The What and Why of Writing: Boy Scout Moment

Say the words “Boy Scout” and most people will think “Be prepared.” That’s the Boy Scout Motto. Or they might think of words like trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous. These are parts of the 12 Points of the Scout Law. I know all this because my husband, who is an Eagle Scout, recited all 12 Points to me in rapid-fire succession. Once a scout, always a scout.

And yes, all of this Boy Scout trivia is applicable to writing a novel.

What: Boy Scout Moment

This is a sweet moment in the beginning of the book where we glimpse the hero or heroine doing something kind: Maybe they are  kind to an animal. Maybe they help an old woman across the street (Boy Scout, remember?). In some small way, your character sacrifices what they want for someone else. The Boy Scout Moment helps your readers like your hero and/or your heroine.

Why: I already explained why you need a Boy Scout Moment early on in your novel. Look at the last line under the section labeled “What.” You want your readers to like your hero and your heroine.

As novelists, we understand the character arc in a story. Character arc is the timeline that allows our main characters to change and mature as the story progresses. This is why in Chapter One you can have a hero and heroine who loathe each other but then discover Happily Ever After together by the time you pen “The End.” Thanks to the character arc, they are not the same people they were at the beginning of the story.

But not all our characters are likeable at the beginning of the book. As a matter of fact, we’re supposed to write characters who are less-than-perfect. How do you show readers that your hero or heroine are still worth their time, despite their faults?

This is the brilliance of the Boy Scout Moment.

While your heroine may not glimpse the hero’s heart of gold until later in the book, give your readers a quick peek. Here’s where you can peruse that 12 Point Scout Law again:

  1. Trustworthy
  2. Loyal
  3. Helpful
  4. Friendly
  5. Courteous
  6. Kind
  7. Obedient
  8. Cheerful
  9. Thrifty
  10. Brave
  11. Clean
  12. Reverent

 

Example: In my novel Crazy Little Thing Called Love, my heroine Vanessa doesn’t do close relationships. She’s good at saying hello and she’s good at saying goodbye — but she doesn’t know how to do all that comes in between those two words. And yes, there are reasons for that. I knew if I wasn’t careful, Vanessa could come across as distant, yes, even unlikeable, to my readers. At the beginning of the book they wouldn’t know all the reasons why Vanessa would seem closed off toward people. That unfolded as the story progressed. So I crafted a Boy Scout Moment for Vanessa where she helped out a single mom who she’d met during one of her shifts as a paramedic.

What kind of Boy Scout Moment could you give your hero or heroine? Could he look like a jerk to the heroine but prove himself to be trustworthy to someone else? (#1) Could she be loyal to her family by helping out a sibling? (#2) Could he continue to be courteous to his boss even though he’s seething inside? (#5) Or could she clean up a mess she didn’t make?  (#11)

 

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Stalled in your writing?  The Benefits of a Quick Read!

I read a quote recently that said if you look at the state of your house, office and garage, that reflects the state of your inner being.

Hmm…I just came off a week of celebrations – my daughter graduating from college, my son graduating from high school – and the ensuing parties and houseful of guests.  All my adult children, plus extended family hung out at our house, playing games into the wee hours of the night.

The morning light revealed piles of coke cans, Doritos wrappers, blankets, shoes and pillows scattered around the family ottoman or kitchen table, the evidence of, well, fun had the night before.

We capped off our week with a hike up to a local waterfall, where we took a few minutes to sit down and reflect on the accomplishments of our graduates, as well as looked ahead to the future with hopes and dreams.

Amidst the fun of the game playing and cake-eating, the three hour hike afforded us with an opportunity to cherish the important stuff.

In the middle of writing a book, we can get caught up in the drama (and challenge) of writing, moving from one climatic event to the next. But somewhere in the middle we sometimes lose steam as we look ahead at all the scenes we must yet accomplish. Our progress begins to slow and suddenly we find ourselves standing in the middle of the room, looking at the debris, wondering how we got here, and how we might find the strength to continue.

It’s time to do a Quick Read of your book.

Reading what you have so far will charm you back into the story, into the big picture, and charge you with momentum to finish.  You’ll see what you have accomplished – and the reward of staying the course.

Here’s some advice on how to maximize your Quick Read:

  1. Don’t edit each scene as you go. If you stop to edit, you’ll find yourself suddenly reworking essential moments, slow your progress and you might even change something that will affect your ending.  Instead, TAKE NOTES on your story – outlining possible changes.  You might also highlight areas you need to pay special attention to later.  Remind yourself that you WILL go back and re-write, and give your story a deep edit when you’re finished.  Now, you’re just trying to reignite your inspiration.
  2. Keep an eye out for shallow (and unfounded) emotional responses. When you’re writing that first pass, you’re still getting to know your characters and their emotional responses. A second read through, after you’ve gotten to know them better will unearth deeper responses, more meaningful reactions, and add to your emotional layering of a scene.  Again, don’t rewrite it yet, but make notes on how you might react to this differently.  Then, on your editing pass, you’ll have a springboard from which to rewrite the emotions.
  3. Make notes on where you might need more storyworld, or perhaps even an additional scene. You might even find a redundant scene.
  4. Pick up plotting threads you might have forgotten as you’ve trudged through Act 2. Make a list of all the threads so you remember to wind them up at the end.
  5. Ask: WHAT DO I LOVE? I always ask myself this as I’m reading. What do I love about this book?  What character moments, plot twists, dialogue, prose – I go ahead and highlight it so I can remember why I’m writing this book, and I’m encouraged that yes, it’s a worthwhile venture to continue.  Seeing all those pink highlights is encouraging as I’m scrolling through my kindle, ready to start moving forward away.

Finally, doing a Quick Read of your book, especially while you’re busy with other events (e.g. family graduations!) utilizes that “non-writing” time and helps build your momentum for getting back on track after the party has died.

Life gets in the way of our writing – (or rather, writing gets in the way of life?), but you don’t have to let yourself get derailed.  Or, maybe you simply have lost your steam.  Stop writing, sit down and start reading.

You might just discover you’ve found your next favorite author.

Go! Write Something Brilliant!

Susie May

 

 

How to Edit your Fast-Draft – an overview

I saw the angel in the marble…and I carved until I set him free…

Michelangelo

Editing, in my opinion, is the fun part of writing. You already have the rough draft nailed down, and now you’re going to hone it, add all those things that will make it sparkle – carve it until you see that masterpiece you’ve been trying to create.

 

For me, there are three phases to writing a book:

  • Creating – the Discovery of the story/senes. Again, keep a notebook of all the things you want to put in it later…during the…
  • Revision phase – It’s the phase where I hone the theme and add special elements, like the five senses, or thematic metaphors. I draw out scenes that need to be longer, shorten ones that are too long, even delete unnecessary scenes. This is where I add character textures such as:
    • Idiosyncrasies – mannerisms, something the character says out of habit.
    • Food and drink preferences
    • Clothing! and kind of car!

 

Which leads us to the:

  • Editing phase – print it out and read it slowly, taking notes in the lines, proofing it, and going through my checklist!

 

Quick Editing Checklist

What to look for in editing:

  • Scenes that pack a punch – Do each of your scenes have a purpose? Do you need to make the slower scenes faster? Can you combine two slow scenes, cutting away the less important to the important?
  • Action – Are there sufficient reasons for everything your character does in that scene, and have you planted the clues for that action or decision long before they do it?
  • Likeable characters – Does your hero/heroine have great qualities and make you truly like them? Make sure that in each scene, there is something likeable about your character, that special spark that sets them apart.
  • Surprise – is the disappointment worthy of your character, is it plausible and unexpected?
  • Art – have you mastered the mechanics? Are they tight?

 

Mechanics Overview

  1. Are there five senses in each scene?
  2. Replace the adverbs with strong verbs, the adjectives with defined Nouns. Cut all “ly”- ending adverbs if possible.
  3. Be ruthless with passive sentences – “was” and “were” are good clues to a passive sentence. Although sometimes you need a passive sentence to let the reader rest, most of your sentences should be active.
  4. Repeating sentences – If two sentences say the same thing, cut one.
  5. Two adjectives together weaken both – use the strongest one.
  6. Read through your dialogue – do you need tags? Do you have enough action between words? Do you repeat names? Do you need to delete tags to make it faster? Is there enough white space between chunks of dialogue?
  7. Do you have a list of overused words? Do a word search and fix/delete those!

Sometimes it helps to print it up and look at it like you would a book.  (I do this by changing my page to landscape, then changing the typestyle to Garamond, then separating it into two columns).

 

Take your time with the editing.  The really hard work – pulling it from your brain – is over.  Now you get to enjoy watching it come to life!

Did you participate in NaNoWriMo and need a game plan on what to do next?  Join us for this Thursday’s FREE Webinar about Editing your novel and the next steps to publication.  Reserve your space here.

Go! Write something Brilliant!

smw sig without background

 

 

Featured Fiction: Kristin Billerbeck

Today, we’re celebrating one of the authors who helped us make the Frasier Contest possible! Kristin Billerbeck is a  CBA bestselling novelist who has written over 40 novels and novellas. She lives in the Silicon Valley with my family.

Q: Kristin, can you tell us a little bit about your next book?

I’ve taken off nearly two years of writing, but I’m getting back into it now that my two sons are off to college.  My last book is the final Smitten collection, Smitten Book Club with fellow authors and friends, Colleen Coble, Denise Hunter and Diann Hunt for Harper Collins Christian. http://www.amazon.com/Smitten-Book-Club-Thomas-Nelson/dp/1401687164  Right now, I’m working on a follow-up to my most popular series, “Ashley Stockingdale” and I’ve got a new book coming out soon called, “What a Girl Needs.”  It’s about the life and times of a chaotic patent attorney and her quest toward marital bliss.

Q: What is one piece of writing advice you’d give the MyBookTherapy community?

Write what you’re passionate about. Don’t follow the market. As it gets smaller, you’ll only be disappointed. Write what you love and be proud of what you write! Read, get better and write some more!

Q: What was the most emotional scene for you to write in your novel?

I hate to watch people suffer emotionally, so I have a very hard time when someone gets hurt by words in my novels. Of course it has to happen. People can be mean, but it pains me. I hate that there is cruelty in the world.

Q: How did God change you through the course of writing your novel?

20090104_Billerbeck_0128_Rtch_SmThis novel, the follow-up to Ashley’s story has been such a bear to write! The first novel came out in 2005 — so that’s a long time, but I STILL do not go a week without someone begging for a new novel in her life. She was a character that just spoke to people because she spoke truth. Maybe not in the nicest ways at all time, but I do think she’s got a good heart. She is just a little bit misguided, and aren’t we all? My life has been chaos since I started the book two years ago, and quite frankly, that’s why I think I avoided it for so long! But God has changed me by bringing me peace in the midst of turmoil. I don’t understand His plans, but I know that they are perfect and sometimes, we have to listen only to Him and not the well-meaning friends around us.