Holly Lisle has many, many resources for writers. A website of advice, downloads, courses, videos, and a newsletter. Her stuff is great. Fantastic, even.
One of my favorite tools comes from her tips on How to Finish a Novel: candy bar scenes. In planning/writing stages, these are scenes you simply can’t wait to write, the ones where the important story-stuff happens. Maybe you still haven’t worked out all the details yet, but you know these scenes are the reasons you need to write this particular story.
Her example is ‘hero discovers he has magic’ for fantasy. Looking back, I realize my own candy bar scenes have run the gamut of story types–plot discovery, relationship developments, confrontations, complete and utter failures, and of course, realization of new magic powers, because what kind of fantasy writer would I be if my protagonists weren’t constantly pushing themselves?
In my Camp NaNo project, I’ve been spinning my wheels for a few days. The problem was essentially this: I didn’t have any candy bar scenes. I had the emotional arc for the hero, a strong antagonist, and a plot. But no idea what the actual scenes should look like.
My solution: concentrate on coming up with candy bar scenes. What events/story stuff can I already clearly visualize?
Answering that generally fills in a whole lot of other plot details, because once I’ve figured out some of these cool moments, I work backwards. Let’s say I want an angel to get her wings. To make that accomplishment have meaning, there’s work to do. I have to build the world–why a junior angel doesn’t start with wings, what she might have to do to get them, and what’s stopping this angel from achieving that. Oh, and why she wants wings in the first place–that might seem like a no-brainer (what angel wouldn’t want wings?) but every character wants what they want for personal reasons. Is it a matter of pride, status, envy, insecurity, proof of competence, or a need to look strong? Or something else entirely?
Candy bar scenes are a great tool in your writer’s toolbox. If you’re stuck planning or troubleshooting your story, give your candy bar scenes some thought.