Janet Lane Walters on the Mechanics of a Scene

I’m so happy to have Janet here as a guest blogger. Not only is she a personal mentor to me she has helped many others sharpen their writing skills. Janet writes Cozy Mystery, Medical Romance and my favorite, Fantasy. She has been writing since the 1980s and has a catalog of well over 50 books on the market. Let’s get to know this remarkable person, writer & cheerleader of other authors.

Name/Pen name: Janet Lane Walters

General location: Somewhere along the Hudson River in New York

  1. When did you first know you wanted to writer?

            I think I’ll answer questions one and two together. There was never a time that I can remember that I wasn’t telling stories and sometimes writing them down. In school English was my favorite subject and I did ppers galore and also during my nursing education. There was never a time didn’t want to be a writer. The time came when I wanted to be a published author. There is a difference. I was sick with pneumonia and was stuck in a third floor apartment with little to do. My sister-in-law sent me a bag of nurse romance she ahd read and loved. I started reading them. Some were good, a few all right but many were auwul. Not the writing but the writers knew little to nothing about being a nurse. After three dreadful books, I decided I could write a better one. Took me four years and a lot of revisions with suggestions from editors. There were 16 great rejections mentioning the good things about my writing and the things needing improvement. The seventeenth publisher took the book. Was it better than the ones I rejected. I think so but I also know there was room for improvement.

  • What inspired you to write?

      Addressed above.

  • Are you a planner or pantster?

      I would say I’m a bit of both. I plan my stories before I begin but most of the planning is in my head. When I’m planning a new story, as I go to sleep at night, I tell myself a story about the book I plan to write. If it is in a series, I read the books already in the series to get a feel for the flow. Then I sit down and write the story in a series of sketches of the chapters. When I begin the story, I take the plan for the story and use a free flow of writing to write chapter one and so forth. Free flow writing can be scenes, just dialogue, notes for scenes I don’t feel up to writing at the time. Then I go to drafts to cover plot, setting, characters and finally into revision. It’s hard to define the method and it works for me.

  • Which of your works is your favorite? Why?

      How can I play favorites. I usually find the book I’m working on is my favorite at the moment. Each one of my books has had a moment of being my favorite and while I’m writing a book in a series, I often read the other books in that series and for a moment that book becomes my favorite. So I would have to say they all are.

  • Would you say your stories are plot or character driven?

      Definitely plot driven. For me a story must have a plot. You can have characters and write something with no plot but more a series of sceens that have no focus. Sketches don’t make a story for me. I love creating characters but they must be ones who compliment each other and take that journey along the roadmap I’ve designed. There are writers who can create a story just from characters but I can’t. There has to be a map going from beginning to end. Often I know where the story begins and where it will probably end with out knowing who the characters are who will people the story.

  • What do you take with you on vacation?

      It’s been a long time since I’ve had a vacation due to husband’s health problems but if I went on vacation I would take my Kindle. Seldom travel with out it. I would take my current writing project. There’s always time to write a paragraph or two. Clothes, and all else would depend on where I was going. Since it’s usually to visit children who live at a distance, there would be extra money for fun things and my credit cards.

  • What’s your motto as a writer?

      I don’t think I really have one. I just write.

  • What’s your next project or what is in your future?

      Have begun the final book in the Island of Fyre. The Children of Fyre pitting four against the wizards of Fyre and their trader relatives. There are five dragons and also all can use the fyrestones.

I’ve been published for 50 years, though I didn’t write for some of those years while raising a family and returning to work as a nurse. During my off time, I also earned a BS in English and a BS in nursing. I have four children. Three by birth and one by adoption. She is biracial. I have seven grandchildren – four black and three Chinese. Since I’m an eclectic writer, I have an eclectic family.

And now for the good stuff….

All books are made up of scenes. Some are short and some are long. Just what it a scene?

According to Webster, a scene is a dramatic presentation. Each scene works to build a picture of the world the writer is creating and the characters who populate this world. The scenes show the characters in action against the background and each other.

Every scene has a beginning, a middle and an ending. The scene shows a character in action. They may be alone, they may be with other characters, they could be acting against or with the environment. The action isn’t necessarily the heart-stopping flow of a car chase or a sword fight. The action shows a character or character doing something.

Just what does a scene do? There are three ways a scene works. We’ll look at them next time and we’ll also explore why a scene doesn’t work or if this particular one is really necessary.

Scenes can be built in a number of ways. Just remember you must keep the purpose of the scene in mind. But let’s look at these ways. And remember more than one can be present in a scene. It’s always fun to see how many ways you have to make your scenes come alive. There is description, dialogue, inner dialogue and action. We’ll look at them one at a time.

1. By description – We’ve all read scenes where the setting takes on the characteristics a writer wants to portray. A bright sunny day can show a character acting one way and also a gloomy one the other. The scene can also show that the character’s mood is in conflict with the bright day, the antique furniture or what ever description you choose to use. Just don’t overwrite the description. I once remember while doing some reading for a publisher, one of the manuscripts had an entire chapter describing a cr trip along the California coast. Beautifully done but it really had no purpose.

So deciding the purpose of the descriptive scene or parts of a scene may have one or more purposes. A little foreshadowing can be shown. The character can be defined and shown. Also there can be a complication coming that the setting will play a part in creating. A funeral could do this very handily.

Scenes are valuable in writing a story. Using them to define character is one way. Another way is to locate the characters in time and space. The third is to advance the plot.

Showing the setting in a story can be done with dialogue and description. Two characters talking about what they’re seeing is important. Bits of descriptive passages can add to what the characters hear and see, not to mention the other senses. Using dialogue also cuts down on those long descriptive passages that used to be the way writers showed a setting.

A scene can also be used to advance the plot of a story. One has to be careful when choosing a setting for the scene. Eating scenes are very important. I’ve used them in many of my stories but I take care to throw in tidbits about what may or may not happen next.

Using each scene to perform all three functions is great. Showing character development alone is good. Positioning the characters in time and place when combined with character development is great. Adding a plot advance to the two makes the scene excellent. So look at your scene and know the purpose is the way to write a great story.

We’ve talked a lot about how important scenes are for the story to make sense and how each scene must do one or many things. Here is a check list to use when revising your manuscript.

! Do the scenes advance the plot, show character development or give the reader needed information. Finding one of these elements in each scene is good. If the scene covers two of the elements, that’s great but having a scene do all three is wonderful. It’s not always possible to do more than one thing in a scene but not impossible.

2. Is the information repetitive? There;s nothing that makes a reader want to stop reading if they find the same bit of information given over and over in more than one scene. You can get away with at the most three times but only if this is a vital bit of information and is given in a different manner. Don’t bore the reader.

3. Is the description overdone? We’ve all read those long passages of description that causes a stall in the reading. Select the words with care for the most vivid impact. Also make sure this description adds to the plot in some manner.

5.Is the dialogue mere chitchat? When we talk in everyday talks there are often tangents explored but in a story, the dialogue must keep to the point.

6. Does the scene have a purpose? If it doesn’t cut it.

7. Does a secondary character suddenly take over a scene? Maybe they would like their own book but don’t let them steal the hero or heroine’s thunder.

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