falling for him just a bit. Now I have a hard time remembering him as Neal/Bae!


Get Set: Getting into the Draft-Writing Mindset #ReadySetWrite

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

#ReadySetWrite: Get Set--Getting into the Draft-Writing Mindset | KayeDacus.comOne thing that can make writers, whether trying for a first manuscript or a fiftieth, want to give up is the failure to realize the difference between regular writing and draft writing.

Regular Writing

#ReadySetWrite: Get Set--Getting into the Draft-Writing Mindset |

What Regular Writing looks like.

In your normal, everyday writing life, when your main goal is to get something written every day, be it a paragraph, a page, or a scene, you are typically practicing what we’re going to call “regular” writing.

  • In the process of regular writing, you may take the time to re-read what you’ve already written, maybe do a little tweaking or editing on that, before you start writing for the day.
  • If you can’t think of the correct word or phrase you want to use, you’ll pause, go to or some other resource and search until you find just the right term for your prose, then go back to writing.
  • You may run across something that needs to be researched. Maybe it’s how to change the oil in a 1957 Ford Mustang. Maybe it’s the correct title for the crew member on the ship who serves the captain’s dinner. So you pause, pull out your reference book or start searching online until you know exactly what you need to know. You incorporate that information, and then you go back to writing.
  • A minor character comes on the scene. You think this person may show up again—may even become a secondary character—but you need to know a little more about him. You need to know his name, a bit about his background, what he does, and what role he has in the story. So you pause, go to your Story Bible and start an entry for this character. Then, once you know exactly what you need to know, you go back to writing.
  • You get to the end of a piece of dialogue, and you’re not sure exactly how you want to tag it. So you pause and sit back. Do you want to use a “said” or “asked” tag? But those are so passe. Perhaps something with an adverb? No. Adverb tags are of the devil, you heard at a conference once, so better not do that. Maybe an action tag? Okay. Where are the characters in the space and in relation to each other? How would the character move? What’s the facial expression? Maybe you should act it out. Once you have the perfect tag, you get it down in words and continue writing.

Are you getting a picture here of what “regular” writing is?

Draft Writing

#ReadySetWrite: Get Set--Getting into the Draft-Writing Mindset |

What Draft Writing looks like.

When you have both daily word-count goals and a deadline for completing a first draft that must be met, you must set aside the idea of “getting it right” and focus on “getting it written” instead. This is draft writing. Let’s look that the scenarios above in relation to this style of writing.

  • In drafting, you may take the time to re-read the last few paragraphs of what you wrote the day before to remind yourself where you left off, but you don’t make any changes and you immediately start writing as soon as you finish reading.
  • If you can’t think of the correct word or phrase you want to use, you type ____________ and then may even use the comments feature to highlight it and type a reminder to yourself to look it up later and then resume writing.
  • You may run across something that needs to be researched. Maybe it’s how to change the oil in a 1957 Ford Mustang. Maybe it’s the correct title for the crew member on the ship who serves the captain’s dinner. So you type ___________ and use the comments feature to highlight it and type a reminder to yourself to look it in the revision process after the first draft is finished and then resume writing.
  • A minor character comes on the scene. You think this person may show up again—may even become a secondary character—but you need to know a little more about him. You need to know his name, a bit about his background, what he does, and what role he has in the story. So you type ___________ and then may even use the comments feature to highlight it and type a reminder to yourself to make it up later and resume writing.
  • You get to the end of a piece of dialogue, and you’re not sure exactly how you want to tag it. So you write “he said” or “she asked” and then type ___________ and use the comments feature to highlight it and type a reminder to yourself to write something better later and then resume writing.

Are you catching the difference between regular writing and drafting?

In drafting, the most important thing to do is get the bones of the story down in writing. It doesn’t have to be perfect. It doesn’t even have to be good. That’s what the second, third, fifth, tenth draft process is for.

Forget about “getting it right.” Just get it written!

Get Set: Structuring Your Story in Seven Steps #ReadySetWrite

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

#ReadySetWrite: Get Set--Structuring Your Story in Seven Steps | KayeDacus.comIf you’ve followed the other steps in this series so far (links at the bottom in case you missed some/all), you may feel ready to start writing. But just in case you aren’t, this week and next week, we’ll explore a few additional exercises to get set you up to be as ready as possible to write your story.

Structuring Your Story in Seven Steps
The easiest way to not only make sure you have enough story to reach your desired word count—as well as to have something that keeps you on track when you feel lost or derailed somewhere after about chapter 3—is to use some kind of outline structure. If you’re writing genre fiction, this is a little easier, because there are certain markers, certain landmarks your story needs to hit in order to meet reader (and publisher) expectations.

ReadySetWrite: Get Set--Structuring Your Story in Seven Steps | KayeDacus.comThe structure I’ve found that works best for me is the Seven Story Beat structure from Writing the Romantic Comedy by Billy Mernit. Don’t let the title fool you—as you’ll see below, this structure applies well to just about any story.

1. The Setup/Hook
“A scene or sequence identifying the exterior and/or interior conflict (i.e., unfulfilled desire), the “what’s wrong with this picture” implied in the protagonist’s (and/or antagonist’s) current status quo” (Mernit 110).

This is the introductory scene of your story and your synopsis—the opening hook and introduction of your main characters. As with all opening scenes, this is the establishment of that character’s story goal, as well as hinting at the main conflict for the entire novel. In a synopsis, you should focus on the one or two main characters (possibly as many as three if they’re closely tied together) who are involved in the main plot of the story.

Example from the movie Witness: (adapted from Wikipedia)

After the death of her husband in Lancaster County in 1984, young Amish woman RACHEL LAPP decides to take her eight-year-old son, SAMUEL, into the outside world for the first time on a trip to Baltimore, Maryland, to visit her sister. Traveling by train, Samuel is amazed to see people different from him and sights such as a hot air balloon.

2. The Inciting Incident
“The Inciting Incident brings the main characters together and into conflict; an inventive but credible contrivance, often amusing, which in some way sets the tone for the action to come” (Mernit 111).

Beat 2 should follow Beat 1 in close succession—after all, it’s the Inciting Incident that gets the story rolling. It’s the story hook that keeps us reading. These two may even happen at the same time—giving you a six-beat structure, rather than seven.

You’re probably more aware of Inciting Incidents than you think. Whenever you start talking with your friends about any type of storyline—a book, a movie, or even an episode of your favorite television show—inevitably someone will start analyzing what led up to it. What was it that put everything in motion? What’s the first important thing that really pulls you into the story? In other words, what was the Inciting Incident?

Example from the movie Witness: (adapted from Wikipedia)

When waiting to change trains at the 30th Street Station in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Samuel uses the men’s room. As he does so, he accidentally witnesses the brutal murder of a police officer.

3. The First Turning Point
“Traditionally occurring at the end of Act 1, this is a new development that raises story stakes and clearly defines the protagonist’s goal; it is most successful when it sets characters at cross-purposes and/or their inner emotions at odds with the goal” (Mernit 112).

The First Turning Point of your story is the event that happens to set your characters at cross-purposes with each other, to complicate things, to start building to the ultimate conflict yet to come.

Example from the movie Witness: (adapted from Wikipedia)

CAPTAIN JOHN BOOK takes Samuel and his mother to the police station and has Samuel study pictures of convicts and a police line-up to identify the murderer, but Samuel does not see a match. However, after wandering around the police station, Samuel sees a newspaper clipping with a picture of Lieutenant James McFee and identifies him as the man he saw at the train station.

4. The Midpoint/Raising the Stakes
“A situation that irrevocably binds the protagonist with the antagonist and has further implications for the outcome of the relationship” (Mernit 113).

This is taking the conflict you’ve just raised at the turning point and continuing to raise the stakes: throwing as many twists and turns and conflicts as you can at the characters to keep them from resolving the plot question as long as possible. (In the example, conflicts that raise the stakes are bold/red—obviously, you wouldn’t do that in a formal synopsis.)

Example from the movie Witness: (adapted from Wikipedia)

Book reports to his superior officer, Chief Paul Schaeffer, saying that McFee was responsible for a drug raid where expensive chemicals used to make amphetamines were discovered, but never reported to the police department. The police officer who was murdered was investigating the disappearance of these chemicals which, if sold, would make McFee a very wealthy man, hence he was murdered to ensure silence. Schaeffer advises Book to keep the case secret so they can work out how to move forward with it.

Later, when Book returns home, he encounters McFee in a parking garage. McFee tries to shoot him but Book draws his own gun and, after a fierce shoot-out, McFee flees the scene—but not before Book is wounded. Book realizes that since he only told Chief Schaeffer about McFee’s corruption, then Schaeffer must be corrupt, too. Book then phones his partner and tells him to remove all the police files that include the Lapps’ details, and that he is going into hiding. Schaeffer, McFee, and Fergie (the second murderer) start their hunt of Book.

Book returns Rachel and Samuel to their farm in Lancaster County, but as he is about to leave, he passes out from loss of blood as a result of McFee’s gunshot. He cannot go to any mainstream doctors or hospitals, as they will make reports, and McFee will find and kill him and the Lapps. Rachel’s father-in-law, who also lives at the farm, reluctantly agrees to shelter Book in their home for the sake of his grandson and daughter-in-law’s safety. Eli recruits an Amish apothecary to treat Book’s gunshot wound using traditional Amish methods.

Book stays with the Amish for some time, learning their ways, helping out around the farm, and becoming part of Rachel’s and Samuel’s lives—and begins to fall in love with Rachel along the way, which creates friction between Book and Daniel, the Amish man who wants to marry Rachel.

5. Swivel: Second Turning Point
“Traditionally occurring at the end of Act 2, stakes reach their highest point as the story goal’s importance jeopardizes the protagonist’s chance to succeed at his/her state goal—or vice versa—and his/her goal shifts” (Mernit 115)

The Second Turning Point is basically the straw that breaks the camel’s back. It’s almost “Inciting Incident Part II”—an event that leads the characters to make a turning-point decision that will lead to the climax of the story.

Example from the movie Witness: (adapted from Wikipedia)

After he’s been with the Amish for a while, Book goes into town to telephone his partner; but he is informed that his partner has been killed [incident]. Enraged, Book calls Chief Schaeffer’s private residence (where he cannot be traced), openly calling out Schaeffer on his corruption and stating that he is through with hiding and is going to hunt down Schaeffer and McFee instead. While returning to Eli’s farm, Daniel is harassed by local punks who defile Amish culture and pacifism. Book then confronts the tormentors, and when one of them harasses him, he strikes back and breaks the nose of one of the punks [turning-point decision]. The fight becomes the talk of the town, and makes its way to the local sheriff.

6. The Dark Moment/Crisis
“Wherein the consequences of the swivel decision yield disaster; generally, the humiliating scene where private motivations are revealed, and either the relationship and/or the protagonist’s goal is seemingly lost forever” (Mernit 115).

This is when the conflict rises to such a crescendo that it seems insurmountable.

Example from the movie Witness: (adapted from Wikipedia)

Book tells Rachel he is leaving the next day. However, before Book gets a chance to leave the farm, Fergie, McFee, and Schaeffer arrive and threaten Rachel and her father-in-law. Book, who is in the barn with Samuel, orders Samuel to run to the neighbors’ for safety. Using Samuel’s lessons about the grain silo, Book tricks Fergie into entering the silo, then releases a cascade of corn which suffocates Fergie. Book grabs Fergie’s shotgun, then uses it to shoot McFee dead. Meanwhile, Samuel rings the bell on his farm, alerting their Amish neighbors that help is needed. When a crazed Schaeffer threatens to kill Rachel, Book surrenders to him.

7. Resolution
“A reconciliation that reaffirms the primal importance of the story goal; an ending that provides satisfaction to the reader” (Mernit 116)

The Resolution, as the name of this beat implies, is the denouement and ending of the story—“the marryin’ and the buryin’” as Mark Twain called it. It is the resolution of the Dark Moment/Crisis and the resolution of the relationship between your characters. In your book, this can be anywhere from a few paragraphs to a few pages to a chapter. So in your synopsis, it can be anywhere from a sentence to a paragraph or two. Note: It is very important to include the entirety of the resolution in a formal synopsis.

Example from the movie Witness: (adapted from Wikipedia)
However, at that moment, a large number of Amish arrive at the Lapp farm in response to the bell. Schaeffer, realizing he cannot murder everyone, knows he has lost and allows Book to disarm him. The local police arrive, and Schaeffer is taken away.

Afterwards, as Book prepares to leave, he shares a quiet moment with Samuel, then exchanges a silent, loving gaze with Rachel. Eli bids Book goodbye on his return to Philadelphia by saying, “You take care out there among them English,” showing his acceptance of Book as one of the community. As Book drives away from the Lapp farm, he passes Daniel, who has presumably come to resume his courtship of Rachel.

When I put all of these examples together in a separate document, it comes out to more than one single-spaced page, so it’s a good starting point to make sure your story is set and ready to write. At any step along the way, if you know specific scenes or conflicts you’re planning to use, go ahead and add notes about them. The idea here isn’t to keep it to a certain word count or page length. It’s to help you think through the structure of your story before you’re so wrapped up in the middle of it you forget where you were going.

No, you don’t have to work with an outline like this—but when you get stuck around the 30,000-word mark, having even just one or two scene ideas for each of these seven points can help in regaining momentum and continuing to write.


Work Cited:

Mernit, Billy. Writing the Romantic Comedy. New York, NY: HarperCollins Publishers Inc., 2000.

“Witness (1985 film).” (2013, October 22). Wikipedia. Retrieved October 22, 2013, from


Ready, Set, Write! Planning, Preparing, and Writing Your Novel This Year | KayeDacus.comPrevious Posts in the #ReadySetWrite series:

Get Set: Figuring Out Your Characters’ Desires, Goals, and Motivations #ReadySetWrite

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

#ReadySetWrite: Get Set--Figuring Out Your Characters' Desires, Goals, and Motivations | KayeDacus.comThere are a couple of things lurking in the work you’ve already done up to this point which will be important to dig out and define at this point: your main characters’ goals and motivations.

Your Characters’ Desires

You can’t read a craft-of-writing book without reading about making sure that your characters want something, right from the first page—even if that desire is simply to get a glass of water, according to Kurt Vonnegut.

As you look back through your story premise and the work you did in determining who your viewpoint characters would be, your main characters’ desires—what they want in the story—should start becoming clear.

#ReadySetWrite: Get Set--Figuring Out Your Characters' Desires, Goals, and Motivations | KayeDacus.comIt’s not interesting to read about someone who doesn’t want anything, who has no desires. The greater the desire, the more opportunities for that desire to be thwarted (conflict); therefore, the more interesting the story. Think about The Wizard of Oz. In the opening (B&W) part of the movie, Dorothy’s desire is to leave the drudgery of life in a Kansas farmhouse and go “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.” Almost immediately, the fulfillment of this desire is thrust upon her in a somewhat violent and traumatic manner. Desire met. Story over, right?

Of course not! Once Dorothy arrives in Oz, the driving force of the story is her desire to go home to Kansas. If she attained that desire as quickly as her initial desire was fulfilled, if she followed the yellow-brick road all the way to the Emerald City with no one to stop her—even if she did meet the same quirky folks along the way—it would not be a very interesting story (nor take very long to tell!).

Sol Stein describes plotting at its most basic as “putting the protagonist’s desire and the antagonist’s desire into sharp conflict. . . . think of what would most thwart your protagonist’s want, then give the power to thwart that want to the antagonist” (83).

Along her journey, in Dorothy’s quest to fulfill her desire, she meets with one conflict after another brought upon her by the main antagonist of the story, the Wicked Witch of the West. But the witch wasn’t thwarting her just to thwart her. She had a desire as well: to retrieve the magical ruby slippers which were on Dorothy’s feet and held the key for Dorothy’s return home.

Dorothy’s desire (home) is one that everyone can understand; it’s what Stein calls universal: “The wants that interest a majority of readers include gaining or losing a love, achieving a lifetime ambition, seeing that justice is done, saving a life, seeking revenge, and accomplishing a task that at first seemed impossible” (84).

In my genre, this universal desire is built in: gaining a love. Love, money, and power, according to Stein, are the three themes which create the greatest conflict, which is perhaps why the romance genre makes up more than half of all popular fiction sold. However, “falling in love” is not usually the main desire of the main characters of a romance novel.

In my contemporary romance, Stand-In Groom, Anne’s desire is to run a successful business, remain independent, and perhaps, after ten years of living with the regrets and bitterness of a broken engagement, “create her own happy ending.” So what antagonist comes up against this desire to create conflict? Why, that would be the hero, George Laurence, who comes to town desiring nothing more than to fulfill his contractual agreement to his employer to (a) plan his famous employer’s wedding and (b) keep the media from learning that his employer is getting married. Why do these two desires come into conflict? Because Anne and George are attracted to each other, and Anne believes that falling in love with the “groom” of the biggest wedding she’s ever planned will ruin her business.

Now, as we discussed in the Goals vs. Dreams series, it’s all well and good to have desires (dreams), but in order to fulfill those desires, one must set and achieve goals.

Your Characters’ Goals

Just like with writing, once we know our characters’ desires (dreams), we must set actionable, personally achievable goals to set the characters on their paths as the story moves along.

#ReadySetWrite: Get Set--Figuring Out Your Characters' Desires, Goals, and Motivations | KayeDacus.comLet’s go back to The Wizard of Oz for a moment. While getting home to Kansas is Dorothy’s driving desire, her specific, personally attainable goal for the purpose of the active plot is to make it from Munchkinland to Emerald City to seek help from the Wizard of Oz. Because there are multiple other characters with their own desires and, thus, goals, Dorothy’s road to fulfilling her desire by working toward a specific goal is filled with conflicts. These conflicts seem like they might keep her from achieving her goal; but she finally reaches Emerald City and meets the wizard. But rather than fulfilling her desire, the wizard gives her a new goal: to get the Wicked Witch’s broom stick and return it to the Wizard. She accomplishes this goal (“I’m melting. . . .”) and just when it seems like she’ll get to go home, after teary goodbyes, her desire is once again thwarted by the balloon taking off without her in it—she has achieved her goals, big and small, but not her overall desire. Enter Glenda the Good Witch who explains that the means to gain her desire was always within Dorothy’s reach—the ruby slippers. #ReadySetWrite: Get Set--Figuring Out Your Characters' Desires, Goals, and Motivations | KayeDacus.comOnce Dorothy learns that “there’s no place like home,” the story comes to its (somewhat) satisfying conclusion. (Am I the only one who ships Dorothy and the Scarecrow?)

Your character’s main desire shapes his or her goals for your story.

In Stand-In Groom, Anne’s primary goal for the first part of the novel is to plan a wedding with a limitless budget, thus ensuring the future of her business, while her secondary goal is to fight her attraction to the man she thinks is the groom. When she discovers he isn’t the groom, her secondary goal changes to trying to trust him again (while continuing with the main goal of planning the wedding); after all, George has been dishonest with her about his identity for several weeks. Then, when she discovers the true identity of the groom, her secondary goal changes again. And, along the way, her desire changes to focus on putting happiness in her personal life first and her business second. While the hero and the man he works for (the groom) aren’t necessarily antagonists, it is through their actions—the hidden identities and goals of their own—that Anne’s desires and goals seem to be thwarted.

Your characters’ desires and goals are all well and good, but if they have no motivation to follow-through and overcome the conflicts that arise, you have no story.

Your Characters’ Motivations

Go back through all of your prep work that you did in developing your characters, as well as your work on your characters’ backstories. Up to this point, you’ve identified your main characters desires and goals. But now is the time to ask why. Why does your character want what she wants? Why does she set the goals she sets, and not other goals, in order to reach those desires?

There are several aspects of your characters you need to work on and identify in order to determine what their motivations are (and this is the time to release your inner four-year-old and constantly ask “why?”).

    ##ReadySetWrite: Get Set--Figuring Out Your Characters' Desires, Goals, and Motivations |
  • What is your character’s spirituality? This isn’t about religion. This is something important for all writers to know about all of your main characters, because the characters’ morals and values, and thus their actions, reactions, and decision making, will hinge on what they believe about life and the afterlife and the value of both.
  • What is your character’s heart? What is your character passionate about? Beyond the scope of the story, what are his desires? Her goals? What does she want to do with her life? What does he want to accomplish by the time he’s 30, 50, 70?
  • What are your character’s abilities? This goes beyond their physical abilities (walk, run, talk, etc.). What have they learned to do? Is she a Victorian girl who’s learned to use a typewriter in hopes of getting a job to support herself instead of marrying someone she doesn’t love? Has he learned to train guard dogs and police canines? But then, what are their inborn talents? Those things with which we would say he or she is “gifted”?
  • What is your character’s personality type? While not everyone believes in personality typing, when developing characters, going through a personality-type questionnaire and answering the questions as your character can give you great insight into how your character’s mind works. Introverts and Extroverts “recharge” differently and react differently in public and private settings. Thinkers and Feelers come to decisions in totally different ways. And so on. Make your character more dimensional by giving him or her a complete personality.
  • What are your character’s life experiences? What has your character been through in her life to make her who she is when she steps onto Page 1 of your story? This is the bulk of the backstory, which everything else plays off of and is affected by. This can include:
      – Family makeup/background. What size family does he come from? How many siblings? Were both parents present? Did she have a good relationship with them? What was his relationship with his siblings like? Did she love her family or could she not wait to escape? And so on.

      – Education. Whether formal or self-taught, one’s education is crucial to who they are as a person. Did they have all the benefits of an upper-class private/Ivy League education? The scrappier, American-dream public school education? Or maybe she had to drop out in eighth grade and go to work to support the family. And even if someone went to school and got a college degree, that doesn’t make them “intelligent” or “learned.” That just means that they have a couple of pieces of paper. How intellectual is your character? How smart? How street-smart? How wise? How knowledgeable? How does this compare to the people around him/her?

      – Favorites. Color, food, music, entertainment, etc. What are the things that give your character a good quality of life? (Or would if they had access to them.) Get creative and have fun with these.

Once you have all of this down you should have a good understanding of who your character is. The reason I try to figure as much of this out before writing is that it saves me time in revision after finishing the first draft if I don’t have to go back and edit out long stream-of-consciousness scenes in which I’m inside the character’s head digging into backstory I didn’t know before I started writing. But no matter how detailed I get with this, I always have a few revelations about my characters—things I never would have known about them until they were faced with a crisis and forced to own up to something from the past they kept deeply hidden, even from me—whether it’s a desire the character kept hidden from me, or the character telling me there’s a better way to structure his goals in order to achieve his desires because of something in his personality type or an ability or experience I don’t learn about until halfway through the draft.

##ReadySetWrite: Get Set--Figuring Out Your Characters' Desires, Goals, and Motivations |

Works Cited:

Stein, Sol. Stein On Writing: A Master Editor of Some of the Most Successful Writers of Our Century Shares His Craft Techniques and Strategies. New York, NY: St. Martin’s Press, 1995. Print.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 2,579 other followers

%d bloggers like this: