Author and podcaster J. Thorn talks with Jeff about the recent Supercharge Your Scene Challenge, where J. laid out his approach to scenes. J. walks through the worksheet and scene that Jeff submitted for the challenge, which provides valuable insight into scene structure. Jeff and J. also discuss J’s podcasts, the events he puts on and what got him into working with authors on craft.
Programming note: We’re taking next week off. We’ll be back with a new episode on August 15.
Full Episode Audio
Video for the Worksheet and Scene Breakdown
Here are the things we talk about in this episode. Please note, these links include affiliate links for which we may make a small commission at no extra cost to you should you make a purchase.
- Worksheets for this episode
- Jeff’s Supercharge Your Challenge Completed Worksheet and Scene (pdf format – this is what J. breaks down in the episode)
- Blank Supercharge Your Challenge Worksheet (pdf format – you can use this for your scenes)
- The Author Life website
- Supercharge Your Scene Challenge website
- Bryan Cohen’s The 5-Day Amazon Ad Profit Challenge website
- NaNoWriMo website
- Brené Brown website
- Story Grid website
- Romancing the Beat by Gwen Hayes on Amazon
- The Career Author Mastermind website
- The Career Author Podcast website
- Zach Bohannon website
- The Career Author Summit website
- Career Author Event Info (including Witches of Salem) website
- The Writer’s Well Podcast website
- Writer’s Ink Podcast website
- Consequences of Rock Podcast website
- Episode 134 – Why You Need a Passion Project from The Career Author Podcast (listen to J. talk about the creation of Consequences of Rock)
- Big Gay Author Podcast Social Media:
- Jeff & Will’s Websites & Social Media:
Interview Transcript – J. Thorn
Jeff: J, thanks so much for coming to the podcast. It’s great to have you here.
J: Thanks, Jeff. I’m excited to be here. It’s gonna be a lot of fun.
Jeff: You blew me away when you tweeted that you’d come on the show and break down the scene I did for Supercharge Your Scene. At first, I’m like, oh God, what’s this gonna be? J wants to come and break down my scene that I didn’t edit fully, but I’m excited to have you here because I think it’s gonna be educational for me and great for anybody who’s gonna get this on the show as well. And before we kind of dive into the big breakdown of the scene, let’s jump back in time a little bit and talk about what the Supercharge Your Scene challenge was.
J: Yeah, sure. Happy to. I’ve found in doing years of client work and developmental editing that one of the most important, if not the most important aspect of craft is the ability to write a good scene. And what I mean by a good scene is something that is going to keep the reader engaged and have them turning pages. It’s not necessarily about the most beautiful prose or the perfect grammar or the snappiest dialogue. Those are elements of it, but it’s really about creating an experience for the reader that makes it almost impossible for them to put the book down. And so that applies to short stories and novels and everything in between.
I was really impressed by what Bryan Cohen did with his Amazon Ad challenge. He’s a really smart guy. And I love this idea of sort of having a community event where everyone kind of tries to accomplish the same thing at the same time. So I decided to do this free-five day event. And there were a few pre-activities leading up to it. And then every day I recorded and released a video with a daily lesson. And there were certain stages that I asked people to go through. And the idea was to teach people a way of creating a really compelling scene and doing it in a short amount of time and 1 scene, 2,000 words or less I think by the end of the scene and they may have had 10 days or so to write it. So it wasn’t a huge commitment.
And the whole idea was sort of like NaNoWriMo, like you win, if you just write the scene and submit it. So that was the idea. It was really meant just to kind of help people understand what it takes to write a good scene, and what are some of the mechanics underneath it that you can employ and use whether it was for this challenge or your current work in progress or anything else you happen to write.
Jeff: And you had a lot of people doing this challenge.
J: Yeah. I was surprised. I wasn’t sure what to expect. I had, I think I had about 1,600 people who joined the challenge. And then there were about half of that people joined a private Facebook group that kind of accompanied it. It wasn’t required, but there were some people who wanted to do that. I did a couple of Facebook lives and then shared those videos with the people in the challenge too. And overall, it was a really fun experience. I got great feedback on it. And I have a few ideas for future challenges that I’ll…hopefully we’ll do later this year or early next year.
Jeff: Cool. Looking forward to that. Kind of the core to this was the worksheet you gave out that really helped people over the course of like three days, break down the scene they were gonna write. I kind of refer to it as the secret sauce that goes on behind the scenes. And it’s rooted in your three-story method. Talk to us about how all this kind of fits together for scenes.
J: Yeah. I’d love to. If you’re not familiar with me, I was a classroom teacher for almost 25 years and I taught kindergarteners how to read and graduate students how to write and sort of everything in between. And one of the things that I realized as a career educator was that you have to give people a roadmap. You have to give them a structure of some sort. And one of the things that I’ve seen in all communities is you have people who are experts and really great at what they do, but they lack the ability to communicate that to other people. I always use Michael Jordan, as the example. I know it’s not hockey, but, you know, basketball. Wayne Gretzky, w’ll go Wayne Gretzky on this one.
Jeff: There you go.
J: Wayne Gretzky, the…arguably the greatest player to ever play hockey at any level, not a great coach. Like just had the ability, saw the game, saw the puck before it got there, was the best in the world, but struggled to communicate how he did that. And I think you see that a lot. You see these master craftspeople who are at the top of their game, but they don’t know how they do it. So luckily, I’ve developed a skillset where I can teach people how to do things. And so this worksheet was sort of that structure. The idea was, this is part of the client process I go through when I work with clients one-on-one and we do scene analysis. This is how we break it down every single time.
Now, I don’t necessarily force them to go through this level of detail for every single scene, but this is the process. And it’s the process that three-story method came out of. So this was all grounded in sort of practical application, as opposed to me writing the theory or the book first and then trying to work it. So the idea with the worksheet is to give you some structure, figure out how to move through the process. And then really where the three-story method comes in is the most important components, and that’s the initial conflict, the choice and the consequence. And those are the three elements that you must have in any scene, otherwise you don’t have a scene that works. And we’ll talk more about that when we get into your scene, but that’s what came out of three-story method, and that’s where this worksheet came from.
Jeff: The worksheet really helped make scenes kind of click more for me. I mean, scenes before have always been…when I’m plotting a book it’s like, this is kind of what this scene needs to be. And it might be a single sentence of like, you know, this thing has to happen before the end of this scene without really kind of a way to click through what had to happen to get there. As so many writers do, we all go to a thousand workshops, right, and read a thousand craft books. And it’s probably like, something makes it go click. And this was the click for me on scene, finally.
J: Good. Yeah, that’s great. And that’s important to recognize no matter where you are or how you’re…as a learner, I think whenever you find something that clicks, you’ve gotta kind of latch onto that and pay close attention because not everything will. And, you know, I’ve, as long as I’m sure you have, I’ve studied and read so many books on craft and listen to podcasts and read blogs. And it’s all really good stuff, but it doesn’t all click with me. So anytime something clicks with me, I’m like, okay, I need to go deeper on that.
Jeff: Exactly. Exactly. Well, let’s get into it and people can kind of see how all this pieces together, and what’s the component of this worksheet are.
J: Yeah, definitely.
Jeff: So I submitted my scene to you, you gave a bunch of prompts. I picked the romance prompts because of course I would, because one of the things that I write.
J: Absolutely. So this is the worksheet, the one you were just mentioning and I’ll also, I’ll make sure you get a blank version if you wanna share a blank version with your audience too. I know it’s not the same as going through the challenge, but at least if they can pick up what we’re talking about here, and then they’ll have a blank one that they can use for themselves.
Jeff: Yeah. That would be fantastic. We’ll definitely put that in the show notes.
J: All right. Cool. Well, if you’re good with this, Jeff, I’m just gonna take you through the process like I would a client and no pressure. And I’m gonna ask you some questions. You’re gonna know the answers immediately. I’m gonna ask you other ones and you’re not gonna have a clue and that’s totally all right.
Jeff: All right.
J: No pressure. So we start by identifying just the basics, what is happening in the scene, but think of it like plot, action, you know, the goal. So can you give us your three sentence version of that?
Jeff: Jamie is some kind of a secret agent, covert operative. He’s been out all night. At the last minute, he got pulled into some undercover stuff for one of the cases he’s working on. Had to ignore messages from his boyfriend who’s of course pissed off the next morning because they had plans. Jamie really wants to come clean with Kyle about what’s going on and get to a place of more honesty.
J: Excellent. Excellent. So the next question, and this sounds kind of esoteric and vague, but really what this is meant to get to is the idea of theme or armature. And this is not something that you have to really…like in a novel, you wouldn’t be answering this question every single scene, but because you wrote this as sort of a single scene prompt, my question to you was what are you trying to say about life? So when someone reads this scene or this story, what’s the message? What’s the feeling you’re trying to convey.
Jeff: And it was really about, you know, the complexities of this new relationship and trying to be able to build something when you can’t be fully truthful or you’re having to hide a piece of yourself, you know, while you’re doing it.
J: Yeah. Excellent. That’s great. You know, one of the suggestions I make is to almost think of this as an argument, like you’re taking a stance with someone who believes the opposite thing. So I came up just off the top of my head with a couple of examples. So related to what you put, I thought, well, love only occurs when you’re vulnerable. So take the Brene Brown approach, you know, you’ve gotta open yourself up and that sort of thing. So that’s something that not everyone would agree with, right? So the flip side to that would be don’t let anyone get close because you’ll eventually get your heart broken.
So those are two similar…they’re not sim-…they’re opposite ends of the spectrum on a similar theme, which is this idea of the complexities of a new relationship. So again, this is not something you’re necessarily gonna do for every scene in your novel, but I think at a high level, when you’re looking at the global story, I think it’s good to have some sense of like the statement you’re trying to make or the position you’re trying to take on something.
Jeff: Yeah. I would agree, especially, I mean, you hit two cornerstone to the romance novel right there, the vulnerability, and don’t get too close because you’ll get your heart broken. I mean so many romance novels hang on one of those two things.
J: Well, good. I’m glad to know that. I don’t read much romance, but you’d be surprised at how many clients of mine are romance writers. So I’ve gotten to know the conventions and the tropes by working with them. So I’m glad that I was in the ballpark on that.
Jeff: Yeah, for sure.
J: All right. So the next phase is taking a look at wants and needs of the protagonist. And this is a pretty standard approach when…any type of story methodology. And the way I like to describe it is thinking about wants as external pursuits and needs as internal desires, and quite often, but not always, these can be competing and this is what makes an interesting character. So, you know, one character might want something which is in direct contrast to what we as the reader understand that they need. So let’s take a look at the wants and needs for both your protagonist and your antagonist. So we’ll start with protagonist, which is Jamie, right?
Jeff: Yeah. And I have to say, as we get into this, you breaking it down into the wants being external and the needs being internal was one of those things that was a major click for me.
J: Ah, nice.
Jeff: I had never heard it put quite that way and it was always kind of a sticky point for me.
J: Oh, good. Okay.
Jeff: So Jamie obviously wants to do his work well and finish this assignment, but he’s also really thinking about getting into something that won’t require so much secrecy within his organization that he works for because that will help stabilize the relationship hopefully.
J: Yes, yes. But underneath it, what’s his internal desire? What does he really want?
Jeff: He wants to be truthful. And he kinda wants both which he could maybe have, but we’ll see that when we get into the actual scene that he can maybe have both, but there’s gotta be… Essentially he wants the work-life balance if you wanna pull it down to like, you know, something distinct.
J: Right. Yeah, exactly. Good. Well, let’s take a look at your antagonists. This is Kyle and you have identified him as the antagonist or force of antagonism and he’s the one that’s putting up the resistance to Jamie. And side note, I think oftentimes in romance, it’s hard to come up with like a strong villain because it’s so interpersonal, the dynamics are interpersonal. So I like the fact that you just identified the love interest is also the force of antagonism. I think that’s a great way to approach it. So one of the suggestions I made here for Kyle was you frame these sort of in…from Jamie’s perspective. If you are…put yourself inside of Kyle’s head, what does Kyle want? What’s his external pursuit?
Jeff: It kind of depends on where the scene goes next because I left that on a big old cliffhanger.
J: Which we’re gonna get to. I love that. That was brilliant. We are we gonna talk about that. But yeah, you’re right, that could depend on the rest of the story
Jeff: Because I did it this way, knowing I only had one scene to work with. I treated it as if… I write a lot of my stuff in first person, which this scene is. And depending on the book and the story I’m telling, I either go the singular point of view all the way through, or I may do an alternating point of view. And so in this case, because I was going single point of view inside the scene, I didn’t get too much into Kyle’s head because it’s all Jamie’s POV, which is why I kind of wrote these for better or worse as this is what Jamie thinks Kyle wants, because he doesn’t really know. He thinks it’s gonna make it better.
J: Yup. And sometimes it’s okay to punt on these, especially for the antagonist. Like I know when I work with horror writers, the force of antagonism is usually some type of supernatural, paranormal force or an evil entity. And oftentimes there is no internal desire for that, you know, for that for…it’s just evil, right? And I think… So it’s okay if like the force of antagonist, the wants and needs are a little difficult to identify. We’ll just kind of skip over that.
Jeff: And I think if I’d been doing a book, if I was gonna pivot the POVs, I would definitely have gone with what I knew Kyle wanted if only to balance out how that was going to work long term in the book or the story.
J: Yeah. I would agree with that. Good. And then the last sort of prep question is what’s wrong with the protagonist’s personal world and what is the disruption? So why don’t you talk about what you put there and then I’ll sort of give you a different lens on this.
Jeff: So his disruption is the fact that he can’t be honest with Kyle, it weighs on him. And the disruption that’s coming is either going to be that Kyle’s gonna leave him if something doesn’t change or that his job will change if he prioritizes the relationship. There’s gonna be…something must…something will change. It’s just a question of which way it goes.
J: Yup. And that totally works. So what I’m gonna add is a sort of a different perspective on it too, for this question, which is sort of a fuzzy question, much, like what are you trying to say about life, but this is where these two connect. So in this question of what’s wrong with the protagonist’s personal world or what is the disruption, I’d like to think global on this because I think it ties into the theme. So for example, the disruption in this world that you’ve created is finding love is more complicated than it should be. Like that could be a problem that everybody in this world faces. And it doesn’t… When I say this world, I’m talking about the world you created. It doesn’t have to be a fantastic world or a sci-fi world. Any world that you’ve created, if you can create sort of an overarching problem, that a lot of people in this world face, you can then tie it back to what you’re trying to say about life.
So you can see how, if you’re talking about, you know… A major theme being, should you be vulnerable or not to find love, and then the disruption is finding love is more complicated than it should be, so those two kind of complement each other in a way. Again, this is not something you’re gonna do for every single scene. But I think if you’re looking at, you know, the global story, this can kind of help you get the right lens, especially for the characters.
Jeff: Makes sense. Yeah.
J: Yeah. Yeah. Cool. All right. So we’re gonna get into the scene. I am going to kind of highlight some things here because you filled out the worksheet for the conflict choice and consequence, but I wanna kind of hit those within the context of the story itself. So I’m gonna kind of gloss over these, I’ll mention these a little bit, and then we’re gonna pick them back up below.
So basically a few general notes for the conflict. I think the more specific you can be here, the better. If you can think of the exact moment where your protagonist gets pushed out of the status quo, something on the page, something that occurs, that’s going to force him or her to go in a direction they hadn’t planned on going. So we’ll talk about that. You have that by the way. I think you labeled a different thing for the conflict, but you have the conflict in there. So that’s a good sign. Yeah.
We’re gonna talk more about the choice because the choice is the most critical part of the scene. This is what your protagonist must do. My mentor and Story Grid, Shawn Coyne, labels these as best bad choice or irreconcilable good. So best bad choice is if I do this, it’s gonna be terrible. And if I do this, it’s gonna be terrible. It’s like the worst of two evils, right? Irreconcilable good is if I do this, it’s gonna be good for me, but it’s gonna potentially hurt a bunch of other people or vice versa. I’m gonna sacrifice something, it’s gonna really cause me pain, but it’s gonna do greater good.
So those are the two different ways you can look at choice. And what you wanna think about is what is that choice that you’re gonna force the character to make in the scene? And this is… You have it. So don’t worry. But when I work with writers, this is the biggest stumbling block until it clicks for them. Because here’s the thing, if you don’t force your protagonist to make a choice, nothing happens in the scene. You might be moving characters across the stage, you might be having some dialogue, but there has to be a decision made.
And the reason that’s so important is the reader experience is what matters. And the reader wants to know what is Jamie gonna do? I gotta know what Jamie’s gonna do. And what they’re thinking is they’re weighing the options and they’re thinking, what would I do in Jamie’s situation? So if you don’t have that choice, you’re just kind of moving characters around. And readers won’t articulate it as, oh, you’re missing a choice. They’ll just say, ah, nothing really happened or I lost interest. So choice is really important. And we’re gonna get to how you can really tease out a strong choice. It doesn’t have to be life changing. It doesn’t have to be high stakes, you know, life or death. It just has to be a choice. So we’ll get into that because you’ve got several examples.
And then the consequence, this is simple. This just follows the choice, right? So naturally speaking, if you make a decision, there’s gotta be a consequence and that consequence can then set up the conflict of the next scene, which you also did really well. So we’ll get to that. So here’s the big thing for you, Jeff, you have a great style. You take us through the scene at a great pace. You immediately bonded me to the characters.
I cared about this relationship, knowing nothing else about these characters. And I think especially for romance, it’s really important. And so you have the skills, there’s no question there. What I think I noticed here is something I commonly see, which is, I think you have at least three scenes here instead of one. So this might be a revelation to you again, like it’s, you didn’t do anything wrong. You know, it’s a stylistic thing, but I think I’m gonna show you ways that you can kind of continually build the suspense by ending scenes and starting new ones in certain places. So, yeah. And like I said, that it’s a common thing, and a common question I get from clients as well, how do you define a scene? Like how do you know what a scene is?
So the general rule of thumb that I like to go to, and this is, you know, this is my interpretation so, you know, you can take it for what it’s worth, I feel like if you are changing location or you’re changing time, that is a change of scene. And I like to think about that in terms of film. If you’re watching a movie, scenes tend to take place in the same physical location within the same time frame. If the camera cuts from the apartment building to the park, that’s usually a new scene. Or if the camera cuts from lights going out in the bedroom to the coffee shop the next morning, that’s usually a new scene. So I think if you can use that frame of reference, it will help you determine what is the scene, how do I end it and where do I start the next one? Good so far?
Jeff: Yeah. And you having said that, I’m like, yeah, there might be three scenes there. Just clicking through what I know of the scene.
J: Right. Right. Yeah. And again, like, there’s nothing wrong with it, but there is a natural ebb and flow with scenes that readers experience. So, you know, they’re gonna start out on a high, they’re gonna hit a low and come back up to a high, or they’re gonna start on a low, it’s gonna peak and it’s gonna come back down. There’s this sort of sine wave that happens, which is why scenes are important because you wanna vary that. You know, you want it to go up, down, up one and then maybe down and up, down the next and you need to create some variation from one scene to the next. So it can all run together like as one block of text. But I think if you can be strategic about where you place the scenes, it’s gonna create a better reader experience.
J: All right. So let’s get into it. You wrote from the prompt, which is great. I mean you don’t even need to know it for this, but the prompt was, it never failed. As soon as she hung up, Jamie regretted telling Kyle where she’d been the previous night. And I love that you changed it to gay romance and made it as soon as he hung up where he’d been the previous night. So that’s excellent. Great improv there.
Jeff: You gave me a good name in Jamie. That could go either direction. Yes.
J: Yeah, that’s right. I didn’t even realize that till afterwards, but that’s true. It worked. All right. So open the scene for us. Tell us what’s happening here at the beginning.
Jeff: So as we open, Jamie has just gotten back to his office after this overnight of having to be out on this assignment. He’s been jammed up in the surveillance van for hours. And as he turns his phone back on, it’s flooded with some text messages and a couple of voicemails from a very irritated Kyle because he had to blow off a date they had planned last night. That was actually gonna be their first triple date, not just with Kyle’s best friend, but also Kyle’s brother.
J: Yes. Yeah. And you do a very nice job of setting the scene for us, giving us the context of the relationships and doing it in a pretty succinct way. It’s, you know, in fantasy, I see this a lot where we get the big Lord of the Rings info dump, which is, you know, so and so was the son of so and so from the tribe and you’re like, whoa, okay. You know, but you did a very, very…you did this efficiently so I like that. This, I just wanted to point this out, this was so nice. This was my favorite line of the whole story. I’ll read it for those who are just listening.
“She can answer the phone. And then the acid in his voice burned my heart.” Love that. You basically tell us how Kyle feels about being shafted and you get bonus points because you made it active voice. So you made the acid in the voice burning the heart as opposed to something happening. So that was a wonderfully written line. I love that.
Jeff: That came off of some other workshop I’ve been doing about trying to nail those kinds of nuances in an active way.
J: Yeah. Well, you didn’t use simile or metaphor either. It was… I loved it. It just… Those are the kinds of things that like… You didn’t say, you know, Kyle was incredibly upset. Like you didn’t tell us that. You showed the effect. So that was excellent. Loved it. I just had to point this out. I’m gonna let this slip because I like you, but the Red Wings playing in the bar, I’ll just look the other way when you’re talking about the Red Wings, because I am a Penguins fan. So sorry about that guys.
Jeff: For what it’s worth, I hold dual allegiances. I’m a actually a major Red Wings and a major Penguins fan.
J: Great. All right. Excellent. So you identified where the prompt was. What I thought was clever about this is a lot of times when I give writing prompts, writers will use that as the very first sentence. And there’s nothing wrong with that. Like I think it’s easy to take a prompt and use it as like the initial conflict or first sentence. But you buried it down there a little bit, which is clever. I like that.
Jeff: It’s just kind of where it made sense. I mean, there was a way to do it, but I felt like it needed not the world building info dump, but at least a little context as to why this had happened in the first place.
J: Yes. Yes, exactly. All right. So let’s get into the conflict, choice, consequence. Now I’ve already sort of spoiled and said that I think there are multiple scenes here. So your initial conflict is gonna be like the last one that’s gonna line up with mine just because we both have the first conflict in roughly the same place. But you identify the conflict as the line of dialogue that says, have you thought what you’re actually going to tell him? Can you just tell me a little bit why you chose or identified that as your conflict?
Jeff: I think that’s the first… I mean, Jamie knows there’s a problem, but actually deciding what it is he’s going to say in the aftermath of this, I think is the major conflict of at least the moment, if there’s more than that. But this was, I think the first one that’s like, I now have to, you know, move on and make the choice of what the heck am I gonna say?
J: Yeah. Yeah. Good. I think that works. I think as long… With a lot of these, most of these conflict, choice and consequence identifications, there’s no right or wrong answer. I think as the author, as long as you can sort of justify why you’ve labeled it as such, that’s all that matters. What you don’t wanna find yourself in is a situation where you’re like, hmm, I can’t find a choice, or I can’t find a conflict. Like, that’s a red flag, but like determining where they are, not a big deal. So that’s totally cool. I was just curious as to why you picked that one. So this is…so let’s talk about the choice. What choice is your protagonist facing here?
Jeff: So this gets into what we had on the sheet of he could give up the position that he’s got and switch out to a role that requires less secrecy, less weird hours, you know, to give him the chance to really gel the relationship with Kyle better.
J: Yes, yes. Great. And I think this is a really strong choice, and I would even… Like, if you were going to… Again, we should remind everyone, this is a first draft. So this is how we’re treating it. If you were my client and you were gonna go do revisions, I would say, this is a great choice. Maybe consider having Jamie talk through the other side of the decision so that the reader kind of has a sense of what’s at stake here. Like, what happens if he gives up undercover? But what happens if he doesn’t? And some of that is sort of inherent in the way you’ve written it, and you don’t need to do that for every single choice, that would be kind of heavy handed and repetitive. But I think the idea is you, again, you want the reader to be thinking, oh my goodness, this is such a difficult decision. And therefore, what would I do in that situation?
If the decision is too easy, there’s no incentive for them to keep reading it and go, oh, I know what’s gonna happen. I’m just gonna put this down. I’ll pick it up tomorrow. Whereas if they’re like, hmm, I don’t know what’s gonna happen. That’s a tough choice. That’s kind of what you want. So here’s where I feel like… And again, this is subjective so take it for what it’s worth. But if you were gonna revise this, I would say, okay, so we go through here and Jamie says, “I nodded, raised my eyebrows. What would I even say? I’m in love with the guy and I wanna change everything. If it wasn’t for Kyle, it’d be for somebody else. It’d be for someone else. My life wasn’t built for relationship and had to know that I could do to change that.” Then Menendez comes in.
So this could be a place where you cut to maybe a different part of the office, or even just bringing Menendez in, it feels like a transitionary moment here. And again, like, I think you did this subconsciously without even realizing it. Like if you put the three asterisks in between here, you’d have a scene break, you’d have a clean scene break, right?
Jeff: Yeah. And this is one of the places I’m like when we go to see the boss, that’s where the scene could in fact change. And I do this all the time because I almost…I usually view my scenes as this collection of things that happens that has to drag all the way from A to Z sometimes to finish the moment I had in mind, which was to get to the point where he knew what was gonna happen next and not all the subdivides in between.
J: Right. Right. Now, what you would have to do is you would have to go back and you have… This is probably not the choice that he’s making in this “scene.” So you might have to go back and say, okay, what is the choice he’s making here? And maybe it has to do with going to see Menendez, maybe that’s the choice in the scene, right? And then he decides to do it. Again, you’d have to think about, okay, why would he wanna go see Menendez? Why would he not? And then that is your choice. And then the consequence is that he does, which could be the start of the second scene.
Now, he goes to see Menendez. And I love this as the initial conflict, which is headed out in a minute, but I wanted to see if we could talk for a sec. So this is a causal conflict because Jamie is creating the situation because once he asks this question, no matter what the answer is, he’s shifted the relationship between him and Menendez. So this is definitely…could be considered a conflict or the beginning of a scene. So he asked that question and then Menendez says, “Yeah. Okay, cool.” And then he says, “So what’s up?” And now I feel like Jamie’s got a decision here. Menendez opens the door and says, “Okay, tell me, Jamie could still bail at this point, right?” He could be like, oh, did we get the evidence from the other case? Or like he could, if he wanted to, he could bail.
So again, think about like, okay, you know, should Jamie bring up the issue with his superior, possibly risking advancement? Because he doesn’t know exactly how Menendez is gonna reply, or does he broach the subject and hopes it’ll save his relationship. So that could be the choice in this “scene.” The consequence is Jamie brings it up and discovers that Menendez has his back either way. So that’s a great natural consequence. And in a way, it makes Menendez really interesting to me because if I think about like cop shows that I watch, I’m thinking of like the angry sergeant, who’s like, there’s no way. I refuse. Like there’s… And this guy’s like, yeah, I’ll work with you. I got your back. Like either way. And I’m like, oh, that’s an interesting innovation on that. So I like how…I like there’s a natural flow between the choice that Jamie’s facing and then the consequences for making that decision.
Then we get to of course, thanks for the support.
Jeff: Next scene.
J: Next scene, right? And because I get the sense that there’s a little bit of a time and location jump here because now Jamie is getting to the restaurant ahead of Kyle. So again, if we think in movie terms, we’ve cut from Menendez and now we’re at the restaurant. The conflict, he didn’t take off his jacket and lean in to kiss me. Okay. So that right there is like, oh, something’s off, right? Pushing me out of the status quo, something’s wrong.
What I like here again, you probably didn’t think about this consciously, but you have a level of innate storytelling within you that this just came out, which is, like I said, that’s great. The choice is implied. Does Jamie start the conversation and try to put a positive spin on the situation or does he let Kyle talk first maybe to vent? So that’s an interesting choice because you could see like, if Jamie starts the conversation, maybe Kyle thinks he’s being presumptuous or manipulative, but if he waits, maybe Kyle then gets into a mood where they can’t really even talk at all.
So again, it’s one of those places where the reader’s like, ooh, yeah. What does he do? I don’t know. It’s kind of a sensitive situation, right? And so the consequence is Jamie jumps in first, but Kyle responds in a way that he and the reader wasn’t expecting. So you have a clear conflict, clear choice and the consequence, and then this incredible twist/cliffhanger, which I thought was just brilliant. What we expect is we expect, oh, that’s great. Yeah, I really don’t want you working all that much. And instead he gets, I don’t think that’s a good idea. Love that.
So that’s sort of the breakdown. And you can see, like if you were gonna revise this, you would probably go back and flesh these out a little bit more, especially sort of the second and third scene where, you know, they’re much shorter. But again, to your credit, I think you have that innate storytelling sense that you kind of knew you needed the conflict, choice and consequence, even without knowing that you were technically in a new scene.
Jeff: Yeah. Because I was looking across the broader story, I guess, to tell of, you know, what I laid out in the sheet. It’s interesting that as soon as you said it, I immediately identified where that was between going to the office to see Menendez and then going to the diner, restaurant place.
J: Right. Yeah. Right. And again, like it doesn’t change your global story. This would simply become three scenes or three chapters within your broader story instead of one. But I think you can see how with a little bit of finesse on the transitions and even using the idea, the twist or the cliffhanger in certain places, you can continue to build suspense or interest as you go simply just by breaking these up into different segments.
Jeff: Yeah, for sure because there could have been much more angst and consideration about what he was gonna tell Menendez and then…
J: Yeah. Yeah. Especially the tense dinner, or the coffee, you know, that they’re having like that could really…you could really amp that up too and really get into the dynamics there too.
Jeff: Yeah. Interesting. Cool.
J: Good job, man. Like I said, I really liked the scene. It was very readable. It was easy to digest, interesting, great characters and well done. Nice job.
Jeff: It validates even more how brilliant this thing was for me right down that way because now I’ve got a whole…I turned it into a spreadsheet so that I can use it as I, you know, do my plotting and stuff that I can start to break some of that material down for scenes. And sometimes it’s really hard.
J: Yeah. Yeah. And I think too, it’s also important to recognize that I tend to do this work ahead of time, but you don’t have to. If you’re a pantser and you just wanted to write the scene, you could sort of check your work against this worksheet. Like you could go back and say, okay, do I have a strong conflict? Is there a choice here? So it’s not a plotter versus pantser kind of thing. At the end of the day, you just wanna make sure you’ve got these elements in there and they’re as strong as you can make them.
Jeff: And I tend to be somewhere in between, that I tend to do high level, this needs to be the scene, this is the scene, especially in romance. I use… Gwen Hayes has a great book called “Romancing the Beat” where she really breaks down how the romance beats need to work so you meet reader expectation. I think across that and then I tend to pants inside the moment, which is usually where I get a little haywire. So somewhere between doing it before and then checking the work, I think is even more important so I can go back and go, did I meet this in this scene even if it’s not quite what I wrote on the sheet to begin with? So I like how it works both ways because there’s definitely…you know, people fall all over that spectrum as you well know of plotter versus pantser
J: That’s right. Yeah. And it doesn’t matter how you get the words, it’s just where they end up is what’s important.
Jeff: Yeah, exactly. Well, thank you so much. That was brilliant.
Jeff: When you did Supercharge Your Scene, you were also introducing at that same point, your mastermind program. So I’m intrigued about and tell our audience a little bit about that in case they wanna come and check it out.
J: Yeah. The idea with the scene is it was 100% free and I treated it like a paid product, so you could just do the scene and walk away and hopefully get a lot of value from it. But on the back of the scene, I was offering membership into my Author Success Mastermind group. And it’s basically a community of really passionate writers who are interested in upping their game. And so there are tutorials in there, there’s live scene analysis, like what we just did, I do that every month or so with a member. And we share that with the group. There are accountability partners. There’s a pretty lively forum. There’s experiments that I run in my own business and craft that I do sort of video diaries that they’re in there. But I just, I had this idea that I really wanted to provide a community and I didn’t wanna make it free not because there was anything wrong with that. But you know, we’re all in those free Facebook groups with hundreds or thousands of people and they’re not effective at a certain point. Like it’s just so much. It becomes overwhelming. So I wanted to create a place that was a little more intimate, a little more closed and really allow people to kind of spread their wings and thrive in there. So that that’s really what it’s all about.
Jeff: And we’ll link in the show notes so that people can come check out what that is and see if it’s something that works for them that they may wanna join up with because you certainly have good community that builds up around you. We’ve been in the Career Author Summit Slack group. And that’s an amazing group that’s still there around that event that happened earlier this year. Super supportive and awesome in there.
J: Yeah. Thanks.
Jeff: I like to ask this question of people who decide to start teaching. Now you’ve, as you mentioned, you’ve got that career in teaching, but from a point of view as an author with this experience, how did you decide you were ready to start sharing that experience and putting it out there through nonfiction books, through exercises like this, even creating the mastermind?
J: Yeah. I mean, it really started with my business partner, Zach Bohannon who, you know, you know, from The Career Author Podcast. But when I left teaching, I had enough. I mean I loved it and I have no regrets and I would do it again. But I, at a certain point I was like, okay, I have to do something different. And so when I became a full time creative and I was writing fiction with Zach, he said, you know, you’re really good at this stuff. He’s like, you have a way of being able to show people how to improve. And he’s like, can you do it in a really supportive way and you should do more of it. And I was like, I’m not…I don’t want to. Like, I just refused. And he sort of did an end round on me because he was wanting to do a podcast and then I was like, “No, I just don’t///like, I don’t wanna teach anymore.”
And so he finally convinced me to do The Career Author Podcast. He said, “Listen, we’ll just talk about what it is we’re doing. You and I will just talk about our business.” And I think that was it. That was because as I started to do the podcast and get more involved in teaching and do more nonfiction programming, I realized that, yeah, I really do enjoy this. I like helping people. The difference is now I’m doing it on my terms, as opposed to my employer’s terms.
Jeff: Amazing how that changes the perspective.
J: Yeah. It really does, right?
Jeff: Now, we’ve mentioned Career Author Summit that happened this past year, a little bit disrupted in the pandemic because we all had to be little squares on the Zoom screen and the WebEx screen and whatnot. You’re planning a lot of cool events in 2021. Tell folks what they can perhaps sign up to do because beyond the summit, you do really cool, very specific events. You’ve done Authors on a Train, you’ve got the Salem thing. Tell everybody what they can do in 2021.
J: Yeah. It’s a bit of an odd time to say the least. We’re all experiencing that. But what we’ve decided to do is we are going to host the 2021 Career Author Summit in September of next year, of 2021. And hopefully whether it’s a vaccine or a treatment or we’ve just gotten this thing under control, that we’ll be able to get together in Nashville and do what we were hoping to do this year. But we’re also offering a virtual ticket. So if people are not sure or they don’t wanna worry about it, or they just wanna save the money and not travel, they’ll be able to buy a virtual ticket to the event. So that’s September of next year. And we also do these world-building events that you’re talking about. So we’re not gonna do Authors on a Train in 2021 because we were doing that in January and it’s just too uncertain right now to plan something in January. But we are planning a world-building event in July.
So these are weekend events that are genre specific. And we take a small group of people like usually 12 to 15 and we build a world together and then we write stories in it, and then we publish a short story anthology. And we’ve done Sci-Fi Seattle in Seattle obviously. We did Rock Apoc in Cleveland. We did Night of the Writing Dead in Pittsburgh. These are really fun sort of geospecific events. And we are gonna do, Witches of Salem in Salem, Massachusetts in July of 2021. And so we’re gonna do a paranormal, supernatural, urban fantasy weekend there. And that unfortunately for your listeners, has sold out. It sold out on the first day we put it up.
So there was a lot of interest in witches, I guess, out there. So what we’re doing is we have a waitlist up and if there’s enough demand, we’re gonna see if we can do repeat it the next weekend and do two of those weekends. We normally don’t do that, but because there’s such interest in this and we wanna try and make it available for people, if we can. So it is sold out, but there’s a waitlist. There’s no commitment. If you just go there and give us your email address, then we’ll let you know what we plan. You’re not signing up for anything, but at least if you’re interested, you’ll be notified if we do add a second version of it.
Jeff: That’s cool. There were people who were so excited about it. And certainly anyone in our audience who’s interested in those kinds of things, we don’t see that happen a lot, certainly in the gay romance space. But there’s enough urban fantasy and paranormal folks in our space who could certainly come play in one of those kinds of things that if they’re interested, they should definitely check out the career author site that we’ll link to in the show notes, just to keep up with everything that you guys are doing because it could be a very interesting opportunity there.
J: The other thing that we do is we don’t just do the genres we write. So we’re teaching three-story method and we’re helping with the world building and we write in it too. Like we were like, yeah, we’re gonna try and write this too, but we don’t claim to be the genre experts. So a lot of times, if it’s a genre where we’re not really strong, we bring people in that can help us with that.
Jeff: Now, you are the man of a thousand podcasts.
J: Yeah, close to that.
Jeff: We’re certainly big fans of both The Writer’s Well and Career Author but give folks a rundown on your podcasts because you’ve got quite a few out there that they should be listening to as writers and also potentially one, if they are music fans as well.
J: Yeah. Yeah. So I got the two you mentioned, relatively new, starting…I think it started in December or January is Writers, Ink with J.D. Barker and that’s an interview format podcast. So J.D. is very well connected. He seems to know everybody and he does a really good job of getting us some incredibly high profile guests and accomplished writers like James Rollins and James Patterson and a number of others. So that’s a great podcast to check out. Like I said, it’s interview-based. And then the most recent one is a passion project that I did with an old band mate and my son called Consequences of Rock. And that was a lot of fun. It’s a rock music history podcast, taking a look at specific events in music history and how they then impacted the rest of the scene or, you know, the genre. And that’s been a blast, but we released the whole season at once. I don’t know when or if or when there’ll be a second season.
That was purely passion. But I loved it. I did a lot of research. I wrote all the episodes. I narrated them. My good buddy, Adam is an incredible audio producer. And he went through and did all the engineering and production on it. And my son interviewed me for the after show. So that was a blast. So those are the sort of the four ongoing ones. I do a blog, a monthly blog post on my main website, theauthorlife.com. I do narrate that and put that up as a podcast, but it’s more just an audio version of a blog post.
Jeff: I’m gonna link in our show notes to the episodes where you were talking about Consequences of Rock, because I think it’s an interesting opportunity for authors to have that passion project to break out and do some, you know, narrative nonfiction, if you will. There’s such power in podcasts these days and telling story through podcasts instead of written work. You could have done a book on that, and it probably wouldn’t have been as interesting as doing the podcast, doing the research for that. You’re talking about going to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame was so cool. And then to get to have your son interview you, you know, on the other side of that. So I think it’s… Some of the authors can think about it as another way to express, you know, and have that passion project, which I think is so important as well.
J: Yeah. And I got to apply my story chops to it. It’s still storytelling, you know. So in a way, you know, it’s still craft, but without any sort of expectations tied to it. And I think that’s what I had to remind myself is like, you’re doing this for fun. We’re not gonna try and monetize it. We’re not gonna try and make it go viral. We’re just gonna have fun with it. And that’s what we did.
Jeff: Yep. What is the best way for people to keep up with you online and everything that you’ve got going on?
J: The easiest thing to do is just go to theauthorlife.com. I link out to everything else from there, all the podcasts, The Career Author events, everything is…that’s the main website you want to go to.
Jeff: Fantastic. Well, J, thank you so much for coming and breaking down the scene for the audience and letting our folks know a little bit more on how to find you and keep up with all the awesome stuff you do.
J: My pleasure, Jeff. I really enjoyed our time.