Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Start Late, Finish Early

Now, you know I don't run unless there are very large dogs chasing me. You know my writing journey didn't start late, and didn't finish early.

So what could I possibly be blogging about today?

Writing. That's right. Believe it. I know my blog is a mish-mash of this and that, my violent mood swings, book reviews, whatever whatever. But occasionally, I throw in a writing post.

Today you're getting "occasionally."

I thought I'd blog about writing a scene. Over the past couple of years, I feel like I've grown a lot as a writer. One of the things I've especially learned about is pacing. A large part of pacing is when you enter a scene and when you exit it.

I so wish I could take credit for learning this on my own. Or from my agent or editor. But nope. I'm crediting INCEPTION.

Remember how Leo says that when you're dreaming, you can't remember how the dream started? You're just simply in it already?

I applied that to writing. With each scene, I want to enter as late as possible. Of course, I still need to set the scene (which I'm still working on. Or rather, my CP's are still hounding me about), and build character and all that jazz.

But in order to keep the pacing, I need to enter the dream already in it. This doesn't necessarily mean shootings and wild horses trampling the MC. But maybe I start the scene with the MC already in the park, instead of walking there or getting ready at their house.

Start as late as possible.

On the other end, end as soon as possible. Use the words needed to build tension, advance plot, define character, evoke emotion. And then STOP.

I'm still working on the stops (heck, I'm still working on everything), but at least now I know I need to work them.

What's one thing you've learned over the past year that has made you a better writer?


Oh! And if you want to win a query critique from me, check out Aime Borst's blog today. Go check it out.

73 comments:

Natalie Aguirre said...

Yeah, for me learning to start right in the scene and cut a lot of my transitions really helped. It was one of the ways I cut a lot of words from my manuscript--like 8000 on my second revision using your awesome technique. Of course that time I had to cut scenes too. But it had to be done.

Melanie Hooyenga said...

I'm getting better at this. The only time I include the "going to the place" is when it ties into the plot somehow. My current MC has things happen when she's in a car, so she's in the car going places a lot. Otherwise I plop them right into the thick of it.

Theresa Milstein said...

This is DEEP.

Setting a scene so there's just enough info but it doesn't detract from the action is a feat. Stephen King has a great example of this in On Writing.

I like the idea of starting in the middle of things like a dream. It will put the reader off kilter. An effective tool.

Guinevere said...

You know, starting late and leaving early sounds so easy, but it's something I really struggle with. Actually, I think it's easier in a chapter than in a short story, where I tend to flounder around trying to figure out what's actually essential to the story and what isn't - in a novel chapter, there's already more backstory.

But there is definitely too much waking up/climbing stairs/walking around the city in my current WIP - thanks for the reminder to get busy cutting to the action every time!

Amparo Ortiz said...

I've learned this the hard way. During my first draft, scenes are long and boring. Then I cut, cut, cut during edits, and focus on building enough tension (still working on getting better at it...). Pacing is something I worry about all. The. Time. It's good to get awesome advice like this :D

Great post!

Shannon said...

Excellent post. And Inception - loved that movie.

Sorry this is so short, but work calls.

Anita Saxena said...

I find that i'll write something cool in a scene and then I want to end scene right there because it seems fitting. The problem is that I haven't accomplished what I wanted to in that scene yet. So I tell myself, no, you can't end it now, keep going. I don't know if this makes any sense.

Amie B said...

O.M.G. this is the advice i totally needed to hear to apply to a w.i.p. thank you, thank you, thank you!!

Stina Lindenblatt said...

This is something I've recently discovered too. It's amazing how many sentences or paragraphs can be lopped off at the end. And how the beginning can be cut off because it starts too early (like what often happens in chapter one). ;)

Can't wait for your next words of wisdom, Elana. :D

Wendy Paine Miller said...

I'm reading Hooked right now and am learning a ton about how to begin a book. I knew a good chunk of it, but now I'm trying hard to apply it to book 6.

~ Wendy

Matthew Rush said...

"Start the scene with the MC already in the park." That sounds familiar.

This is actually really excellent advice. I'm in the middle of a re-write in which I'm trying to cut as many words as possible. This sounds like it would be obvious, and sometimes it is, but it's SO easy to forget.

Jessie Harrell said...

fantastic advice! My co-author and I just chopped off the first chapter of our novel. It was a fine chapter, but turns out it wasn't necessary, and we get to the action right away now. So much better.

WritingNut said...

Excellent advice! Thank you! I'm in the middle of edits right now, and I'm going to watch for this.

I've never seen Inception... but I heard it was great :)

IanBontems said...

Great movie and a good point - I guess I'm still learning this too (long with everything else!). One thing I learned is - take your time and don't try and rush anything out the door (1 more edit)

Katie Mills said...

oh, great advice and quote from inception. Right on target. I've learned so much this past year that I don't even know where to begin. Pacing, yes but also description, formatting, ect...it's been a big year for writing growth for me. Great post!

Tracey Neithercott said...

Great advice--something I had to learn in revisions. The one thing I learned is that you really just need to finish the novel, even if it's not perfect at the end. I also learned that there are many life lessons in Inception.

Kara said...

Great advice. I'm learning to outline my plot. Haven't done too much of that in the past and this seems to be helping this time around:)

Liz Fichera said...

Reading passages aloud that are giving me fits. I do that a lot more now and it helps.

Tracy said...

Thank you, Elana! This is exactly what I was trying to get across when I was making notes on a ms I was beta reading . . . and I couldn't figure out the proper way to explain that there was too much set up.

The dream thing is brilliant! Thank you for quoting Inception, since I haven't seen it and would have missed this gem.

Angela Felsted said...

Good advice on scene writing. I tend to have to push myself to end of scenes because I always want to end them too early, to not wrap them up properly. It's my "polite upbringing," my characters never want to talk about themselves enough.

Teresa aka JW said...

Great information, thanks.

T

E.J. Wesley said...

I love Inception based life lessons! Although most of them make me question reality as opposed to being useful (like yours) ...

j.leigh.bailey said...

The biggest lesson I've learned so far came from Romantic Suspense Author Cherry Adair--WTFITPOTS-- What the F*** is the Point of This Scene. Every scene has a purpose and if there's no purpose, there's no need for it. This helps me sort of plan out each scene before I get started by making a list of what I want it to accomplish, even if it's only giving some insight to the character or setting.

:D

Melissa Sarno said...

This is so great, perfect advice. I think the thing I learned this year is really similar to your mantra. I took a workshop and the instructor said: 'get in and get out'. Of sentences, conversations, scenes, the beginning and end of the novel, just be as tight and quick as possible as you can. Easier said than done...

Jonathon Arntson said...

What a great lesson! I have never heard this, but it makes perfect sense. I will start applying this now!

Summer Frey said...

That's a great way to put it. I still have trouble leaving out "stage directions," but I'm trying. I have gotten better about limiting my descriptions to only the necessary, character-revealing details, though, and for that I can thank my husband, who just plain told me my descriptions were boring. :)

Carolyn V. said...

Yup, I love the scenes that start late and leave early. I just love tension in books!

I think the one thing that I've learned this year is how to add detail (something I've struggled with in the past).

Shannon O'Donnell said...

That I don't include reactions often enough. When Shannon M. read my MS, she kept saying, "And how did he feel about that? So what he do then? How does he know that?" I need more reactions! And more detail. :-)

Kathryn Packer Roberts said...

This is something I'm trying to apply (better) to my current book. I'm getting there. Of course now my chapters are only two pages long, so maybe I need to work on 'meat'. But, hey, teens like short chapers, right? =)

Marisa Hopkins said...

Excellent advice, Elana! I'm still learning my pacing... I start too soon sometimes, and too late others... hopefully I'm juuuuuuust right most of the time, but ... well, sometimes I just don't know!

I feel like Goldilocks as I try to find my happy medium :)

Melissa said...

I totally agree with you on this! Start things as late as possible and end as early as possible without losing characterization. I definitely applied this after watching inception as well (Wasn't that movie freaking incredible! I was blown away). I kept their fats pacing in mind when I started writing for NaNo and I think it really helped me make the first draft as good as it could be!

Lola Sharp said...

True, that.

I've been working hard on structure. I'm a very character driven, organic/instinctive writer. But, I'm working hard on structure and plot these days. There may have even been notecards on boards (ONLY during revisions...never during the first draft. The very thought makes me twitch.)

Loved Inception. Nolan is one of my favorite directors and writers. He's a genius at pulling apart the story and creating a unique structure. I learn from him too. :)

Abby Minard said...

This is great advice. It's also great to have crit partners to point this out for us too. Sometimes I can't see whats in front of my face. To me it may pace well, because I know the story. But for someone reading it the first time- they may have adifferent impression. But yeah, I always try to make it as short and sweet as possible to keep the reader interested. Thanks Elana!

Shari said...

Excellent advice.

I learned to keep writing, even if it's crap.

Patti said...

Love this advice and I'm with Shari, it's better to write crap then nothing at all.

Debra L. Schubert said...

Great post! Something I've learned is when I'm revising, I look closely at the beginning of each chapter. Are the first few paragraphs back story? Are they necessary to move the story forward? If not, chop, chop, chop until I get to the part that does. Less is more.

Miriam S. Forster said...

I've really learned the importance of having enough 'dream time' on my books before sitting down to write them. If I haven't developed it enough in my head, I'll run out of story halfway through.

kellyhashway said...

This is such great advice. I like to start my manuscripts late and end each chapter early. It makes for good cliff hangers. I'd have to say that this year I've learned that in the world of publishing, things rarely happen the way I thought they would. But that isn't necessarily a bad thing. I've learned to adapt and be happy about the path I'm on.

Carol Riggs said...

Absolutely, yeppers, good point(s)! One clue in scene beginning is: if it's boring to you as a writer, it'll probably be boring to your reader. If I'm sitting there sighing while trying to get my character out of bed, dressed, and a bit of breakfast in him/her, just to reach the GOOD part, then ahem...I'd better start with that character already out of the house and on his/her way to the park (or wherever). Nice!--we like it when you do writer posts. :)

Paul Greci said...

totally with you here: Start late, leave early and still do the other things you mentioned. I guess you want the readed grounded but not buried, right? Sometimes when we're the ones with the shovel it's hard to tell how much unnecessary dirt we've moved. Okay, that was a bit of a ramble, probably should've ended with "buried,right?" :-)

Kristen Knight said...

Elana, This is great info. and an issue I'm working on right now myself. I'd love to see some specific examples of scenes that had different entry/exit points before and how you adapted them for better impact.

Lydia K said...

Excellent advice Elana. I think I've been trying to follow it but not realizing I was trying. Does that make any sense?
;P

Krispy said...

Great advice. I'm actually trying to figure out where to start a new story right now. I know I have the tendency to start too early, so this is definitely something I'm working on too.

Shannon Whitney Messenger said...

Hee--in film school they practically had us tattoo: COME LATE, LEAVE EARLY on our hands so we'd remember it. SUCH good advice.

As for me, I'm learning to explain setting more and use it like a tool. Screenwriting leaves setting completely out, so it's been a hard habit to get into. But fortunately my agent has NO problem marking all the places I don't describe things enough, so yeah, it's being pounded into my brain. And making me better because of it.

Colene Murphy said...

That is some deep advice!! Thanks for the insight into the wonderful mind of how Elana does it!

Alyssa said...

This is great advice - I always hate it when we get so much boring build up to what in the scene is really interesting. As a reader, that's when I skim, so as a writer, that's what I try to avoid.

kathrynjankowski said...

Oooh, this is spooky, Elana! I just watched "Inception" on DVD and when Leo says that, my immediate response was, "Yeah, just like with writing. Begin with the action."

jbchicoine said...

Aside from "Come late--Leave early" I've learned to cut a lot of fluffy, self-indulgent language. That really hurt, but now it feels soooo good!

Misha said...

My biggest lesson was: Feeling uncertain? Find you inner censor and beat the hell out of him.

;-P

Bish Denham said...

I learned that I don't know diddly about revising, even though I though I did.

Melissa Gill said...

Great lesson, and a great movie. I'm trying to think of one thing I've learned this year, but there are so many. And I've got so much more to learn.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Inception for writing tips! Another excuse to watch it again.

Connie said...

I really appreciate the comparison to Inception--it grounded the idea for me. Thanks.

Lenny Lee* said...

oh wow miss elana i couldnt never say how much i learned from all my blogger friends and from some cool writing beginner books one i got myself off of a amazon gift card and one miss dianne sent me. all what i write is just getting lots more better and i got a cool cp in miss sharon and she just real honest and give me really good help and i got lots of blogger friends who could wanna read my stuff and help me get better. on your post im wondering when you just get to that stop is that on the end of a chapter?
...hugs from lenny

The Golden Eagle said...

Great advice!

One thing I've learned over the past year is to stop letting the Inner Editor get in the way of writing.

Joylene Butler said...

Your stop and start is right on, Elana. Some days mine gets up and leaves. I hate when that happens. But so far, my current WIP is knocking my socks off. I love when that happens.

Great post as always. Your ramblings are worthy of forwarding. Keep up the great job.

Kathi Oram Peterson said...

I learned the "get in a scene late and out early" years ago from my writing mentor.

I saw Inception, and boy did they use this concept to the max.

As for what I've learned this year, just keep swimming. (I know it's an old saying, but it still works.)

ali said...

One of the things I love about your posts, E, is that you manage to say a LOT with just a few words. Brilliant.

Um, I think the best thing I learned last year was that no story's ever dead unless it's shredded, burned, and buried in the ground. And even then it might not be dead.

There's always something more you could do. Some new thought/character/plot twist/whatever that can reinvent your story.

Never give up! Never surrender! That's my battle cry :)

L.T. Elliot said...

I love Inception. Such a killer movie. And i love that he said we simultaneously create and experience. That's what writing feels like to me.

Something I learned last year? I think I learned a lot about pacing, too. And I also learned that I have to just do it if I'm going to do it.

Jemi Fraser said...

I'm learning that I do have to add some description. Personally I'd rather leave almost all of it out - but apparently people like to see things!

Bethany Mattingly said...

I loved that scene in Inception. This year I have learned that less is often more.

Ghenet said...

This is such good advice! I'm going to keep this in mind as I finish my draft.

Inception was an excellent movie, once I understood what the heck was going on!

VR Barkowski said...

I've learned it's okay to write in layers. So what if the first draft is shallow? Details, emotion, pacing, flow can all be added in. Get the story down first.

Jennifer Hoffine said...

Great example with Inception. I also think TV and commercials can teach us a lot about this quick cut style of scene writing too. I remember reading this advice then noticing it as I watched TV.

When I'm writing, I'll often go with the first image or line of dialogue I have of a scene then put in needed backstory as I go along. As for the ending, I'll often think the scene is going to end later, but then I'll write a line of dialogue or IM and think, "Wow. That's all I need."

Kristen Torres-Toro said...

To think outside of the proverbial box.

Heather said...

Start as late as possible, that's brilliant! I'm going to write that down and post it by my writing space. Last year I learned that I need to start the novel in the same tone that I want the novel to be in. I had to get rid of a prologue that felt completely different from the rest of the novel. It wasn't an easy decision for me to come to. In fact I had to be poked and prodded into it. But of course those who advised me were right.

Karen Akins said...

Great Inception reference!

Meredith said...

Haha, I love Inception! Thanks so much for the advice!

Donea Lee said...

Great advice, thanks!

Jess of All Trades said...

Oooo "in it already" .... perfect key words.

Thanks for this! :D

Nicole Zoltack said...

I have problems setting the scene too, I like to start right into the meaty part.

Rebecca T. said...

It is amazing to me how many times movies give such great writing tips. I just did a post about building characters from inspiration I got from the movie Letters to Juliet! Great tips. Already thinking about how I can apply it to my WIP :)

Melody said...

Well, considering that all my 'serious writing research' has taken place in the last year, I have lots of information to choose from! Probably one of the most helpful things has been the phrase: "Take your first chapter (your first three chapters?) and get rid of them." Which is actually very similar to what your saying. But it works!! :D

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