HACK THE CRAFT™: Every Scene Requires a Purpose

This HACK THE CRAFT tutorial provides an in-depth guide on how to analyze a scene from a big picture story perspective in order to spot contrivances and filler dialogue, and it shows you how to convert contrived scenes and filler dialogue into textured elements that will enliven the story and deepen the reading experience.

It's rare that we tackle material longer than 1000 words. These tutorials come courtesy of The Taylor Stevens Show podcast and our aim with the podcast is to keep each episode under 30 minutes. The bigger the word count, the harder it is to keep the shows short.  

For that reason, most of the HACK THE CRAFT tutorials focus on line editing. An author submits a small segment of their work in progress and we go over it line by line, showing how to fix or strengthen the piece and solve the particular issues the author has asked for help with.

But recently, a 2000 word segment Steve wrote for an upcoming book provided a unique opportunity. Writing fiction is really two halves of a whole. One half involves learning how to manipulate the words on the page for maximum impact. That's where the tips, tricks, and hacks we learn while line editing come into play. The other half is the story itself. 

You can have the cleanest, strongest prose in the world, but if your story sucks, nobody is going to care about how pretty your words are. Likewise, you can have the best story in the world, but if you can't communicate it in a way that allows the reader to feel it and make mental movies with it, they're not going to want to read it either.

Yin and Yang. Story and writing. 

Being able to analyze a scene as it relates to being part of the whole story is a critical part of building compelling fiction. It's story doctor type stuff that requires stepping back from the story to look at it from at your characters and scenes and how the pieces all fit together from a more distant view. To be able to show how to do that in a tutorial requires that the teacher (me) be familiar with more than just the snippet that's being worked on, and that's the second half of what made this piece such a unique opportunity. 

Steve and I, being friends and podcast co-hosts, discussed his story quite a bit as he wrote it. I'd also read earlier drafts. So by the time I looked at this revision I was familiar with the characters and the overall plot in a way I'm not (and can't be) when working on most of the snippets that are sent in to the show. This allowed me go over the piece with a big picture, story-as-a-whole approach similar to what I use for my own material, rather than merely focusing on what was on the page. 

So in that sense, this isn't a line edit. This is a whole new draft.

By the time we set down to record, Steve had seen my rewrite, but he'd not seen any of my comments. Neither had we discussed the reasons why I'd made the changes I'd made. So he was hearing this for the first time at the same time our listeners were. Due to the length of this compiled video tutorial, those conversations have been edited out. If you'd like to hear them, you can find them in the podcast versions (see links above and below). 

It takes a very brave soul to allow their work to be deconstructed publicly like this and we owe Steve a debt of gratitude. Because of his willingness to let me be as brutal with his material as I am with my own, this is the most in-depth scene breakdown and reconstruction we've done (and might ever do).

The video clocks in at just over two hours. This is a considerable time investment, but it covers areas that even experienced and published novelists stumble over. If you're serious about avoiding contrived scenes, wasted words, and unnecessary dialogue, and/or are looking for guidance on how to fix those issues in scenes that already exist, you'd be hard pressed to find anything that comes close in terms of hands-on, easy-to-understand, easy-to-replicate, show-and-tell for how to do that.

Plus, it's available free. 

[Seriously, though, if you find this material useful, please consider making a Patreon pledge. That's what lets me know I'm providing you value and it encourages me to invest my time in doing more of it.]

This tutorial began as a focus on dialogue with Making the Most of Your Dialogue (episode 187 of the Taylor Stevens Show) which is audio only and not included in this video). The tutorial then takes us beyond dialogue. Here, we cover:

~~The two reasons all scenes exist.
~~What those reasons are and why one of them leads to contrivance.
~~How to give a contrived scene purpose, so it's no longer contrived.
~~How to tell if that purpose is clear to the reader, and if not how to make it clear.
~~A brief recap of the two key elements of dialogue.
~~How to analyze dialogue to see if contains those key elements.
~~How to rework dialogue to ensure it serves its purpose.
~~How to eliminate filler dialogue.
~~Why character inconsistency creates unlikable characters.
~~How to maintain character depth, motivation, and consistence.

And much, much more.

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