Odyssey Podcast #132: Barbara Ashford on Crafting Compelling Scenes

mp3 Odyssey Podcast #132

In Winter 2018, award-winning novelist Barbara Ashford taught the Odyssey Online course One Brick at a Time: Crafting Compelling Scenes, and she’ll be teaching the class again this winter. In this excerpt from the first class, Barbara talks about techniques writers can use to evaluate the effectiveness of their scenes. Scenes are made out of moments. Moments can be bittersweet, funny, shocking—the best ones grab our attention because they feature characters we care about, involve indelible imagery or worldbuilding, and show dramatic conflict that keeps us reading. All writers use the same ingredients for scenes, but writing is not about following a recipe but about mixing the ingredients as appropriate for the story and scene. We need to be aware of the effect we’re striving to create and the impact we want to have on readers. A dramatic scene requires conflict. The conflict in a scene needs to relate to the conflicts in the story as a whole. When analyzing the effectiveness of scenes, don’t just look for conflict, but whether that conflict pushes the plot forward and whether it impacts future events. Look at whether the POV character has a clear scene objective. If the scene is about several things rather than a single objective, it becomes unfocused. The short-term scene objective has to relate to the character’s long-term goal, the super-objective. The scene needs to put obstacles between the protagonist and the super-objective. Having a clear scene objective raises anticipation and makes the reader want to know how the situation will be resolved. The scene must have something at stake for the POV character. More than anything, a scene must change the situation for the POV character in a dramatic way. If the POV character is in the same emotional place at the beginning of the scene and the end, you should ask yourself if the scene is necessary. You can skip over unimportant scenes or roll scenes together. The best scenes do more than just change the situation; they show how the POV character is changed as a result of the action.

Continue reading “Odyssey Podcast #132: Barbara Ashford on Crafting Compelling Scenes”

Online Classes for Winter 2015

**ODYSSEY WRITING WORKSHOPS ANNOUNCES INTENSIVE, LIVE, ONLINE CLASSES FOR WINTER 2015**

This winter, the Odyssey Writing Workshops Charitable Trust is offering three live online courses with the same high quality and rigorous approach as its acclaimed, in-person Odyssey workshop: Showing versus Telling in Fantastic Fiction, One Brick at a Time: Crafting Compelling Scenes, and Effective Endings in Speculative Fiction.

Since learning is an active process, all Odyssey Online courses involve live online class meetings, allowing students to ask questions and participate in discussions. Jeanne Online Class captureEach course is designed to provide intensive focus on a particular aspect of fiction writing. Challenging homework assignments allow students to practice new techniques, while feedback from the instructor and from classmates helps students to make strong improvements. Each student also has an individual meeting with the instructor. Courses provide a supportive yet challenging, energizing atmosphere, with class size limited to fourteen students. While courses are designed for adult writers of fantasy, science fiction, and horror, interested writers of all genres are welcome to apply. Continue reading “Online Classes for Winter 2015”

Director’s Corner: Ending Scenes with Power

Jeanne Cavelos is the director of the Odyssey Writing Workshop. She was a senior editor at Bantam Doubleday Dell, where she worked for eight years, editing the fantasy/science fiction program, the Abyss horror line, and other fiction and nonfiction. Jeanne is also the bestselling author of seven books and numerous short stories and articles. She has won the World Fantasy Award and twice been nominated for the Stoker Award.


Ending Scenes with Power

In my experience, writers agonize quite a bit about how to end their stories or novels. This is good, because the end is critical in creating the lasting impression you want the reader to experience. But few writers spend much attention on the ends of scenes or chapters, or know how to create a strong end to a scene. Continue reading “Director’s Corner: Ending Scenes with Power”

Director’s Corner: Creating Strong Scenes

Jeanne Cavelos is the director of the Odyssey Writing Workshop. She was a senior editor at Bantam Doubleday Dell, where she worked for eight years, editing the fantasy/science fiction program, the Abyss horror line, and other fiction and nonfiction. Jeanne is also the bestselling author of seven books and numerous short stories and articles. She has won the World Fantasy Award and twice been nominated for the Stoker Award.


Creating Strong Scenes

In one of our recent podcasts, Nancy Kress discussed the importance of writing in scenes. She explained how breaking your story into scenes, and breaking those scenes into their various components, can help you make the most of every moment in your story. I’d like to build on that topic by discussing another important aspect of writing in scenes.

Something that I’ve found very useful when constructing a scene or editing a scene is to consider what changes in the scene. Ideally, in every scene, something of significance should change for the main character of that scene. Some significant value should change for the main character between the beginning of the scene and the end. Some reversal should take place. For example, a character might go from freedom to captivity, or from love to hate, or from distrust to trust. Robert McKee discusses this concept in his excellent book Story.

Continue reading “Director’s Corner: Creating Strong Scenes”