Saturday, July 9, 2011

Notes from Nancy Pickard's MWG Session on Rewriting

It’s hard to believe it’s been three months since I attended the MWG conference last April. After attending a conference or workshop I review my notes right away then a few months later look at them again with a fresh eye. After looking over my notes from last April, I came upon a gem.

During the conference, I attended a session given by award-winning author Nancy Pickard (The Scent of Rain and Lightning and The Virgin of Small Plains). As part of her talk on “Rewriting to Make Every Scene Come Alive,” she shared a template called CASTS which she uses during her rewriting process.

Here’s a brief synopsis of her advice for rewriting scenes using her CASTS method:

  • Conflict. Take each chapter and mark where you detect conflict. Conflict may be inward or subtle as well as external or overt.

  • Action. Movement stems from emotion. Emotion moves action and thoughts. Let the character feel.

  • Surprise. Readers love surprises. Surprise the Protagonist.

  • Turn. Something needs to happen to cause a shift—it can be small. If no change, nothing happened.

  • Senses. Put the five senses into your scenes. When reviewing your scenes, she suggested using a different colored pencil for each sense (scent, touch, hearing, smell, taste). Lots of stories and books open with food or the characters in the kitchen for a reason. And don’t forget to add color.

Nancy added a last letter --- P for Peak. Every scene needs one, although not the same degree in every one or it gets boring. The peak comes at the moment of turn.

She suggests using the CASTS (plus P) to look at each scene and ask yourself these questions:

Do I have these elements?

Are they good enough?

Do they seem genuine?

Nancy believes that scenes need to breathe. When you walk in you need to feel different when you leave. My favorite quote from her session was: “If you ever run into anyone who makes you feel like not writing, run in the opposite direction.”

After listening to Nancy, I wanted to run home--and start rewriting my scenes. Her talk was educational and encouraging. She breathed life into her talk and inspired me to “cast” a critical eye when looking at my scenes.


  1. Donna---One of the "Donalds" (Murray? Graves?) said, "Writers live life twice." You obviously lived that workshop twice, and we reaped the benefits.

    I like the idea of CASTS + P. I think it might be something I steal and take to my classroom.

    Thanks for sharing.

  2. Great advice, and I love her quote at the end, too!

  3. I love it when suggestions come in the form of acronyms. It helps to jog the memory, and Lord knows my memory is in serious need of help!


  4. I have enjoyed her books...good advice she gives and it must work well for her since her books are so good.

  5. That's terrific advice. Thank you for sharing it with us!

  6. Always good to refresh, and this is terrific advice. Thanks, Donnna, for the post.

  7. Hi Sioux,
    Reading over my notes did make me re-think about how I write scenes. And as far as using for your students--Go for it!

    Hi Tammy,
    It is a great quote.

    Hi Pat,
    You are right about acronyms being helpful. I still remember HOMES from Geography for the five Great Lakes and Every Good Boy Does Fine from music class?

    Hi Bookie (Claudia),
    You are right!

    Hi Katie,
    Thanks. I'm glad you enjoyed.

    Hi Linda,
    How true. Her advice is teriffic, and you are welcome.


  8. Hi Donna, Thank you for sharing the writing wisdom of Nancy Pickard. I plan to use it, putting my revision to the test.

  9. Hi Clara,
    You are welcome. Thanks for stopping by. It's always good to hear from you.

  10. Thanks for sharing this, Donna! I love the idea of scenes "breathing" - they should be alive, shouldn't they? And running away from someone who makes you not want to write? Amen! :)

  11. Nice post, thanks for sharing! Loved the run away from someone who makes you not want to write!

  12. Great information! I missed her presentation, so thanks for sharing. I'll keep this advice in mind while I'm writing/rewriting.

  13. Hi Madeline,
    What you've written is so true!

    Hi Lynn,
    Thanks. I think we all need to run away when we hear that.

    Hi Mary,
    You are welcome. Her advice was helpful. I plan to use her template when revising.


  14. Hi Donna,
    Thanks for the explication of Nancy Pickard's CASTS+P! I only had the acronym and didn't know what it stood for but thanks to the internet I was able to find it on your site. Very helpful in terms of revision.


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