Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Make a Scene by Jordan E. Rosenfeld

Over the weekend, I got my copy of Jordan E. Rosenfeld's Make a Scene: Crafting a Powerful Story One Scene at a Time.

I've already read through it, and was amazed with -- and thankful for -- the great content. I wish I had this book before I wrote my meandering first novel, as it would have been vastly improved. What Jordan does is comprehensive. She deconstructs all the elements that go into crafting a scene and explaining them and variations on what does and doesn't work to hook a reader. Chapter by chapter, she covers dialogue, action, subtext, tone, setting, voice and plenty more. She offers practical suggestions for a vast array of different types of scenes (dramatic, suspense, ect.) and highlights each chapter with examples from a vast array of novels.

To say I was impressed with the book and learned a lot from it is kind of like saying that Marie Osmond didn't dance very well last night. I highly recommend this book to all kinds of writers, no matter their experience level. You can visit Jordan at her blog to learn more about her and her other projects. Today, Jordan was generous enough to answer a few questions for me about the book and her writing future.

1) What gave you the initial idea for "Make a Scene"?

Well, honestly I'd been editing manuscripts for a service--lots of "first" novels, and even some second or thirds (and I am a novelist myself, albeit unpublished). I found that new writers were making the same essential round of mistakes over and over again to the point that many of them actually sounded as if they'd written the same book. It took me a while to pinpoint what it was they were missing (and yes, I looked back to my own fiction to investigate). When I realized it was a kind of essential misunderstanding of what a scene is, the idea was pretty much born instantly.

2) There's so much that goes into making each scene a success for the reader, such as pacing, plot, characterization, setting, tone, action, dialogue, not melodramaing out, and opening and closing. You give great examples throughout the book while explaining how to keep the reader hooked by using these devices. Was the deconstruction of these foundational elements more difficult, or was it tougher to come up with such easily understood explanations?

I've learned something about myself in the process of writing this book--I am very good at breaking down concepts of writing. BUT....I'm better at the deconstruction of writing than I am at actual writing. It's just as much work for me to go over my own scenes in my novels, to figure out what's missing or what needs to go. So In some ways getting to these foundational elements was utterly simple because my brain deconstructs really well, and at other times I would find myself feeling trapped in an M.C. Escher painting thinking "What am I actually saying here??" But I got to re-read a lot of my favorite books with a sharp eye, so that was fun.

3) Did all the research and deconstructing and writing about the techniques help make you more aware, so that when you write fiction, you can put the tools to use more quickly and easily?

Yes. Sickeningly so. I was concomitantly writing a novel (still am) and would often do the verbal equivalent of slapping myself when I found myself making the very mistakes I was cautioning my audience about! But that's the hypocrisy of writing anything how-to. Nobody is perfect, you learn as you go. I still feel that people should learn to write by just reading and writing, and then, when they've labored at it for a while, start reading books and taking classes and getting MFAs or whatever appeals.

4) You're now experienced in fiction, nonfiction, interviews, and freelance work. Have you found that you enjoy one niche more than another, or do they all sort of feed into each other and help you grow as a writer?

Honestly fiction and non-fiction take up two almost completely different parts of my brain. Fiction for me is like entering a trance or a dream (albeit the kind where you're running as fast as you can and still can't get anywhere). Non-fiction is very puzzle-like, or maybe Tetris-like. Shifting info around to support and illustrate ideas. I actually really thrive on the freelance work I do--which is mostly article writing and a lot of manuscript editing. I think it does all feed into a larger aspect of itself, some kind of uber-writing center in my brain, but I couldn't tell you exactly how non-fiction has helped my fiction and vice versa only that writing is a muscle and the more you feel the burn, the better shape it stays in.

5) What are you working on now?

Technically I am still writing this crazy pseudo-supernatural novel, but I've taken a wee break from it, so I'm really just working on individual projects. I'm ghostwriting a novel for a man--he's already written it, I'm just helping him revise it. I've got a handful of articles on my plate, and as always I'm working on the Write Free Newsletter with my partner in crime there, Rebecca Lawton. Our first book together: Write Free: Attracting the Creative Life is due out at the first of the year, so we're gearing up to promote that, too. www.writefree.us

6) Stock question: Dinner with anyone, dead or alive. Who is it?

I think it would be Einstein. I am really into physics and I'll bet picking his brain was an unforgettable experience.

7) Stock question 2: One book, one CD, one DVD. What are they?

I'll be honest, this answer would change if you asked me in six months. Right now, book: Raw Shark Texts by Stephen Hall because I could read that over and over and still get something new. CD: Regina Spektor's greatest hits. DVD: The final episode of HBO's Six Feet Under :)

8)Suppose you can't have both: Would you rather have respect from your peers and critical acclaim (but not making cash from writing), or would you rather be a bestselling author with the fat coin?

This is a great question because I find myself somewhere in between. I want to be the kind of person who wants respect and critical acclaim--but sometime after I graduated with my MFA I realized that that didn't matter to me in quite the same way as I had once thought. I mean, I don't want to be thought of by one of those unfair terms like "sell out" but I think all of us writers would like to make a living at the thing we love most. At this point I think I'd just settle for a published novel that sells out its print run and doesn't drop off the radar in 30 days. Was that a cop out?

No, Jordan. That wasn't a cop out. That's a great answer, and Make a Scene is a great tool for both novice and accomplished writers.

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