Review: “Writing Deep Scenes,” Alderson and Rosenfeld

Pros: Wonderful tips
Cons: A couple of… miscalculations
Rating: 4 out of 5

I have mildly mixed feelings about Writing Deep Scenes: Plotting Your Story Through Action, Emotion, and Theme (by Martha Alderson and Jordan Rosenfeld). It feels very mechanical at first, with terms like “Energetic Markers” and “thematic significance statement”. Maybe those are helpful things, but I suspect it’ll turn some writers off. Which is a shame, because there’s a lot of good stuff in this book. If nothing else, going back and reading it after you’ve written your first draft could be very helpful. I think it would strengthen the characters and their emotions, action, and plot and help to expose plot holes and unnecessary info-dumps.

One of my favorite themes that wends through the book is the idea that everything starts and ends with the characters and their emotions. I wish I could hand out copies of this book to all the writers whose books I’ve given negative ratings to. Particularly the author who told me that you don’t need characters with depth in a thriller. This book amply demonstrates that its concepts apply to everything from literary novels to thrillers, and even memoir. It does a great job of showing how flexible its suggestions are and how they can change to accomplish what’s necessary.

The authors talk about layering certain things into a scene in a way that made it much easier to see how scenes can do several jobs at once. One of my favorite things about this book is its division of scenes into various types, and which types are best for addressing different portions of your plot.

Toward the end I developed one or two pet peeves. One is that there’s no real talk of what happens if your book does not end in a “Triumph”. Most of the rest of their material is very flexible for multiple genres, but this is not as much so. Perhaps they figured we could figure it out for ourselves, but the rest of the book is incredibly detailed, so that isn’t it. Also, their definition of a romance novel annoyed me:

“[I]n fact, the story is not a romance so long as there is more going on than just the acquisition of said romantic partner.”

I can’t help but think that they’re terrified of making their audience realize that gasp–they might be writing romance! Horrors! I just find it really annoying. One look at the number of shapeshifter romance novels should have disproved that ridiculous claim right off the bat, and the number of ‘ewww romance novels are icky’ writers is dropping like a stone. At least the rest of the book will be just as useful to romance authors as it will be to writers in other genres.

Now that’s over… my overall take on the book is that it’s extremely helpful, especially for people new to the writing world, who might not have stopped to learn any hard skills before going the self-published route. I also loved some of the extracts the book used as examples, so I now have a list of books to go read!

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One comment on “Review: “Writing Deep Scenes,” Alderson and Rosenfeld
  1. Thank you so much for reviewing our book! We understand that no book will make anyone 100% happy but we’re glad you got as much out of it as you did. And I’m horrified that that particular line about Romance made it seem as though we do not like the genre–we absolutely do. Sometimes a line can be interpreted negatively, but we are big fans of all the Romance sub-genres.

    Also, the Energetic Markers are derived from essentially “hero’s journey” story structure. You might replace the word “Triumph” with “goal achieved” if it helps. All novels do, in fact, have to achieve a character goal of some kind.

    Thanks again for taking the time to read and review our book!

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