Thursday, September 13, 2012

Yes, But - No, And

I was listening to the Writing Excuses Podcast the other day in my car, when I came across this fantastic nugget of advice about how to do chapters/scenes.  How do you move forward from one chapter to the next?  You need to know how to develop the connective tissue and keep driving the story forward.  This simple trick will take you a long way to developing a story that has momentum.  You simply ask a question, is the protagonist going to accomplish his/her goal in this chapter?  You have two answers obviously, Yes or No.  The trick is thus: Yes, But and No, And.  Every chapter/scene needs to have a reason to exist other than you thought up some really cool world building stuff that you want to show off.  The Yes, but will allow you to finish minor story arcs but keep propelling the story forward.  For example, your group needs to cross a bridge in this chapter.  Will they make it across?  Yes, but on the other side they encounter a group of ruffians. 
Conversely, if you go the other way you can move the story along but “up the stakes.”  Are they going to make it across the bridge in this scene?  No, and in fact there is a group of ruffians coming up behind them now and they need to come up with a new plan.  You get the idea here. 
Every scene should be moving the story along.  It’s is fine to have a few down moments to allow the reader to catch their breath, for example, the group is successful at making it across the bridge and make camp for the night, but they see smoke on the horizon signaling that the group that is chasing them will be here by morning, so they will need to moving before too long.  It will give you some “campfire time” to do some reflection and perhaps bring in some back story or maybe some foreshadowing for the coming scenes.
This is something I am toying with in the new thing I’m doing called outlining.  It is actually helpful in laying out the plan and moving from one chapter to the next, actually ahead of time.  That’s not to say this locks me in to anything.  I reserve the right to change the story as it comes to me, and to change the outline again as a result, but it is a very useful tool in our bag of tricks.
Clear Ether!   

4 comments:

  1. Hi Todd,
    I usually try to be a bit more subtle about section and chapter transitions. Moreover, they usually occur at a natural change in POV. But your points are well taken...the story must move forward, unless it moves back (flashback), in which case you don't want that to last too long.
    In reference to outlining, I used it extensively when I serialized Evil Agenda (now an eBook) and have employed it on some novels. I've found it helps me keep straight the timeline and other plot details, but, like you, I often deviate from the outline. Another trick I use is to write a synopsis or blurb rough draft since I know what the story is about in my head, but writing it down helps organize things a bit.
    I enjoy your posts.
    r/Steve

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    1. Hi Steve, I think you can make the transition how ever you like, my examples were simple just to show the idea. And I agree about when the end the chapter. In my current WIP i have two main POV characters so the transitions between book chapters are not always subtle at all, but the story of the POV characters follows this idea more or less. My WIP was fairly organic, I only outlined the last third. I'm trying to use an outline more for the next book in the trilogy, since it needs to connect to the third book. I think I have a new idea for a blog post now. Thanks for stopping by Steve!

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  2. Outlining? You're braver than I am. I tried that once and it became a waste of time. I'm a pantser and proud of it!

    The best way for me to keep my story on track is to write the pitch/blurb of what my book is about. As long as I stay true to that, I'm good! At least, it's worked so far, so why mess with it, right?

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    1. Hi Stacy!
      I had no idea where I was going when I started this WIP (which might be obvious to you) but I'm trying something new with the outlining. I haven't successfully done it yet. =) Great to see you here!

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