May 3rd, 2011


In Which We Have Strange Encounters (#ROW80 Check-In)

Or, Close Encounters of the First Kind

 Scene work is an exciting time in The Weekend Novelist program, and in the manuscript development process in general. It’s usually the first taste I get of beginning the official writing, something I’ve been, quite frankly, dying to do. If I may make a confession, the Writer Monkey hasn’t always been (and still isn’t always) a die-hard planner. I have a really good run of, upon getting smacked between the eyes with an idea, jumping into the deep end without a snorkel and splashing around like a crazed windmill. Sometimes mad inspiration will carry me five or six chapters in until I lose steam, despite clear sight of The End in the distance.

I've found it's much more manageable, not mention liberating, to be a “plantser” than either a planner or pantser. I like to plant my little rows made of key scenes and watch them bloom, or bear fruit. Doing the development work provided by TWN is almost like writing first draft before actually writing the manuscript. It’s all about discovery and playing around with the variables so by the time you get to the real first draft, you don’t get stuck in the quagmire of WHAT HAPPENS NEXT. Because you know, yanno? But you still get ample opportunity to play in the proverbial mud.

Don’t get me wrong. You can’t plan for absolutely everything. But you can open the door for writing hot so that you surprise yourself. It’s like getting hit by a really groovy Mack truck driven by Roger Rabbit, but because you’re already in The Zone, you don’t stop. You just keep going, right through the unexpected window. It’s like flying.

 So this week I’m working on First Encounters. This means I’m also focusing on the first quarter of my manuscript, from Opening Scene to Plot Point 1. First Encounters are rather like first impressions, and are just as important. Not only is it the first time your protagonist is meeting this other character, it’s also the first time your reader is meeting them as well. And if your reader is turned off, they’ll turn you off. So many books, so little time.


I’ve concentrated on two First Encounters thus far: the helper and romantic interest.

 A few weeks ago when we plotted with objects and attached objects to characters, I’d done some dialogue work between FK and The Minstrel, the helper/romantic interest that included her lute. I went back to that this week, because I felt there was potential here for a really marvelous First Encounter scene between them. This First Encounter is made up of other Firsts, a passing from one state to another, when one door closes and another opens.


·         First Sight: FK sees the Minstrel for the first time, and they form their first impressions. How do they look to each other, what assumptions do they make? As a former military man, what does he observe about her, the situation? What are the objects?

·         First Words: They speak for the first time, forming tentative words, gauging action and reaction. How do they sound in the ears of the other? As a minstrel, what does his voice sound like to her?

·         First Touch: What do their hands look like, feel like? What are the smells in the area? Do their voices change, their demeanor? This is the first inkling of sexual tension.

 This is a perfect opportunity to include—and threaten—both the objects that mean most to them. So I decided to set the scene in the aftermath of a ship wreck, which worked wonderfully for such a high charged moment, full of symbolism—the Minstrel rises from the ashes like a phoenix to change his life.


The other First Encounter I worked on was with the helper, the former Imperial Assassin, and another stranger in FK’s sphere of influence. This First Encounter was just as important, and more delicate, than the one with the Minstrel, who has no other motives other than her job. IA is full of ulterior motives, turnings upon turnings. The Minstrel is someone FK can trust at once; IA, not so much. The object here is IA’s secrets, and it doesn’t help they meet in the aftermath of wholesale destruction.


·         First Sight: FK certainly doesn’t trust IA. Does IA trust him?

·         First Words: A dance of give and take, ferreting secrets and keeping them. Why is IA there? What is his purpose? His reasons and explanations sound reasonable, but there’s a hint of something more. Just like with The Minstrel, this is the perfect time to show, not tell.

·         First Grudging Acceptance. For Now. : FK trusts IA about as far as he can throw him, but until further evidence presents itself, he’ll let it ride.


For the rest of the week I want to focus on First Encounters with The Bad Guys, which will require review of FK’s back story, which includes some really difficult decisions that didn’t work so well, and some truly awful luck that’s about to catch up with him. I really want to get Scene Work off my plate before my first editorial letter for St. Brighid’s Cross comes in, so I have a clear shot at my rough draft for Act I before this round of #ROW80 ends. With all my First Encounters done by the end of this week I’m in the home stretch.


See you all next check-in!