Monday, November 21, 2011

8 Pre-Scene Writing Questions

I've been finding that once I force myself to write a scene, even if it doesn't flow very well, I often realize that the scene could have been much better if I'd written some aspect of it differently. Instead of getting it "right" (or closer to right) the first time, I then know that I'll have to go back and fix it in a revision. I've been wondering if there are questions I could ask myself before starting a scene that would make that scene's first incarnation stronger than it would otherwise be. Here are some of the ideas I've had:
  1. Going into this scene, what does each character want, both in the book as a whole and, more importantly, from this interaction in particular?
  2. What does each character know or think they know?
  3. What is each character afraid of?
  4. (Related) What is each character trying to conceal?
  5. What is the setting?
  6. What aspects of the setting reflect the POV character's mood?
  7. What aspects of the setting is the POV character likely to notice and be affected by?
  8. (Per Mary Robinette Kowal's excellent suggestion on Writing Excuses) Which of Orson Scott Card's M. I. C. E. elements (milieu, idea, character, event) most defines this interaction? How does that influence where the scene stops and starts?

Just brainstorming these ideas has given a bit more structure to both the scene I just wrote and the scene I'm about to write. I think this idea has promise. What other questions would it be productive to ask?

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Showering Brilliance

Mwa ha! This is why I don't give up on stories even when they limp along agonizingly for weeks or even months. Because I know that one day while I'm in the shower rubbing Olay foaming cleanser onto my face, all the pieces that I've been trying to tether down will jump into place. The problems will become solutions. The plot holes will become plot twists. The characters will become real.

Today was that day. My hair is wet, my face is soft, my mind is zooming. It's a good day to keep on writing.

Friday, November 11, 2011

To Realize You Suck

In one of the Writing Excuses episodes, Brandon Sanderson said (and cited others who said), that one of the biggest advantages they had as beginning writers was that they had no idea how bad they were.

I was, and still am, so jealous of that. I realized how bad I was when I was about sixteen. I submitted something to the Reader's Digest and it was, of course, rejected. As I considered what I'd written I thought, "Wow. I suck." And that knowledge stayed has stayed with me for fifteen years. It's part of the reason I never took my desire to write seriously.

Jessica Day George has said that during first drafts, she's like a toddler on a sugar high. I envy that, too. First drafts are agony for me. With every word, I'm shooting myself corrections. "POV slip. Not enough conflict. Action doesn't rise high enough. Redundant descriptions. Wrong character carries most of the action. Cliched phrase." And all the time I'm wondering to myself, "Do I go back and correct these things? Do I make marginal notes? Do I fix this section even though I suspect that doing so may require a massive rewrite of several chapters or even changing the main character?"

I try to take the advice of authors whom I admire, and the almost universal advice seems to be no, don't revise. Finish the draft. It may not be as broken as you realize. It may be much more broken than you realize. Either way, you need to view it in its entirety before you can really know what to fix and, more importantly, how to fix it.

What keeps me going, aside from the grim determination of imagining I'm smothering a jar full of mice, is trying to drop myself into the scene, to forget about the words and just see the characters bursting into motion, to feel the things they're feeling. (I suspect that this makes my face look really weird and MPDish when I write.)

I wonder if it's worth it. I wonder if I'll be glad I did this in the end.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Boot to the Head!

I want to kick my novel in the head. It's not doing what I want it to do.

I just keep reminding myself that I've had other novels that I hated just as much. One of them truly was a disaster, but the other one now looks like it might have potential. I'm pressing on.