F is for Freaking Great Writing Advice

DIRECTING THOUGHT OF THE DAY, MARCH 14<br /><br />When we're in trouble with a scene or the scene is not coming alive our tendency is to push it forward. We go to the actors and ask them to inject something (more energy, more passion, more emotion, more pace, etc.) into the scene. But what would happen if we chose a different direction? What would happen if we elected to go backward? What if we just said to ourselves, "I'm going to get out of the problem area and go back into the core of the scene (what is the scene all about) or the core of the characters (what do they really want? what are they fighting for? what are the risks?) and see what I find, what I discover that might give me new insights into the event that we are attempting to create? Remember, it is not how the scene is 'played' that is important, it is what the scene reveals about the characters and their relationships which is crucial.Film Director Mark W. Travis puts out a Directing Thought of the Day on his Facebook page that I just love.

On March 14th, he used this graphic and said the following: When we’re in trouble with a scene or the scene is not coming alive our tendency is to push it forward.

We go to the actors and ask them to inject something (more energy, more passion, more emotion, more pace, etc.) into the scene. But what would happen if we chose a different direction?

What would happen if we elected to go backward?

What if we just said to ourselves:ย “I’m going to get out of the problem area and go back into the core of the scene (what is the scene all about) or the core of the characters (what do they really want? what are they fighting for? what are the risks?) and see what I find, what I discover that might give me new insights into the event that we are attempting to create?

Remember, it is not how the scene is ‘played’ that is important, it is what the scene reveals about the characters and their relationships which is crucial.

Is that freaking great writing advice or what? Go, Mr. Travis! If you want more of him, Like the Facebook page I mentioned above or go to his website.

What’s the best writing advice you’ve ever received? Are there questions you ask of your characters that have proven helpful? Enquiring minds LOVE to know these things here at More Cowbell!

Jenny

About Jenny Hansen

Avid seeker of "more"...More words, more creativity, More Cowbell! An extrovert who's terribly fond of silliness. Founding blogger at Writers In The Storm (http://writersinthestormblog.com). Write on!
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24 Responses to F is for Freaking Great Writing Advice

  1. Sisyphus47 says:

    A view from someone whose advice one respects even if it hurts…๐Ÿ˜‰

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  2. I have no idea how you are sustaining this. You amaze me!

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  3. S. J. Maylee says:

    Love this, Jenny. ..it is what the scene reveals about the characters… <–yum๐Ÿ™‚
    So much good stuff out there, but learning show don't tell (I can still here the clicking in my head the day I really got this) and it's a marathon not a sprint are some of my favorites.

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    • Jenny Hansen says:

      I know, Sidney!! I find Mark Travis advice to be seriously YUM.๐Ÿ™‚

      Oooooh, show don’t tell…when that one clicks, that’s a beauty! You’ve got great ones…I’m STILL working on the marathon, not sprint concept.

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  4. Laura Drake says:

    Best advice? Anything that fell out of Margie Lawson’s mouth! Really.

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  5. Best writing advice? Oh man, there’s too much to sift through, but something I do when totally stuck is, I’ll write the scene from another character’s POV. It might be a minor character, but it’s always interesting to see what THEY’RE seeing. What I’M missing. Those little details they are picking up that weren’t obvious to me. Sometimes I’ll end up changing the entire scent to perhaps the other main character’s POV if it was revealed that the conflict was really his or hers. Some great stuff has come out of doing this. And some amazing crap has come out of doing this. But it’s almost always enlightening and gets me back on track.๐Ÿ™‚

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    • Jenny Hansen says:

      We’ve talked about that a tons of times in critique group and that is truly marvelous advice, Tameri. And you’re right, the person with the most to lose is the one who needs to own the scene.๐Ÿ™‚

      I like the idea of doing it to watch the other character though. I don’t think of that sort of thing nearly often enough.

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  6. Dawn says:

    No more than three “to-be” verbs on a page. This forces me to use stronger verbs in my writing which then creates a more compelling piece. This tidbit I learned in my college Freshman comp class, 25+ years ago and I still can’t shake the habit.๐Ÿ™‚

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  7. I’ve been known to ‘go back,’ but usually I do the best I can (with lots of notes), and just keep moving forward. I’ve found that sometimes I need to know what happens later in order to figure out why an earlier scene wasn’t working.

    Do I talk to my characters? I refuse to answer on the grounds that it may incriminate me. Okay…yes. I not only talk to them, I often interview them. I seriously disliked the heroine staring in the fifth book of my series…not cool at all. I knew if I didn’t like her, then no one else would. So I interviewed her and her sister, got to know her a little better, and now I really like her. Which is a relief since I’m only one book away from her story now.๐Ÿ™‚

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    • Jenny Hansen says:

      LOL. Someone you initially dislike will end up being the best character of all, don’t you think? When I’m racing through, and know I need to come back, my standard is square brackets with “Add to this” or “fix later.” Then I just search for that in revisions.๐Ÿ™‚

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  8. amyskennedy says:

    I adore “slap my forehead, that is so simple!” writing advice. I have tried bulldozing my way through a scene–it wasn’t pretty.

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  9. Found myself doing this just yesterday with a scene that wasn’t working very smoothly for me. I wrote through it a couple days ago, then came back to it. Much better now!

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  10. markwtravis says:

    Jenny, thanks so much for all of your comments on my post. I am so pleased that you, and many of your followers, found these thoughts useful. Couple of thing: First, you have to understand that I am primarily a director (a writer second) and so this concept of “going backwards” is really a directorial tool. When the scene isn’t working we have to back up. And I apply many of these techniques to my writing (and shooting, and editing). Second, I have many articles on my website blog that I would love to share with you. Check out: http://www.markwtravis.com/about-mark/blog/. I look forward to future conversations with you. It looks to me like you are doing a great service to your friends and followers. Well done! Cheers, Mark

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    • MonaKarel says:

      Jenny is one of my go to places for writing inspiration, and I tend to listen when she tells me to check out a website. So I found this: “Authentic performances cannot be directed or acted. They must emerge from the real emotions of the characters.” Of course it’s about directing. But it’s also about writing through the characters instead of pushing them around. Thank you.

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  11. “Remember, it is not how the scene is โ€˜playedโ€™ that is important, it is what the scene reveals about the characters and their relationships which is crucial.” <- I need to tattoo this quote on my hands, so I see it as I'm typing.

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  12. Don’t think about spelling, grammar, or even punctuation as I’m doing my first draft. Don’t worry about getting the precise words if they don’t come spontaneously. That’s what the second, third, and whatever # drafts are for.
    AtoZing at
    Take 25 to Hollister
    Don’t be a Hippie

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  13. I learn so much from the film industry–thanks for the heads up on him!

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  15. Phil says:

    Hey, I’m still learning my writing chops so any advice is well taken!

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