Scene CPR – The On-line Workshop

Coming up in just a few weeks is the new and improved, and also extended, version of my craft of writing workshop Scene CPR: Breathing Life Into Ailing Scenes With Scene Goals, Disasters & Sequels.  This is a great workshop for beginners or professionals, focusing on a set of writing tools that bring scenes and scene sequels into focus, help you plan and/or revise your manuscript, and give your manuscript more page turning power.

These tools are the foundation of every scene or sequel in your manuscript.

If you’ve taken my Scene CPR workshop before, please note that this time it is four weeks long, instead of 2 weeks (or two hours if you’ve taken the “live” workshop!).  I’m including a lot of new examples, and will be delving into more variations on the techniques than I was able to previously. 

If you haven’t taken an on-line workshop before, they are pretty easy to manage.  You don’t have to be on-line at any specific time and can actively participate or lurk as you feel works best for you (though I advocate active participation as you get more out of a workshop that way!).  I’ll post 2-3 lectures with exercises per week.  There will be some reading with the exercises, also posted. In between you get to ask questions and pick my brain.  There’s plenty of opportunity (and encouragement!) to apply the exercises to your own work, but I do not require you to post your scenes to the group.  If you want more specifics about how the workshops are run from the technical side please click on the link below and contact the workshop coordinator — I’m just the teacher, not the techie.  If you want more information about the content or organization of the workshop, you can contact me at

So here’s the skinny – click on the link for full registration info: 

Scene CPR: Breathing Life Into Ailing Scenes With Scene Goals, Disasters & Sequels 
March 4-31, 2011
Through Lowcountry Romance Writers on-line workshops
Registration deadline: March 2, 2011
Workshop fee: $16

I hope you’ll join me on-line in March!

P.S. Please feel free to share this post with your writing friends.  Share buttons below make it easy!


Scene Sequels

If you’ve ever studied Dwight Swain or Jack Bickham you’ve heard about scene goals and disasters.  If you haven’t, check out my blog post on the topic.  Scene goals and disasters are great for moving your plot along, creating conflict and tension, and – my favorite – forcing you to be mean to your characters.

But sometimes what you need isn’t a scene with goals and disasters.  Sometimes what you need is a sequel. 

What’s a sequel you ask?

A sequel is

…the glue that holds scenes together and helps you get from one to the next. It is a flexible structural component, and it provides you with all the tools you need for in-depth characterization, analysis of motivation, explanation of character planning, etc.

Scene & Structure by Jack Bickham
(my all time favorite writing book!)

A sequel doesn’t have a goal/disaster but it does have four steps that the character will go through:

  • Emotion – the emotional reaction to whatever happened in the scene before (or the last scene this character was in)
  • Thought – thinking through what just happened
  • Decision – deciding what he/she is going to do about what just happened
  • Action – this will give you a new goal for that character, so you frequently can go into the next scene with the action/new goal.

What exactly do you use a sequel for in your story?

A sequel…

  • Provides a moment in the story for a character to process what just happened in a previous scene,often an action scene where there isn’t time to stop and delve into the emotional impact of what’s happening.
  • Allows you to show the interior effects of something that just happened. 
  • Allows the reader to get the reaction of a character who was not the pov character in the previous scene.   If you tend to head hop, instead of switching point of view mid-scene, use a sequel after the scene to show the other character’s reactions to what just happened.
  • They can give your reader a breather after an action packed or highly emotional  scene.
  • Allows the author to use the character’s thinking process to give the reader information about things that happened before the story started or in any time that has elapsed between chapters or scenes.
  • Helps control pacing (slower or faster)
  • Reveals motivation
  • Reveals a goal for a future scene.
  • Is useful when you need more than a simple transition

In every case a sequel allows you to show the process a character goes through while reacting to one story element and how they arrive at the motivation for their next actions. 

Sample sequel:

Joanna’s palms were sweaty as she stood in the deserted hall outside her boss’s office door.   If he figured out she was chasing myths again he’d never agree to her plan, no matter how interesting the cover story, and she desperately needed him to help her get the artifact here to Richmond.  It was the only way she’d ever get to see it in person.

And she had to see it… touch it… figure out what it meant.

She scrubbed her face and shoved her fingers through her hair.   There was no telling if he’d buy her story, but there was only one way to find out.  She took a deep breath and let it out slowly, willing the rapid thumping of her heart to slow down so its pounding wouldn’t give her away to Tom.  Tom knew her way too well.

She knocked.

Can you see the emotion?  It’s all over the place in this example – I tend to write that way.   Emotion points:

  • Palms were sweaty
  • Desperately needed…
  • Scrubbed her face and shoved her fingers through her hair.
  • Took a deep breath and let it out slowly, willing the thumping of her heart to slow down.

Can you see the thought?

  • If he figured out…the cover story
  • I was the only way she’d ever get to see it  — she had to see it…

Can you see the decision?

  • There was only one way to find out.

Can you see the action?

  • She tries to slow her heart.
  • She knocks.

Look at your current wip.  Do you have any sequels?  If you do, are all four stages present?  If you are missing one, it’s likely either the emotion stage or the action stage.  Make sure you don’t give the emotion stage short shrift.  It’s the number one problem I find in my critique client’s sequels (other than missing sequels!) and it’s the stage that really makes your characters real to your reader.

If you are missing the action stage check to see if the action is implied, or if the action is what starts the next scene.  The action stage is the easiest one to skimp on, but it needs to at least be implied.

You may also find that the four stages are sometime switched around — though I strongly believe the emotional reaction needs to come first.  You may also find that stages repeat, as in the example sequel above.  The emotion weaves through the whole sequel.  Thought is another one that can easily repeat in a sequel. 

You are likely to use sequels more often in the early part of your story, and less often later simply because later in the story the reader has gotten to know what makes the character tick already.  And while I haven’t done an exhaustive study, I think most “black moments”, that time just after the main character has experienced an emotional crises near the end of a story, are sequels.  The decision part of that black moment sequel gives the character a new goal and that propels the character into the climax of the story.

Keep your character’s character in mind. 

If you have a very emotional character then the emotion stage may almost overpower the sequel and the thought stage may be minimal.  Likewise, if you have a very logical, controlled character, the emotion stage may be only half a sentence and the thought stage longer.  The length of the sequel may vary by the type of character for the same reasons.  Someone very emotional may take longer to sort through everything and come to a decision.  Someone very unemotional may be able to cut to the chase of the decision in a sentence or two.  In this way the form your sequel takes subtly reinforces your characterization.

A great example of where to use a sequel is after a love scene. 

You don’t want to wander away from the action in love scene – no flashbacks, no logical thoughts about “what does this mean”, no planning for what needs to happen next.  You want the reader to be as lost in the physical and emotional experience as your characters are.  However, a love scene inevitably changes things between the characters, even if they don’t want to admit it. 

Following a love scene it’s quite common to have a sequel where one of the characters reacts to the love-making.  First, you describe/show the emotional reaction, then the character thinks about what just happened and what it means/what are the ramifications in a logical way, then the character makes a decision about how to move forward, and acts on that decision.  Which in turn sets up a goal for the next scene (and you are back to scene goals and disasters and being mean to your characters!).

Want to know more about sequels?

You can learn more about both scene goals and disasters, and sequels from Jack Bickham’s book, Scene and Structure, published by Writer’s Digest Books and usually available through bookstores/book sites.  I also offer a workshop for writing groups on this topic.  The next on-line workshop, Scene CPR: Scene Goals, Disasters, and Sequels, will be offered in March 2011.  Info will soon be available here.

Washington Romance Writers Retreat

Romance Jeopardy is one of my favorite events at the annual WRW retreat.  Our fearless RJ organizers are increasingly creative in their themes and accompanying costumes, and this year they did not disappoint!  Here’s my good friend Karen Lee our MC and score keeper in my favorite pic from the entire weekend:

aka author Karen Lee

Flanking her on the left is the Scarecrow (aka author Kathy Maxwell) and, on the right, the Cowardly Lion (aka author Kathleen Gilles Siedel).  Guess what our theme was this year?  My team didn’t win, but we had the most fun. ;->

Our keynote speaker was the wonderful, wise and funny Charlaine Harris:

Not the greatest picture, but the talk was terrifically encouraging — all about how she became an “overnight success” through many years of hard work and lots of books.

I was so busy enjoying the weekend that I didn’t take a lot of pictures.  One of the most useful workshops for me was on how to use social networking tools.  As a result, I’m using Twitter a lot more these days.  Follow me and I’ll follow you back! 

My Twitter id is LaurinWittig.

Have you attended a writers’ conference? 

Romance Writers of America has a huge one every July that I’ve been to a few times.  It’s an amazing event with tons of great workshops and networking opportunities.  However, if you’re just sticking your toe in the conference pool, I’d really recommend you start with one of the smaller conferences. 

Many RWA chapters hold one day or weekend conferences that are more affordable, and less intimidating.  Other writing groups also hold conferences. James River Writers in Richmond, Virginia, is one I know of, but haven’t had a chance to attend yet.  Colleges often hold conferences for writers, as well.  The opportunity to meet both writers and industry professionals tends to be greater in the smaller conferences. 

Also, if you are an introvert, which face it, most writers are, the smaller conferences are easier to manage.  Just prepare a few conversation opening questions to have ready (What do you write?  What’s your favorite book you’ve read this year?  Where are you from? are perrenial no-fail favorites!), then dive in and introduce yourself.  You’ve got nothing to lose, and the potential for great gains.

I gained my agent and my first sale at the Washington Romance Writers retreat.  So go find yourself a conference or workshop to attend this year and make the commitment to your writing career!


Where does the time go?

It seems like it was just November and I was starting out on my NaNoWriMo 2009 quest and here it is New Year’s Day already.  I immersed myself in writing (and critiquing) in November and got 30K words written — not the 50K I was aiming for, but I figure 30K words in 30 days is still pretty darn good.  I told myself I’d get back to “life” in December… hah.

Well now the holidays are once more behind me, and in looking back at the last year I find 2009 was very good for me.  I wrote 50K total on my current wip, I critiqued 7 full manuscripts, 5 partial manuscripts, 1 short story, and 6 free 5 page samples.  And that was just from August to December.  The other important goal I met was to get back to writing regularly.  With the help of my writing buddy, Phyllis, I was very successful in meeting that goal and will continue to write regularly in the coming year.

I’m looking forward to a very productive 2010 but that requires me to set goals for myself, and to share them with my writing buddies (that insures accountability!).  Some of my goals for the new year are:

  • I’ve got about another 30-40K to finish up the draft of my current wip.
  • Revise the current wip.
  • This is the year I write my first screenplay.  Lots to learn in order to do that!  I’ll be doing Script Frenzy in April to help meet this goal.
  • I’m teaching a new workshop Scene CPR: The Sequel in Richmond, VA, for Virginia Romance Writers on Saturday, March 13th.
  • I’m teaching both Scene CPR: Breathing Life into Your Ailing Scenes and Scene CPR: The Sequel as a combined on-line workshop through Carolina Romance Writers from March 15th – 31st. 
  • Blog at least twice a month – more often is better!
  • Work with more writers, both familiar and new to me, through workshops and critiques.

Okay, technically that last one is out of my immediate control, so it’s more of a wish than a goal, but I already have a new-to-me writer lined up for a critique starting next week, and I know my buddy Pamela Palmer has at least a couple of books I’ll be critiquing for her this year, so I feel comfortable putting it on my goal list. 

I know everyone makes resolutions this time of year, but I like goals better.  They are concrete, achievable (though some are a stretch, but that’s good!), and they keep me accountable.  Plus, as the year moves along I can check off those goals already achieved and make sure I stay on track for the others.  Nothing like a good list to keep me on track!

Have you set any writing goals this year?  Why not make a goal for yourself to try out my critique service with my 5 page free sample?  Then we can both check something off our lists — you get some professional feedback (for free!) and I get to work with another writer.  Or maybe you prefer a workshop setting?  If you are in the Richmond area join me with the VRW folks in March, or if you are further afield, join me on-line for a more in-depth workshop experience.

Seriously, help me achieve my goals, and maybe I can help you achieve your goals, too.

Happy New Year!


Workshop for Virginia Romance Writers

I had a wonderful time yesterday in the company of my friends and colleagues at Virginia Romance Writers.  I presented my new craft workshop, Scene CPR: Breathing Life into an Ailing Scene, then had a great lunch where we got to talk writing to our hearts’ content.

Gotta say, I love hanging out with writers. 

I got to say hi to old friends and meet some new friends. I’m sending out a big thanks to everyone who turned out yesterday! 


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