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Friday, September 26, 2008

That nagging feeling

Sometimes when I write a scene, I get a nagging feeling that something is not right. It most often happens when I have a plot point that I'm ready to include.

Today's example: Character A is in trouble. Character B comes to his rescue and demonstrates something. I want some additional things to happen, some curiosity and doubts about who could have done this amazing thing,building up to the revelation that it was Character B. I write the scene as I envision.

I reread it, tweaking words. I tweak more. OK, I've given Character A too much of a hint that Character B is doing the amazing thing. Why wouldn't he recognize what's going on right away?

What do I do about this?

Make Character A "foggier" from the bad guys' brutality. Reread. Tweak more words. Still feels wrong.

Remove all early hints of Character B's action. I really don't want Character A to seem stupid. Even bashed in the head he wouldn't miss what's going on, which makes my "delay" and building question seem stupid and contrived. Wrong.

So Character A must consider and dismiss the possibility that Character B is doing this. As I begin to rewrite yet again, I realize how convoluted this is getting, and the fact that I have now spent DAYS on this one scene. It Is Not Working.

Time to rethink. I must either skip the intervening build-up to the revelation OR give Character A an ironclad reason for believing it couldn't be Character B.

Oh...oh... The answer comes. The ironclad reason why he won't believe it. And the way that particular misconception plays right in to what the bad guys are trying to do to Character A already... DELICIOUS! One more rewrite and I'll be on my way forward.

Should I have made myself skip over the knot for the time being and continue forward with the story, planning to come back and fix it on another pass? Maybe. But I find I can't progress until it "feels right."

I just can't allow my preconceived ideas of a scene to stand without proper attention to character motivation and a reasonable analysis of "what would he know and when would he know it." Even if it takes three days. What if the solution changes the course of the story?

In this particular case, I don't think it changes anything farther along. But I'll see if things feel right as I get there.


Anonymous said...

I hate when this happens.
You're so great with words, I'm sure with enough time you'll have a perfect scene. I would normally say to sleep on it, but it sounds like a pivotal scene that would keep you from writing the next one.
Have you tried jotting down all the ways that scene could possibly play itself out (including ways you'd prefer your characters not do things)? Is it one of those scenes that won't be totally revealed until later? As in--it won't feel 100% important until the reader flips back frantically to that chapter going 'OMG! that's what happened!' Those chapters seem to always give me that nagging feeling at first.
Anyway, good luck!! It'll become clearer!

carolwriter said...

It is a pivotal scene in a pivotal chapter. Secrets are revealed. I feel like I got through it. Yes, the analysis helped very much, leading to my "oh, oh..." revelation. And it is written and seems to work. Now to move forward.

Jessica said...

Thank you so much for posting this. I've been enjoying reading all of your writing advice, but this in particular makes me feel more confident in a recent decision I made to put moving forward with the story in my novel until I'd revisited my world building and it felt right and solid. It's frustrating to not feel like I'm making "progress", but this second round of research is yielding a lot of results and sending the wheels spinning in my mind again.

This is completely unrelated, but this is my first time commenting, and I wanted to tell you that I actually discovered your wonderful books through this blog. I was looking at different authors' blogs to see what they did with them and try to find new books to read.

I got a couple that sounded kind of interesting, but Flesh and Spirit was the one that really captured my heart. I was so impressed with the way you crafted your characters--turning tropes completely on their heads and really breathing unique life and detail into all of them. (I'm very excited to have the opportunity to attend your master class in Surrey on that very subject!) Also, the world building was so unbelievably rich, it was one of the first books in a long time that drew me in enough for me to leave my analytical "writer brain" behind for long periods of time and just enjoy the ride.

I raced through F&S and then waited impatiently for Breath and Bone to come, and then went out on the morning of my flight to London to buy another of your books to read on the plane when I really should've been packing. One of my favorite memories of my first trip to Europe will always be sneaking in time to read Transformation every night when I finally got to put my feet up. I was so sad when I finished it halfway through the trip. I kept hoping some American would have left a copy of the next one in a used English bookstore in Italy. Unfortunately, no luck there, so I had to wait.

Anyway, that's a long way (sorry!) of saying thank you for the writing advice, but thank you especially for your writing itself, and that blogs really do sell books! I've been recommending yours to all of my critique group buddies.

- Jessica