Writing a Stubborn Scene

Writing the Stubborn Scene

This week I had a struggle with a scene in my nascent novel, Thin Spots. It’s a pivotal point in the plot, where the hero finds out he’s not just a soul trapped in Hell by mistake; rather, he has a comatose body on Earth to which he can return. There’s a lot of information to be presented and I figured the best way to do it was in dialogue between the hero, Colin Davis, and the angel who screwed up and landed him in Hell, a character named Sakamiel.

As usual when I struggle with a portion of the book, I learned some things to share in this space.

Be prepared to retrofit. For this expositional scene to make sense, I had to go back and plug some events into a couple of preceding scenes. For instance, Sakamiel gives Colin the news that his body is in a coma back on Earth and that there’s a chance he can return to it. How would old Sak know all this? As things originally stood, he couldn’t, so I altered a previous scene to show Sakamiel’s boss relaying the coma story to him and I altered another to indicate that Sakamiel was doing research that would uncover facts about Colin’s being able to reunite with his body.

Outline for clarity. I didn’t just want to convey information in this scene. I wanted to show that the information had set Colin on a new course of action. That meant I had to arrange the dialogue so it built from the least arresting matters to the most arresting and ended with Colin’s making a decision. I tried simply writing the dialogue a couple of times, but it just rambled. To tighten things up, I made a bulleted list of the points I wanted to make and then arranged them in the most interesting sequence. It was a miniature beat sheet just for this chunk of dialogue. Once that was done, I was able to write the scene to my satisfaction.

Keep going… and retrofit again, if necessary! The day after writing draft one of this post, I started work on the scene after this troublesome one. Lo and behold, I discovered that to make the subsequent scene work the way I wanted it to, I would have to go back and rejigger the stubborn scene yet again! So, with a little carping, I backed up and did the work. Thank goodness I did—both scenes are better than they would have been otherwise.

Let go of perfection. I keep learning this lesson over and over again. Even with all the effort I’ve described, the scene still doesn’t quite ring like it ought to. I was very tempted to keep working on it until it was just right, but then I remembered the old mantra “don’t get it right, just get it written.” The scene is good enough as it is and I will be revisiting it during the rewrite anyway, so it’s time to move on. The niggling pursuit of perfection slows you down, leads to writer’s block and, most important, sucks the fun out of everything! So I’m letting this puppy go for now and happily moving on.

If you’re interested in reading this scene, keep an eye on the Friday excerpts; it’ll be coming up in several weeks.

Back to the Drawing Board…

Back to the drawing boardIf you’re a more or less regular reader of this blog, by now you’ve probably come to expect an exciting (or not so exciting) chapter of the rough draft of Thin Spots, my novel-in-progress, each Friday. But this Friday is different.

Why?

Tweaking.

Tweaking showed me how badly I needed to return to the outline.

On May 9th, when I wrote the post “To Tweak or not to Tweak?” I was trying to work out the answer by writing about it. In the end, I decided to tweak and I made a valuable discovery: the sub-plot wasn’t working.

The sub-plot is all about Tanya, the waitress/shaman, who travels through the astral plane, or “metaverse” to help out our hero Colin and various other folks, like Doc the pizza guy. She’s fun and lovely, but I found myself asking why she was there. She started to feel like breadcrumbs in a meatloaf—contributing bulk, but not much else. So, as an experiment, I decided to axe all her scenes from the outline.

Axing Tanya’s scenes left me with a fairly streamlined story, but I lost the element of Colin’s body being in one place and his soul being in another. I also lost Colin’s love interest.

Double drag!

What to do?

Enter sub-plot 3.0 (1.0 was Colin’s evil wife, whom you never saw, and 2.0 was Tanya). I am not going to share it with you at the moment because I must go back to the drawing board and…

Outline.

That’s “outline” with a capital “O” and on its very own line because it looks like I’ve got to be a lot more thorough this time around. In my eagerness to get to the writing part, I plugged in the first likely subplot and got moving, eventually winding up with story-bloat.

Lately I’ve read a couple of things about people who outline like crazy. James Patterson, for example, says he does a twenty- to thirty-page outline for every novel. Whether or not you like Mr. Patterson’s work, you’ve got to admit he does produce novels and they do well. Also of late, I’ve begun to have that swamped feeling I’ve gotten when trying this novel thing before, like the whole thing was sliding out from underneath me. So, rather than repeating my past mistakes and trying to move forward with an inadequate outline or no outline at all, I’m going to stop writing for a while—maybe all summer—and nail down a detailed roadmap.

More than anything, this blog is a document of the learning experience, and I sure learned something this go-round. I’ll be off to that drawing board now and never fear—I’ll keep this space stocked with writing-related ravings as I go.