Monday, April 29, 2019

Crafting Memorable Scenes and Writing With Intent

Writing is no easy task, although sometimes it can flow, especially when a woman’s voice and her life experience are encouraged in a supportive group of writers. As one woman said after our workshop, Writing Compelling Scenes in Memoir or Fiction: “The inspiration and support of writing in the company of women encourages me to probe more deeply and express the unvarnished truth of our lives.”

As another of our writers said: “What a rewarding experience to attend a Women’s Writing Circle Workshop! It is an opportunity to learn how to expand our writing skills, surrounded by caring individuals who really want to listen to each of our efforts, and offer kind insights and encouragement."

The theme is apparent: Writing flows when we are offered the opportunity to express ourselves without reservation in the belief and the confidence that our voices and our stories matter.


Writing compelling scenes requires the author focus in on the same question she asks of the entire story. What is this scene about? Why this scene and not another? What is my story about? Engage the reader with a strong voice, either the narrator, if it is memoir, or the protagonist, if fiction.

Scenes emanate from one of several components: action, narrative or landscape.
Action gets right into the meat of the scene; narrative offers some backstory and inner monologue from a main character or narrator’s point of view, while landscape evokes how important the place is to the main character. Here the writer often portrays in a place its beauty or desolation or ruin, for example, Tara in Gone with the Wind, represents Scarlett’s longing for the land and a place called home.

Like beads on a necklace, one scene links to another, each with its own beginning middle and end. Scenes are strung together in a way that make the story and its message clear. In my memoir, Again in a Heartbeat, scenes between myself and John were based on conversations, which I remembered in vivid detail and tried to unsparingly infuse with the honesty and authenticity of that moment. 

By writing dialogue that is real, not contrived, we offer our characters’ lives, their motivations and personalities, and, hopefully, the conflict inherent in either the inner or outer life through what is said.

Action is obvious in the famous scene in Gone with the Wind where Scarlett throws the vase up against the mirror after Ashley rebukes her overtures of love. Margaret Mitchell lets the reader see this woman’s temper, her frustration at not getting her way, her stubborn personality.

Engage the reader with sensory details. There is a mood to evoke with sight, sounds, smells. For example, this from May Sarton: "The first day of spring and we are in the midst of a wild snowstorm! When it began yesterday swarms of birds came to the feeders—first a flock of goldfinches: then I glimpsed the bright pink head of a purple finch." ~ Journal of a Solitude 

In this workshop, we built on our February workshop which is how to write compelling characters. We learned that characters must have a driving need or desire, a secret, grief or longing. For me, the narrator of Again in a Heartbeat, that need or desire was to desperately hold on to the man she loved, her naive dreams of a happily-ever-after, which slowly and irrevocably were being shattered by cancer, which John refers to as “the enemy.”

When we write scenes, they lead to accentuating a change in the character, from young headstrong girl, let’s say, who desperately sought her happiness in a man and marriage, to a woman who finds strength within herself.

When crafted with precision and intent, writing offers a window into life. I learn so much myself from teaching our writing workshops. It is often said that the teacher derives the greatest benefits from teaching her material and in this, I agree. I am blessed to have the opportunity to teach our women writers who bring with them the creativity and courage that inspire and instruct me along the writer’s way.


kathleen pooler said...

Susan, you bring your points home in such a vivid and authentic way. Your workshop sounds like a treasure. And I agree, I learn the most when I teach.

Susan G. Weidener said...

Thank you, Kathy. We had a great workshop and some fantastic writing came out of it. Wish you could have been there.

Marian Beaman said...

Your Circle brings light and inspiration to my writing path, solitary at the moment. Thank you!

I have sent in to the designer my Acknowledgements page, which mentions your valued contribution to my memoir, helping me to connect the scenes "like beads on a necklace." Yes, there is a link to this Circle. :-D

Susan G. Weidener said...

Marian, It was a great pleasure to read your memoir and offer some fine tuning and polishing of a manuscript crafted by a very experienced writer who knew how much she longed to tell her story. If the solitary journey ever gets to be too much … you know you are always welcome in the Circle! We would love to hear you read some of your memoir, especially the scenes centered around growing up in the beautiful rural Pennsylvania countryside so near where we meet.