Using Scene Cards to Cut through the Bullshit

Editing sucks.

You’ll hear every author ever admit it before they flow into a huge diatribe about why it’s still the most important part of creating a novel, how it polishes the rough diamond of your work, etc, etc.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t disagree­. They’re absolutely right. I just don’t intend to spend six paragraphs saying “no seriously, you need to edit” to an audience that has grasped the concept already.

Editing still sucks. However, if you stick to the scene card method, it doesn’t have to be unbearable.

These are far more effective than any other tecnique…

As soon as I brought my little bundle of rage and quills home, I found myself at somewhat of a loss on what to feed him. Sure, I’d done some cursory research to ensure he would be a good fit for me, but not much deeper than “eats cat food” and “drinks water”. Could it be more complicated than that to keep a hedgehog happy and healthy?

Oh, it can.

Turns out, you don’t want to just drop a bit of kibble in their cage and be done with it. A quick glance around breeder sites, pet sites, and forums…

Let’s open on one solid premise: workshopping is fantastic.

The awesomeness of thrusting your rough, unpolished work at other frazzled writers isn’t exactly intuitive. You’ve just crawled out from under your keyboard after months of self-doubt and creative despair, only now to share this with strangers. Even so, it’s hard to improve anything inside a vacuum. Running your work past others is invaluable to figuring out if that “proctologists in space” concept translates as well to the page as it sounds in your head.

Spoilers: It doesn’t.

Try not to roll your eyes at me, internet, but I hear a legion of young…

So, I typed my last revision, reread my last paragraph, and closed the final scene of my manuscript with an exhale I could feel to my bones. Guess who was ready to waste the time and effort of their closest friends and family members?

I might not be an almighty guru of writing, but I have made enough critical mistakes at this point in the game to know a thing or two. Learn from my mistakes.

Happy to help. Really.

My first mistake

A note on character suffering

As a former writing coach and current workshop extrodinaire, I’ve read a lot of crappy novels. I don’t mean that in a derogatory way. There’s nothing permanent about that descriptior. God knows anything can be fixed in revision. However, despite hours of effort and inspiration, most first novels I read suck.

There’s one core issue I’ve discovered is damn near universal to these well-intentioned but painfully boring time pits. Despite providing an antagonist or a central problem, beginner authors are damn near allergic to letting their characters suffer. …

If I had to pick the one thing that prevented me from starting to write, I’d have to say it was actually sitting down to write. Obtuse, yes? When I talk to writing buddies about grinding out my fourth manuscript, I can see the stymied frustration coiling within them. Inevitably, the topic shifts to the real reason they haven’t written that novel they’ve had in their heads for years: it really sucks to sit down and actually do it.

I haven’t forgotten the days of endless plotting, only to stare at my laptop and feel inertia settle over me. I…

People are tricky. Regardless of whether you’re a plot first or a character first writer, it can be a challenge nailing down a human being. Whether you need them to function as a robust and dynamic protagonist or tap dance in and out of a scene as a side character, there’s a lot of details to remember much less use effectively. Everyone has fears and wants and quirks, often at odds with the fears and wants and quirks of those around them. How do you keep track of all of that?

Put it down, Hemingway. We’re not quite there yet.

One of the most common resources to tackle this…

Conflict is the oxygen books breathe. Without it, characters become cardboard cutouts and plotlines meandering tours of someone else’s fantasy. Every scene should have conflict. Ever read a book that was great, but parts seemed to drag? Nine times out of ten, it was because the conflict fizzled out.

For a beginning writers it is hard to incorporate conflict even once you’ve accepted it’s necessity. Conflict opportunities can be hard to spot and even harder to use. As will all things, however, practice makes perfect.

Understanding Conflict Types

Now that we’re certain we can use any conflict we find, we’ll need to cover…

Confession: I cringe writing exposition.

Maybe it’s just that I’m not good at it. Maybe it’s the legacy of catching myself regaling my peers with purple prose during middle school. Maybe it’s the part of me that wants to snap at the reader, “She was in a coffee shop. What did it look like? Like a coffee shop. Just pick one and imagine it– I’ve got things to do.”

It’s frustrating, sitting in front of a screen and trying to come up with something to satisfy and ground my readers, yet knowing it has relatively little relevance to what I…

Alicia Parry

Writer, library worker, general enthuser.

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