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Lessons in Detection Part 3

We have snooped in a car and in a house. Today we will venture out into a public space.

#mystery,#thriller,#fiction, #genre, #novel, #writingtips, #storybuildingblocks, #writingtips, #amwriting, #screenplay,@Diana_Hurwitz
Scene Writing Tips

Exercise 3: Go to a mall, restaurant, or coffee house. Watch the people around you. Take notes.

1) What they are wearing?

2) What do their mannerisms, posture, clothes, and accessories and accessories tell you about them?

3) Note down their identifying features: height, hair color, approximate age, etc. What do these details tell you about them?

4) Are they with someone? If so, who?

5) Are they having a conversation with someone or on their phone? Listen in. Take notes.

6) Pay attention to the rise and fall of their voices, accent, inflections, tone. Are they speaking casually, angry, or animated?

7) Look at occupants of the other tables. What does the body language tell you about their relationship? Are they drawn toward one another or positioned as far away as they can get?

Do they choose seats next to one another or across the table?

8) Do they appear happy to be there or upset?

9) Are they working, reading, writing, on a laptop or notebook?

10) What can you see from the angle of your position?

11) If in a cafe or restaurant, take note of the servers. What do they look like?

12) Do they appear relaxed, frazzled, friendly, or angry?

13) Where are the exits? How hard is it to get in and out?

14) Are there windows in the bathroom?

15) Is it busy or slow?

16) Is it tucked away in a remote corner or located in a busy strip mall or along a main street?

17) Would it be a good place for a secret rendezvous or the worst possible place to meet someone?

18) How hard is it to reach in terms of traffic and parking?

19) How easily could a person blend in?

20) Where are good places to hide to observe the room?

Next week, we will conclude our lessons in detection. 

For more information on scene writing visit for free downloads and pick up a copy of Story Building Blocks: The Four Layers of Conflict available in e-book and print.

Lessons in Detection Part 2

#fiction, #genre, #novel, #writingtips, #storybuildingblocks, #writingtips, #amwriting, #screenplay,@Diana_Hurwitz
Scene Writing Tips
Last week, we observed someone’s vehicle. This week, we’ll scope out a house.

Exercise 2: Visit a friend or relative’s house (with their permission) or go through your own house. (It’s hard to be objective about your own house!)

Pick a room or several rooms.

1) Note what you see, smell, and hear.

2) What do the contents tell you about the owner: habits, likes, dislikes, and demographics?

3) What do you find in the cabinets, the drawers, on the tables, on the floor?

4) What is tucked away in closets or boxes or hidden from common view?

5) What do the items in the room tell you about the way that room is used and who uses it?

6) If they wanted to hide something, where are the best places to do so?

7) What are they trying to disguise or hide?

8) What are they proud of?

9) What do the items prominently displayed tell you about them?

10) How easy is it to get in and out? What are the points of egress: doors, windows, connecting rooms?

11) Do they have security systems or deadlocks? Do they lock their doors?

12) How is the room decorated? What does the decor say about the current owner or prior owners?

13) What items would a thief walk away with?

14) How hard would it be for someone to go in and out without being heard or seen?

15) Pay attention to line of sight. Stand in the middle of the room. How much of the house can you see?

Whether you examine your own room or someone else’s, learn to think like detective when you walk around. Too often we ignore what is right in front of our noses.

Next week, we’ll continue to hone our detecting skills.

For more information on scene writing visit for free downloads and pick up a copy of Story Building Blocks: The Four Layers of Conflict available in e-book and print.

Lessons in Detection Part 1

#fiction, #genre, #novel, #writingtips, #storybuildingblocks, #writingtips, #amwriting, #screenplay,@Diana_Hurwitz
Scene Writing Tips
Tweet this: Whatever genre you write, improving your powers of observation enables you to place yourself in the scene and write it from your character’s point of view.

Over the next few weeks, we will explore ways to hone your powers of observation.

Exercise 1: Sweet talk or bribe a friend or relative into letting you go through their car. Don't tear anything apart! (You can go through your own car, but it's harder to be objective.) Take notes. Take pictures if you like.

1) What do you see and smell?

2) What do you find under the seats, in the cushions, in the glove compartment, the little nooks and crannies?

3) What do the contents and state of the car tell you about the person who owns it?

4) What does the condition of the exterior tell you about the car's history?

5) What do the seat settings tell you about the driver?

6) What kind of passengers ride in it?

7) What does it tell you about the owner’s demographic or lifestyle?

8) What kind of license plate does it have?

9) Does it have city stickers or parking passes?

10) Does it have bumper stickers? What do they say about the owner? A lack of personal statements make a difference too!

Stretch your observation muscles wherever you go. You’ll be amazed at what you begin to notice.

Your stories and characters will be the richer for it.

Tune in next week for another lesson in detection. For more information on scene writing visit for free downloads and pick up a copy of Story Building Blocks: The Four Layers of Conflict available in e-book and print.

Stirring The Plot: Who's The Boss?

I have to thank a friend for inspiring this one, though I’ll withhold names to protect the innocent. My friend, let’s call her Jane, works in an office where the boss’s wife comes in periodically to make sure things are done her way. She isn’t actually an employee, nor is she an expert in the business he conducts. She just likes to meddle and throw her weight around to feel powerful.

Tweet: Family run businesses can be an entirely different breed of viper’s nest. #storybuildingblocks #writingtips 

Unlike the cogs in the corporate hierarchy that are easily removed and replaced, the family run business is full of emotional landmines. 

If Dick’s father is the nominal head of the business, theoretically he should be in charge. But what if he isn’t? 

What if Dick’s Mom wears the corporate pantsuit even though she doesn’t actually work there? It will cause aggravation if not outright abuse for all who work for them. It is a very uncomfortable work environment. The rules can be disregarded at whim and the hierarchy ignored when the untitled boss gets involved. The changes she makes are implemented without warning or consideration for those who actually have to show up and do the job every day. They are enforced even though they create headaches for those who have to perform the tasks.

Jane will go to the office every day primed with anxiety. When will the saboteur show up next and what impossible demands will she make? Because the reward system is illogically skewed, Jane won’t be certain that her hard work and dedication will be appreciated, so how hard should she try? Should she stay or go? Depends on her situation and how good the pay and benefits are. How much is Jane willing to sacrifice for material reward when every day feels like a swim in a shark tank? How much abuse is she willing to endure before she quits or pulls out a revolver?

How does the uncertainty affect the son Dick? How frustrated will he grow with his spineless father when he witnesses his mother’s torture of the employees? How firm can he get with his impossible mother? Will Dick grow and learn to stand up for himself against the female bully or will he repeat the enabling pattern?

What if Dick’s sister Sally also works at the firm? They have grown up being pitted against one another. Who is the favorite child for which parent? The dynamics shift depending on the answer. If Dick is Dad’s favorite and Sally is Mom’s favorite, then Dick has a real problem. His succession as head of the business isn’t assured. Mom may choose Sally to take over. If Sally is Dad’s favorite and Dick is Mom’s favorite, then Sally has a problem. She can have Dad wrapped tightly around her little finger, but if Mom wields the power and isn’t too fond of her simpering daughter, Sally is in a no-win situation. If the parents continually play out their antagonism toward one another through their son and daughter the waters get hurricane choppy. If Mom dies, then Dad is free from her oppression and the work environment can become an entirely different place. If Dad dies, and Mom takes over or the business is turned over to Sally instead of Dick, the situation can disintegrate further. If the siblings enter a turf war over it, the conflict heats to a boil.

How many employees will abandon ship? How many will stay? How can the company survive if the internal structure is unstable? 

The addition of sibling and parent dynamics to any story situation raises the stakes and changes the playing field significantly. 

The conflict could be a mild distraction while Dick is trying to save the planet or find the kidnapped girl.

The conflict could be the core of a literary tale of deadly dysfunction. 

The conflict could be the source of an intense thriller or suspense. 

The parent/child scenario could be a factor in a YA novel. The parents could be running a gas station, a major corporation, a village, a country, or a wolf pack.

In your story, who is the boss? Who are the powers that be? Who makes the ultimate decisions? The more dysfunctional the situation, the higher the story stakes.

For more on crafting conflict to create tension, pick up a copy of Story Building Blocks II: Crafting Believable Conflict available in paperback and E-book.

Should Your Character Change?

Tweet: In your story, it is highly suggested that your main character undergo some form of change by the end. #storybuildingblocks #writingtips

The change can be life-altering or subtle. It can be a change for the better or worse.

It is open for debate if antagonists or secondary characters undergo change of their own.

If one person shifts, it creates ripples in the people around them.

Dick is going along, minding his own business, when - Wham - life throws him a curve ball (i.e. the inciting incident) and his life will never be the same.

Along the way, as he battles obstacles to achieve the overall story goal, he undergoes some form of change: from arrogant to humble, naive to wise, weak to strong, cowardly to brave, misunderstood to understood, adolescent to adult. 

These changes result in an up ending if they are positive. 

If Dick changes for the worse, you have a down ending.

What makes Dick willing to change? 

Depends on the story stakes, the types of obstacles he will face, and the genre you are writing in. The change may be subtle in a Literary tale and overt in a Fantasy tale.

Some endings are a little bit of both.

Dick can be compelled by an authority figure or social group to change, but he himself was not really motivated to change. For instance, he may be court ordered to do community service that opens his eyes to the plight of the underprivileged. He might be ordered by a commanding officer or boss to do something that transgresses his value system and he fights against the order, but eventually gives in because he isn’t willing to endure the price of the alternative. This results in an up-down ending.

Dick might change to escape criticism or banishment from people he cares about, a group he belongs to, or a corporation he has built. At his core, he may never agree to what is being asked of him, but he does it because he must to maintain the status quo or obtain the story goal, which also delivers an up-down ending. If he is being forced to do something healthy, this is an up ending. If he accepts things that are unhealthy, it is a down ending.

Jane may enter the story knowing that she needs to make a change: she needs to leave her unsatisfying job, leave her empty marriage, or stop selling narcotics because she has seen the needle and the damage done. The overall story problem makes the situation worse so that Jane has no choice but to change. This results in an up ending. If Jane knows that she has to make a change that is detrimental to her psyche, it results in a down ending.

Sally may change because she can no longer tolerate the situation she is in, the feelings she is carrying around, or the pain of the status quo. She must change because she simply cannot bear the alternative any more. She was near the breaking point and the inciting incident makes the choice unavoidable. This usually results in an up ending, unless the change she was contemplating was a bad one.

Just as the overall story arc has its ups and downs, so do scenes. A scene can have an up or down ending. 

These undulations make the story ride enjoyable. They keep the reader wanting to know how it will all end. Characters that are static throughout a story are boring and hard to root for.

SBB Revision Tips

For more tips on how to craft believable characters, pick up a copy of Story Building Blocks II: Crafting Believable Conflict available in paperback and E-book, and Story Building Blocks: Build A Cast Workbook, also available in paperback and E-book.