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WORDS FOR WRITERS – In Conversation with Kisa Whipkey Part I

WORDS FOR WRITERS – In Conversation with Kisa Whipkey Part I

J.M. Frey, author of THE ACCIDENTAL TURN SERIES, in conversation with series editor Kisa Whipkey. Join them as they follow the series from idea, to how it was pitched and sold, through the editing stages and concept challenges, to final product.

Warning – contains spoilers! Watch out for Jazz Hands!

About the books:

This book follows Pip, who is pulled against her will into the epic fantasy novel series she’s loved since she was a teenager. However, the world is darker, and far more dangerous than she could have ever predicted, especially when it turns out the hero is a much bigger misogynistic ass than she knew. Pip knows how to circumnavigate the Hero’s Journey and the pitfalls and loopholes of this particular world – but what will happen to her beloved characters outside of the comfort of the fantasy they were written for? And what happens when it’s not the male-power-fantasy hero, but the hero’s overlooked and bullied little brother who proves to be her biggest champion?

About Kisa Whipkey:

Kisa Whipkey is a dark fantasy author, a martial arts demo team expert, and a complete sucker for Cadbury Mini-eggs. She’s also the Acquisitions & Editorial Director for YA/NA publisher, REUTS Publications. She developed a passion for storytelling at a young age and has pursued that love through animation, writing, video game design, and demo teams until finally finding her home in editing. She believes in good storytelling, regardless of medium, and applauds anything featuring a snarky lead character, a complicated narrative structure, and brilliant/uncommon analogies. Currently, she lives in the soggy Pacific Northwest with her husband and plethora of electronics.

About J.M.Frey:

J.M. is an author, screenwriter, and professional smartypants. With an MA in Communications and Culture, she’s appeared in podcasts, documentaries, and on radio and television to discuss all things geeky through the lens of academia. She also has an addiction to scarves, Doctor Who, and tea, which may or may not all be related. Her life’s ambition is to have stepped foot on every continent (only 3 left!)

Music: “Creative Minds” by Bensound (Royalty Free)

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Got a question about the craft or business of writing? Ask it here.

Read other Words for Writers blog posts here.

JM FreyWORDS FOR WRITERS – In Conversation with Kisa Whipkey Part I
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“The Skylark’s Song” – Reading Videos

“The Skylark’s Song” – Reading Videos

Yes! That’s right!

With the permission of my publisher, REUTS Publications, I have spent the last few weeks reading my novel on camera for you! I’m in the middle of editing the videos now, and will start serializing them on July 13th.

You can find out all about the duology here.

 

Bookmark this playlist, and make sure you subscribe to my channel and set it to alerts (“ring the bell”) so you’re notified when each chapter goes up.

So, fair warning here – while I am a professional actor, this isn’t going to be full-on Audiobook quality. I just wanted to do something fun to share this novel with people stuck inside during the lockdown; especially for those of you like me who are having trouble concentrating enough to read.

In these videos, I’ll be reading the book out loud for the first time, and while I’ve done some editing to catch some of the big stumbles and stutters, this isn’t a controlled enough production to get all of them. So, it’s very organic, and honest, and I hope you like it! Also, the visuals are pretty static; it’s just me sitting in my favourite reading chair reading from the book.

My thought with this was that people could either use this like a video series and actually watch it, or just put it on and let it run as they do other things, as if it was an audiobook or podcast.

If you enjoy the videos, please consider leaving me a review on Amazon or GoodReads. Thank you!

JM Frey“The Skylark’s Song” – Reading Videos
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WORDS FOR WRITERS: Prose vs. Screenwriting

WORDS FOR WRITERS: Prose vs. Screenwriting

Today’s question comes from a writer who wants to know the difference between how I go about braining stories for prose writing, as opposed to how I brain for screenwriting:

Question from Oliver: If you haven’t covered it already, I’d be interested to hear what you have to say about how to switch headspace from Prose Brain to Screenwriting Brain and vice versa.

It’s a great question because there is a difference, at least for me. But before I dig into that, a quick explanation of what each kind of writing is, what it’s used for, and how it’s laid out.

Prose

What is it?

In prose, it is the writer’s responsibility to report all of the scenery, setting, action, dialogue, and depending on the POV and tense of the prose, the inner-monologue and life of the characters on the page. Prose leads the reader from scene to scene, chapter to chapter, and tells the story in it’s entirety.

What is it used for?

Prose is meant to be seen by the final audience, the readership.

As a prose writer, you are doing the large majority of all of the work that goes into ultimately creating the entire piece of art / artifact that is a book. You are the driving force of telling the story.

Editors (both substantive and copy), proofreaders, interior designers, cover designers, and illustrators will all contribute to the completed novel, of course; but 95% of the work that goes into a novel is your own, and the ‘visual’ elements and ‘performance’ elements of the novel are up to you, the writer, to record for the audience to consume and understand.

You make the character’s motivation choices; you decide what they like to wear and what they look like; you decide their likes and dislikes; you decide their acting choices – that is, when they blink, when the gesture, when the hold hands, etc.; you decide what the action looks like when there’s a fight sequence.

You decide what the buildings look like and how rooms are decorated. You decide the tone and mood of the novel based on your word choices. You decide what time of day it is, what the light quality is like, and what the weather is doing. You decide how long to linger on a moment, or how quickly to zip through a scene, and how each chapter of the story is portioned out.

What does it look like?

Benjamin stood on the other side of the sofa, hands on his hips, frustration writ large in every tense line of his jaw. “He should be listening to you,” he ground out.

From my seat at the kitchen table – completely taken over by my legal files and the detritus of a week’s worth of unhealthy take-out meals – I ran a hand through his hair and then rested my chin on my palm. I was so exhausted my eyes felt gritty and every bone in my body was warm and heavy. All the same, I aimed for a teasing wink that probably came out more like a slow, stupid blink.

“Now I know for a fact that you’re an only child,” I teased.

“What does that have to do with–”

I wagged a finger at Benjamin. “If you had siblings, you’d know how hard it is to make one do anything. If I had a dollar for every time I heard ‘you’re not the boss of me’ I could…” I trailed off, looking around the disaster that was my twin brother’s condo, misery swimming up my spine. “I could hire a damn cleaner.”

I stood, unsteady on my feet, and shuffled around the table to at least tidy up my files. I wasn’t embarrassed that his brother’s hot doctor had seen me at his unorganized, weary, disheveled worst, but it sure wasn’t giving Benjamin the impression I wanted him to have. Of course, in my foggy state I’d totally forgotten about the goddamned cat.

For reasons that I would never understand, Hightower like to nap under the table. I stumbled against his furry side, and Hightower let out a high-pitched yowl as I stepped on his tail. A furious marmalade blur wound around my legs, swiped a scratch at his knee, and then shot off down the hall to James’ bedroom to hide.

I flailed for the edge of the sofa but it was too far away.

Well, at least there’s a doctor here already when I fall and break my wrist, I thought morosely as I started to go down.

But I never crashed. Said doctor had seen the fall coming and dashed forward, to seize me around the waist and keep him upright. I grabbed Benjamin’s forearms, steadying myself, getting my fumbling feet back under me, and trying very, very hard not to notice how big and warm Benjamin’s hands were, splayed along the crest of his waist like that. How firm his chest was against my own. How we were practically nose-to-nose, closer in height they were than Benjamin’s officious nature made him seem. How I could feel the soft puff of Benjamin’s breath against my own cheek.

How Benjamin’s soft, pink mouth was right there.

“Goddamnit,” I whispered.

Screenwriting

What is it?

In screenwriting, it is the writer’s responsibility to create a roadmap of how the final film or television production will look, sound, and be structured. It is their responsibility to set the tone of the production through their word choices and descriptions. The script lays out how the story is told. A screenwriter’s script leads the rest of the production team – crew, designers, actors, director, and editors – and is the basis for all of their work.

In film production, the Director and/or Producer is driving force of telling the story.

What is it used for?

Screenplays are not meant to be seen by the final audience, the viewers.

Screen plays are not whole stories in and of themselves, but are blueprints upon which a completely different product – a film or a television series – is constructed. As a screenwriter you are doing only a very small portion of the work that goes into ultimately creating the entire collaborative piece of art / artifact that is a film.

The screenplay is the foundation on which all that work is based, but is often rewritten, sometimes right on the set during filming itself, and is not often considered the enshrined and protected singular vision of a writer the way a novel is. Films are always a collaborative medium, and a screenplay – while the basis of a production – is only a small part of that.

And depending on how the film is edited, cut together, and tweaked in post-production, the final product can sometimes very little resemble what was put on that first page. (This can be a good thing – other people bringing ideas to the table can make a film much stronger).

As a film is just a blueprint of a film, a lot of the choices that you see on the screen were not the screenwriters. The screenwriter is responsible for: the dialogue, ‘setting the scene’ in terms of location and character but not filling in the details, pacing, tone and mood, and any specific or key action moments.

However, actors are the ones who make the character’s motivation choices and acting choices; costume designers decide what they like to wear and casting directors decide what they look like; stunt coordinators decide what the action looks like when there’s a fight sequence.

Locations scouts decide what the buildings look like, and set decorators decide how rooms are decorated. cinematographers decide what time of day it is, lighting designers light quality is like, and what the weather is doing. Directors decide how long to linger on a moment, or how quickly to zip through a scene, and editors decide how each section of the story is portioned out.

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

What does it look like?

BENJAMIN
He should be listening to you.

MARK
(teasing)
Now I know for a fact that you’re an only child.

BENJAMIN
What does that have to do with—

MARK
If you had siblings, you’d know how hard it is to make one do anything. If I had a dollar for every time I heard “you’re not the boss of me” I could… (miserable)I could hire a damn cleaner.

Mark starts to tidy up, tired and unsteady. He trips over Hightower. Benjamin seizes Mark around the waist and keeps him from crashing. Hightower bolts into James’ room.

MARK (CONT’D)
Goddamnit!

Mark and Benjamin realize that they are in awkward romantic clinch.

The Difference

As you can see, what ends up on the page between prose and screenwriting is very different. So the three question I ask myself when I’m coming up with a story are:

a) how visuals dependent is it?
b) how dialogue heavy is it?
c) how internal-life dependent is it?

If I’m creating a story that will require the audience have a lot of access to the inner-thoughts and motivations of the characters, then I’m going to assume that I’m going to want to tell it as a novel so I can really dig into the character’s heads. If the story requires a lot of “a picture is worth a thousand words” moments, then maybe it’s best told as a screenplay. And depending on the kind of dialogue and the speed and pace of it, I might prefer one or the other.

The kind of story I want to tell dictates the medium I tell it in. And the medium dictates which writer-brain I tell it from. The one who knows that I will have nearly complete control of the story, or the one that knows that the story will be served by collaborative and interactive creation process, of which my screenplay is just the first step.

There’s also something a bit ‘faster’ about writing a screenplay, in terms of getting it on the page. The thought process and revisions stages are way, way longer than novels, I find, but when it comes to sitting down and just banging out line after line of dialogue, with no need to go in and add all the stuff around it telling the reader what’s happening physically and in the space, I find I can get a draft of a feature film together in about two weeks if I’m motivated. Whereas the first draft of a novel takes me about six months.

But of course, there’s many, many more months of revising, table-reading, and taking notes with scripts, and the collaborative process of filmmaking can go on for years and years. While for writing prose, I can have a completed novel in my hand in twelve months if I am diligent and my design team is super on it.

Two Big Pitfalls to Avoid

If you are a screenwriter moving to prose:

Head Hopping

Screenplays can be told from multiple POVs with multiple lead characters that the story follows. Generally speaking, prose should only have one POV per scene – and if you’re going to switch who the POV is, you need to indicate this by putting in a scene separator or text to indicate that the POV has changed.

Example:

Benjamin stood on the other side of the sofa, hands on his hips, frustration writ large in every tense line of his jaw. “He should be listening to you,” he ground out. Benjamin’s biggest pet peeve was when people didn’t follow doctor’s orders, especially when it endangered or invalidated all the hard work he’d done in the surgery theatre.

From my seat at the kitchen table – completely taken over by my files and the detritus of a week’s worth of unhealthy take-out meals – I ran a hand through my hair and then rested my chin on my palm. I was so exhausted my eyes felt gritty and every bone in my body was warm and heavy. All the same, I aimed for a teasing wink that probably came out more like a slow, stupid blink. Benjamin was struck between the ribs by how charming that dopey smile looked.

“Now I know for a fact that you’re an only child,” I teased.

What’s wrong with this:

If this is from Mark’s POV, in the first person, how on earth can Mark know that Benjamin’s biggest pet peeve is, or his physical reaction to Mark’s smile? This is what we call “head hopping”, when the reader is suddenly yanked out of the head (or off the shoulder, if it’s 3rd person) of one character to be shoved into / onto that of another without warning.

The Fix:

Ask yourself constantly whose head you are in, and what they can reasonably know as a fact and what they can assume. Mark may not be able to know that Benjamin’s heart has kicked in his chest at Mark’s dopey smile, but he can assume Benjamin’s frustration and upset from outside observation of his body language. So the ‘I’ narrator can speak to those assumptions (“frustration writ large in every tense line of his jaw”), but not to the internal reactions and life of another character (“Benjamin was struck between the ribs by how charming that dopey smile looked”).

If you are a prose writer moving to screenplays:

Overwriting

Basically, when you use the dialogue tags (the stuff in brackets above in the screenplay example above) and the action descriptions (the stuff in italics in the screenplay example above) to tell people what to do. The only stuff that should be there is the stuff that is absolutely vital for the creation team to know.

Example:

Bad:

BAD GUY
(gloating)
I have won!

GOOD GUY
(triumphant and cocky)
Not yet, you haven’t!

GOOD GUY leaps up onto the platform beside the BAD GUY’S ‘Freeze Ray’ – a futuristic, silver torpedo-shaped gun with four glowing blue barrels topped with smoking ports. There are three levers and six buttons. Three are green. Three are blue. Three are yellow. The BAD GUY’S hand hovers over the knob of one of the levers, fingers twitching in delight and anticipation. The GOOD GUY swings a fist at his face, but he ducks out of the way and does a really cool spinning back flip and kicks the lever into the ‘on’ position. The Freeze Ray makes a rumbling sound and starts to smoke harder. Lines of white LED lights up the side of the barrel light up. The GOOD GUY lunges for it, but before he can get to the lever, the BAD GUY does another cool spinning kick and brings his heel down on the GOOD GUY’s wrist so hard that he breaks it.

GOOD GUY
(in pain)
Noooooo!

So why is this example bad? Because the writer is telling the actors how to feel, is telling the art department how to design the Freeze Ray, and is telling the stunt coordinator how to do their job.

Good:

BAD GUY
I have won!

GOOD GUY
Not yet, you haven’t!

GOOD GUY leaps up onto the platform beside the sleek and futuristic ‘Freeze Ray’. They fight. The lever is knocked into the ‘on’ position and the Freeze Ray starts to power up. In course of the fight, the BAD GUY breaks the GOOD GUY’s wrist.

GOOD GUY
Noooooo!

This is a better version of that sequence because the writer isn’t doing anyone else’s job. Because, who knows, maybe the stunt coordinator has a much, much cooler fight sequence idea than spinning kicks. Or maybe the props designer has a a totally different but way better design for the Freeze Ray in mind. Or maybe the actor wants to play the lines differently (see: Tom Hiddleston’s delivery as Loki on “Don’t tell me it was that woman?… Oh, it was. Well maybe, when we’re done here, I’ll pay her a visit myself!” It was written as smug, delighted and predatory in the original script, and delivered as heartbroken and lashing-out. Which was, of course, the stronger story-telling choice.)

Now, only the information that is going to affect the future scenes of the screenplay is provided – that they fight, that there’s a Freeze Ray, and that the Good Guy’s wrist is now broken.

The Fix:

Write your screenplay however you want the first time around. But then when you go back to edit, ask yourself whose job you’re accidentally doing, and whose toes you’re stepping on, when you read your screenplay. Look at the action parts and dialogue tags, and make sure you’re not including anything that isn’t completely necessary for the actors, directors, stunt coordinators, set designers, etc. to know.

Braining it Out

So, to answer the original question – how do I go about switching headspace from Prose to Screenplays? Well, generally I only write one story at a time, so I’m not having to switch back and forth between mediums constantly. That’s a big help. Secondly, sitting down and really thinking about why this particular story has to be in this particular medium helps me remember that I chose this medium for a reason, and that I should be adhering to that medium’s rules and tropes because I’ve already made the choice. Thirdly, knowing what and how this text I’m writing is going to be handled, interpreted and used also helps me stay in the right headspace.

And lastly, the character through whom I’m telling the story helps me stay on track. I tend to like telling single POV stories, and I tend to develop very particular voices with very particular speech patterns and word choices. The way that character speaks – to others, inside their own head, and to me as the writer – helps me stay on track, because I develop that voice to match the medium.

I hope this has been helpful!

To hear me speak more about the difference between prose and screenplays, listen to my interview with Three Patch Podcast here.

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If you have any questions about this article, please feel free to leave a comment! I’m happy to address specific topics, so feel free to shoot me an email or leave a comment here with your query. You can find the rest of my Words for Writers articles here.

 

JM FreyWORDS FOR WRITERS: Prose vs. Screenwriting
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Jane Eyre – Live Virtual Performance

Jane Eyre – Live Virtual Performance

I had the an incredible opportunity to join the Elora Community Theatre’s Virtual Playhouse for their Live YouTube rendition of “Jane Eyre” this week.

This was an extremely ambitious virtual production, where each actor not only totally performed their part – each from their own home – but did so in full makeup, full costume, and with having to manage all of their own tech as well. In this production, not only was each actor responsible for their performance, they were also responsible for setting up their lighting and sound in the most clear way possible, and swapping their backgrounds around based on what scene they’re in.

In a regular theatre, there’s someone in a booth whose sole job it is to change the lights, cue scene changes, and run the sound board for music and SFX. There’s a stage manager to oversee everything happening on the boards, and a crew to change the scenes and hand off props, or help with quick costume changes. A regular theatre crew would consist of someone to oversee acquiring props, making or altering costumes, overseeing hair and makeup, and working as an acting coach.

For this production, the actors were in charge of all of that – except for the directing and the sound cues, both of which were run virtually from the home of the co-directors. And while I took the lead in hair design for the cast, it was up to them to make it happen.

It was an extremely ambitious project, with lots and lots of moving parts. My script was so colour-coded with cues for myself that it was like looking at a Pride Parade every time we rehearsed. And speaking of rehearsals, there were only eight!

I am so, so, so proud of what this team and all of these creators achieved. So proud. This is one of the only theatre companies in the world (that I’m aware of) that is doing full-set, full-costume productions of plays virtually via Zoom, streaming live on YouTube. And this is especially incredible because this is an amateur troupe of volunteers.

I hope you enjoy watching what we worked so hard to achieve. (There were some technical glitches in the show, but that’s the joy of live theatre, isn’t it?) Happy watching!

 

JM FreyJane Eyre – Live Virtual Performance
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WORDS FOR WRITERS: The Point of the Scene

WORDS FOR WRITERS: The Point of the Scene

As writers, we all know that books are made up of a bunch of scenes strung together to make a chapter, and a bunch of chapters strung together to make a story. But how, exactly, do you plan a scene? How do you make sure that the scene you’re writing is engaging, interesting, and necessary?

Easy – a scene should make the story go.

I’m not talking ‘pedal to the metal’ here, of course. The go-juice doesn’t have to be fast-go. It just needs to be forward-momentum-of-any-sort-go. (Though sometimes fast-go-juice is necessary, equally necessary are moments of go-ing with slow-go-juice, too.)

If you imagine the materials from which you’ll build a scene as a stack of wood and nails, then what you want to be building with each scene is a ladder to the next peak of the plot mountain; not an observation deck that is very pretty but ultimately useless at getting readers to the next moment of the book.

To that end, when you’re writing a scene, ask yourself what go-ing you intend to achieve with it. Does this scene progress one of three things: the plot, the understanding of the reader, or the character journey?

Good scenes will add some go to all three things in one, if you can manage it.

What do I mean by progressing? This is when some circumstance or someone changes within the action and dialogue of the scene, which propels the narrative forward toward the conclusion. So ask yourself:

Does this scene progress the…

…plot?

 -Something is confessed

-Something is lied about

-Something is discovered

-Something is revealed

-Something is established

-Something is hidden or covered up

-Something is retrieved, taken away, stolen, or goes missing

-New information is shared

-An action sequence, disaster, tragedy, physical or verbal fight, etc. forces any of the above

…the character journey?

-Makes a choice

-Makes a confession

-Makes a realization

-Learns new information

-Refuses or denies a truth

-Adjusts world view / beliefs

-Learns something about themselves

…understanding of the reader?

-Character is established

-Secret revealed, or clues for later understanding and revelations planted

-Scene is set

-History, backstory, or necessary information is explained

These are all really big-thought and vague concepts to explain, so let’s break it down with an example, shall we? Let’s say we have a scene where an ace pilot has been shot down by her arch nemesis and captured when her aircraft crashed. She’s wondering where the other person in her aircraft is, and at the same time, wants to find out why her arch nemesis only shoots down craft that are already damaged and close to the ground:

Once she was sure she could speak again without her voice shaking, she said softly, “Let me up.”

“Your mid-flight,” the Coyote replied in near-perfect Saskwyan. It wasn’t a question. His voice was low still. Soft. Almost as if he wished to comfort her, which was ridiculous. She must have hit her head harder than she thought. “You do not want to see him.”

“The hells I don’t!” Robin snarled and got her hands around the Coyote’s foot. She twisted, trying to wrench his ankle and lever him to the ground. But he just shifted forward, putting more pressure on her ribs. Robin spasmed and let go, the agony making stars pop behind her eyes and her fingers twitch. Oh yes, humans can be hurt, all right. And boy did she hurt.

“Trust me, you do not,” the Coyote insisted. “It is not what I would want to keep as the final memory of a trusted colleague.”

Another gasping, panicked gurgling scream echoed through the forest. The Coyote’s silver helmet turned toward it, betraying the direction Al was in.
 
“What have you done to him?” Robin hissed. She didn’t want to obey his orders, but there was something in the way he’d warned her to not let the other soldiers see her move, hear her speak, something in the way the Coyote was talking through tight lips, as if he didn’t want to be caught either, that worried her.
“I did nothing.”
 

“You shoot down gliders—you steal the bodies.”

There was a sound that might have been laughter if it hadn’t been distorted by the helmet. “Theft! No, my dear Miss Pilot.  Prisoners. Those who live, anyway.” 

Prisoners, Robin repeated to herself. She couldn’t hold back the shudder at the thoughts that  phrase produced. Every hair on Robin’s body leapt up as a chill settled over her flesh.

Fear curdled in her stomach. “What do you intend to do to me?”

“Do to you?” the Coyote said, and a smile lit what little was visible of his face. “My dear, what do you fear I will do?”
 

She wasn’t going to fall for that. If she told him what she feared, he might make it come true. “If you take them prisoner, why don’t we know? You haven’t ransomed anyone back,” she said  instead, wishing desperately for water and forcing herself to speak through the cracking, anyway.

“I have no desire to give them up,” the Coyote replied. “I keep them.”

“For how long?” Robin asked, unable to raise her voice louder than a fearful whisper.
“For as long as I am allowed,” he said, and there was a sad gravity to the pronouncement that was confusing. “Just as I will keep you.”
Fear spiked again in Robin’s chest, throbbing along in time with her ribs. “You’ll never be able to keep me.”
The helmet angled down, and through the visor slits, Robin saw a pair of light gray eyes narrow. The Coyote huffed an annoyed snort. “Persistent and mouthy. Be advised that it is only because you were once a mid-flight that your life has been spared this day. Otherwise, you would be dead as any other Saskwyan pilot I run to ground. It is not their kind that I seek to hold.”
He leaned back slightly, turning his attention to the soldier on the other side of her, and snapped out something in guttural Klonnish. The other man nodded sharply and moved closer to Robin, one hand going to the pistol sheathed on his thigh holster. The Coyote removed his foot, and Robin took that as permission to be seen to be alive. She sat up so slowly, being as gentle as possible with her ribs, breathing shallowly. When she tucked her knees up, her ankle screamed in protest and she had to clamp her lips around a grunt.
Broken? she thought. No. But sprained, at least. And badly. Rudding hells.
Neither the Coyote nor the guard moved against her as she tried to stand, and so, Robin pushed herself to her feet, taking a moment to close her eyes and swallow against the pain. She wasn’t going to show them any weakness.
She lifted her head to squint through the shadows at the others in the distance. “I want to go to him,” she said. “He’s alive.”
The Coyote cocked his head to one side, eyes narrowing. “How compassionate you are. No worry for yourself? You are, after all, surrounded by the enemy.”
She rubbed the place where his heel had dug into her flesh, trying to work some feeling back into the already forming bruises. Carefully, she put weight on her ankle. Knives shot up her calf, but her ankle didn’t buckle beneath her. She forced herself to ignore the pain and rose onto the balls of her feet, preparing to run if need be.
“I’m not scared of you,” she said, puffing up her chest and trying to feel half as calm and assured as she sounded. 

“Yet you turned tail before the battle was properly joined and fled.”

Robin grimaced, and decided there was no point in lying to him. After all, she didn’t want him to think her downfall was in any way his doing. She did have some pride. “My steering column was sabotaged. Garrote wire, is my guess.”

The Coyote sighed, like an overindulgent instructor. “I would call it a shame that the Saskwyans are so fond of building their aircraft of canvas and wood, if it did not provide me with such an
advantage.”
“What advantage?” Robin sneered. “You pick off the crippled ships. You would never have downed me otherwise. And my flying style has your men baffled. You get outclassed by a healthy
glider every time.”
“Not for much longer,” the Coyote said lightly. He turned his helmet up to the sky, as if he too yearned for it the way Robin did.
Robin waited for him to explain what he meant by that, but he seemed reluctant to furnish his gloat with any sort of details. When the silence drew ominous, she discreetly brushed her shoulders with crossed fingers, just to be sure. But the Coyote caught the movement from the side of his vision and turned back to her. He reached out with one black-gloved hand, slowly enough that it was clear he didn’t mean to strike her. Robin cringed, but stayed still. All he did was brush the side of one thumb along her cheek and up her temple.
“This has healed nicely,” the Coyote said softly, almost to himself. Ever so slowly, he reached out and grasped her wrist firmly. His fingers were wiry and strong, and Robin would have had to allow him to break her wrist to keep him from turning it palm up. He stripped off his glove with his teeth, and then, black leather dangling from his mouth, brushed his fingers gently across the telltale circular markings that stood out against her palm. They were red and swollen from her fight to control the glider’s doomed nosedive, overlapping the other, deeper cuts and puffy white ridges of scars. “And these, as well. What an interesting new development. Since when are Sealies the pilots of Benne gliders?”
“I’m not a pilot,” Robin said, the lie flowing out immediately, reflexively. That was something else her instructors had drilled into her head—never appear to be as valuable to the enemy as you are. Her capelet was nowhere in sight, and she had a vague recollection of it being ripped from around her throat by the crackling branches she had fallen through.
“I have watched you, my dear. I know your face, and I know your flying style. Your warding against ill-luck betrays you,” he said, in a softly mocking tone that she would have called flirting if it didn’t sound so wrong coming from him, here and now. His fingers continued to stroke her palm. “You are certainly a Sealie. So, I ask again—since when do Sealies pilot Benne gliders?”
“But I’m not!” Robin protested. She’d heard the stories of what happened to glider pilots captured by the enemy. If losing a thumb to a Pyrian guard was horrific, the thought of having both her hands cut off by a crazed Klonn general made her woozy. She yanked her arm back, hard, but the Coyote didn’t let go.
“Please, do not lie to me, my dear,” the Coyote said, gently chiding. “I will not allow you to begin this on a lie. You are the mid-flight who kicked my ’ship in the middle of an areal battle. I know your face, even without the goggles.”
Robin’s heart seemed about ready to stop. She bit her tongue  and refused him the pleasure of an answer. She could be a stubborn bastard, too.
“You are an engineering sergeant, or you were, before they promoted you. Do not bother denying it. And you have all the skills of a mid-flight.” It wasn’t a question, but this time, his steely gaze compelled Robin to answer.
“I was. I do.”
“Good,” the Coyote said. “Then you shall be spared.”
“What? Why?” Robin blurted, and then immediately wished the words back.
“Would you prefer that we did not?”
“No!”
He leaned in close, hauling her body nearly flush against his own, and bent down to her ear. The cold nose of his mask brushed against the fine hair at the nape of her neck, and she shivered. His breath smelled like apples, and made goosebumps pop up all along her skin. His voice, when he spoke, was low and husky with gravel. “Then kindly be silent while I attempt to save your life.”

Okay! So, what has progressed in this scene?

Plot – The plot is clipping along in this scene, which is a bridge between an action sequence (the areal dog fight) and some tense spycraft in the next few chapters. Robin and Al have been shot down, Al is in a bad way, and the Coyote and his soldiers have captured Robin. We’re moving swiftly towards the next part of the plot, where Robin is a POW and has to figure out where the Coyote’s loyalties lay.

Character – Robin has learned some truths, and had some revelations, and has had to adjust her world view: now she knows that the Coyote has been watching her, and that, for some reason, he seems to be behaving tenderly towards her, even though they’re enemies. She’s also worried for Al, and is realizing that she’s not about to be killed by the Coyote, but captured and ‘kept’ by him, whatever that means. This will push against Robin’s stubborn pride. She’s also panicking and admitting things that she shouldn’t be to the enemy, which will absolutely come back and bite her later. In terms of the Coyote’s character, Robin is realizing for the first time that he might not be as horrible as she imagined and might not be as loyal to his cause as she thought – we’ve learned a truth about him.

Reader Understanding – The readers learn some truths and adjusted their understanding of the situation alongside Robin, have learned the truth about what happens to the bodies, and the Coyote’s true character. As well, they’re getting a clearer picture of just how strong and stubborn Robin is.

I hope this makes it clearer. Please feel free to leave me questions and comments if it doesn’t.

Also – remember that if you’re working on a scene and you, the writer are bored, this may be an indication that the scene isn’t progressing anything. Or worse, is superfluous. If it doesn’t progress anything (or if what it does progress can be done more quickly, and more efficiently in another scene earlier or later – like with a throwaway line or a backstory reveal) then you can likely cut the scene and save yourself the trouble of writing it. And of your audience getting bored by reading it.

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Excerpt from The Skylark’s Song, by J.M. Frey (REUTS Publications, 2018)

 

JM FreyWORDS FOR WRITERS: The Point of the Scene
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