Action! Goals! Agony!

Rewrote yesterday’s bad pages this morning. What was wrong with the scene in the first place–it didn’t have enough going on. Not to mention that the language was just ugly. And I knew it at the time. Just didn’t know how to fix the problems. Having a day to let it tumble around in my head (mostly unconsciously) worked wonders. 

I had put the scene in a French restaurant. I don’t know why I did that, but as soon as I started reading this morning, I saw that it was one of the problems. All those French words. French wine, French food, French names and labels. That hindered me. I am better at finessing English words. So I changed the name of the place to Cafe Francie and immediately saw ways to casually polish the sentences.

Then the action of the scene. It was a low scene, a “sitting and chatting” scene. Something bad had just happened and the characters are processing it over lunch. That was okay, but it needed more layers. More going on. Conflict on the horizon. Trouble brewing. And the key character needed, at the end of the scene, to stop being morose and find some solid motivation to renew the pursuit of her goal.

The third thing I wanted to do was to really dig into the scene, to go into real time, slow time even, so that everything came alive. I tend to rush through scenes, summarizing decor and gesture and action and the character’s emotional state. Summarizing or leaving some of it out compeltely. So I put more of everything in. And suddenly I had a really good scene. Actually, two, because the stuff I set up to happen in the first scene all came true quickly and efficiently in the scene that followed.

How I found that key, that little thing that would pull the plot forward, was just by writing the ugly scene first and seeing what was missing. Then I thought about what I could add that would move my story forward. Some of writing IS thinking about plot. It doesn’t all just happen when I put pen to paper. That’s how I like it to happen, but more often than not I have to stop and really think about where the plot is going before I can write a good scene. I need to know where the story is going next.

0 Comments on “Action! Goals! Agony!

  1. “Then I thought about what I could add that would move my story forward. Some of writing IS thinking about plot. It doesn’t all just happen when I put pen to paper. That’s how I like it to happen, but more often than not I have to stop and really think about where the plot is going before I can write a good scene. I need to know where the story is going next.”

    I tend to write this way, myself. I write out plot basics and maybe a few skeleton scenes, but I just can’t write out an outline detail by detail. I find that it hampers my writing if I know every little detail about what is going to happen as I write. It takes the surprise and mystery out of it for me, and I can’t enjoy it that way. I’ll use a roadmap, so to speak, but I reserve the right to drive off course at a moment’s notice if it serves my plot better, or if my characters have a better idea.

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  2. Cindy, I really like the way you said, “Some of writing IS thinking about plot. It doesn’t all just happen when I put pen to paper.” I know we’ve touched on this in another thread, but I find great comfort in knowing that some of our best work is done when we’re doing something else, and the brain is percolating.

    Along these lines, I took several months off of writing while I recovered from a complex surgery. Because of the meds, I couldn’t focus or finish a paragraph. It was even hard for me to read anything but short articles in the paper then. But once I returned to writing, I had so much more to say, and my writing was better. It surprised me.

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