Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Fear and Loathing

The first couple chapters of my urban fantasy passed the crit test in my critique group. (Go Mavens!)


I fear the next (roughly) four chapters, though. As I mentioned in my “Patchwork” post, these are some intense chapters. High emotion from several angles. Because I’ve been staring at these particular scenes for years, I’m beginning to loathe them. If they weren’t necessary, I’d scrap the whole thing.

It’s not the scene itself. I actually love these scenes. It’s the emotional drain. We’ve all heard the saying “write what you know.” Well, I don’t know what it’s like to literally hate someone I would die for while finding out a particular myth is real. And that’s what I’m writing. Betrayal at its worst. And being so close to it makes it hard to get those reactions right. The last thing I want is for it to come across as utterly ridiculous. We’re working for fewer eye roll’s, people. Like zero.


What do you do?


Make sure your critique partners are complete assholes.

I’m being completely serious. If your crit partner doesn’t give you their most honest opinion with razor sharp teeth, you’re doomed. (Unless you’re somehow blessed with supernatural writing abilities, in which case, I hate you.) The tough part comes when they’ve read it nearly as much as you and become numb to what’s wrong. At that point, just cross your fingers.

Trust the rules to get you through it.

~ MRU’s or motivational reaction units. Making sure that reaction has a motivation leading directly to it. There’s nothing worse than reading a draft and suddenly the main character is using exclamation points out of nowhere. Use the page for internal dialogue. Those motivations you feel but aren’t necessarily putting into words? Put them into words for your character. It takes some time to get in this habit, but makes for great scenes.

~ SCENE AND SEQUEL. God. This is a lifesaver. It also goes along with the MRU’s. If you’re even a little familiar with S&S, you know it’s mind-warping. Hair-pulling, eye-crossing, and fist-throwing nasty.


Once you get the hang of it, it’s like riding a bike. I can actually feel a scene run off track or get out of control (you can, too, I imagine) and there was once a time I didn’t know what to do. I mean, everything looked okay…

Now I check it for S&S, because there’s a specific order of sequences, and ten times out of ten, the order is jacked up.


Goal (with clear motivation!) –> Conflicts (bumps along the road) –> Disaster (goal fails or doesn’t but has unforeseen nasty side effects)


Reaction  (feel) –> Dilemma (think / what now?) –> Decision (decide new goal)

Lastly: Let it Breathe.

Not for just a few days. I’m talking weeks. Keep writing. Stop staring at the scene and keep going. Leave it for the edit stage (In which you won’t begin for at least 2 weeks following completion, right class?). Then you’ll leave it again for the 2nd round. And 3rd. 4th if you need to. As many as it takes. But move past it. Don’t let it control your every waking thought. Until you have a fresh mind, you won’t see the issues.

Are these foolproof?

No. Absolutely not. Hell to the no. BUT. They will get you closer to perfection. In the end, it’s the fresh reader who will catch the remaining issues. Go find yourself a new asshole.

Or two.


  1. AWESOME advice, and so timely. I've reworked a few scenes of my current WIP so often I have no idea how they weigh in as writing. Thanks for this awesome checklist.

    Question. MRU...where did you read about that? I am familiar with Scene and Sequel through Jim Butcher's blog and Scene and Structure by Jack Bickham. Did I miss something? Can you point me in the right direction?

    And good luck on your crit partners weighing in on your scenes. :D

    1. Hey Elizabeth! I wish I had a source for you on that. I actually learned it in a GMC workshop. I can tell you real quick it's something you should think about in sentence structure on up. So, say, "He yelped when the door struck his toe," versus the correct way, "The door struck his toe and he yelped." Simple examples of how the motivation for the reaction is important. No one yells THEN gets hit. HINT: looking for the keywords "as" and "when" will most likely end up in a misused MRU.
      In a larger area, it's the same thing. You wouldn't want to react, then explain why. Lead up to the reaction with the build of motivation.
      Hope that helps!!

    2. This does and I just found another article about them. Thanks!

    3. Apparently Dwight Swain talks about MRUs and Scene/Sequel in his book, "Techniques of the Selling Writer", in case you want to read more. :D

    4. I have the book, I just didn't make it far, lol. I made it through the gist and caved to something not so dry:)

  2. Interesting post, and quite a bit new for me in the techniques you mention. I'm not a studier of 'how to' writing books but I do work with a very experienced crit group, all of us being published in one form or another, and I totally recognise that glazed look when they've seen something too often. I've now started to try out beta readers as the next step after the group is maxed out on a WIP, and hope that some fresh sets of eyes will catch anything the rest of us have missed.
    Not always easy finding suitable beta readers, of course (my latest is also UF), but they sometimes turn up from most unexpected places - like at work!

    1. YES, finding that fresh beta is like pulling teeth! I use mine all up in the beginning drafts:)

  3. The weird thing about all this is how it applies to real life situations as well.


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