Friday, February 21, 2014

Journey with Gillian: Rewriting Insanity—Problem Solving that Impossible Scene

Gillian Adams blogs over at Of Battles Dragons and Swords of Adamant where she writes about anything related to books, fantasy, villains, and costumes. Her book Out of Darkness Rising will be published sometime in 2014. She loves interacting with other writers and readers on her blog or facebook page.

I’ve heard it described this way: understanding comes through learning from your past mistakes, wisdom through learning from the mistakes of others so you need not repeat them, and insanity through making the same mistake multiple times and expecting a different result.

That worries me.

You see, I’ve been writing the same scene for a week now, and I’m already on the fourth rewrite. It followed pretty much the same pattern each time. I’d sit down determined to pound out the next scene and I’d get three … four … five pages into it, and then read back through it all, and throw up my hands in disgust. Failed again.

Wise authors will tell you to turn off your inner editor until you get through the first draft. I’ve tried it before, and for me, it works up to a certain point, but after that if I’m not content with what I’ve written, there’s no earthly way I can move forward with the story.

So I go back. And rewrite. And get stuck writing the same scene three or four times in a row.

Insanity?



Sounds like it. I’m about to start typing my fourth draft of this scene, and I think I’ve finally figured out what I was doing wrong the past three times. So, if you feel like you’re going insane because you can’t figure out what’s going wrong with your scene, stick around, you might learn something from my mistakes. Wisdom, right?

1. If you can’t picture it, you can bet your last dollar your readers won’t be able to either.

After my second re-write of the scene, I realized that I couldn’t really picture the scene as I read through what I’d written. It’s a tough scene to write—a massive battle—but while there was a lot going on, there wasn’t much broad description so readers would be able to picture it in their heads.

Not only that but I didn’t have a clear picture in my head of what it should look like.

Red flag.

If you can’t picture the scene as you write it, you won’t get the necessary visual points onto the page, and your readers will be lost.

2. Make sure you start in the right place

It wasn’t until I finished the third rewrite, that I realized I’d started my scene about four or five paragraphs sooner than I should have. Too much description. Too much backstory. Not enough action.

Red flag.

If you feel like you can’t get your story off the ground, chances are you started the scene too soon. Erase, cut and paste, and start it closer to the action.

3. Don’t get trapped inside your character’s head.

I write in third person POV. It’s just my favorite, the one that comes most naturally when I sit down to write. And it’s important to be in deep POV where everything you describe and show is filtered through the character’s eyes and thoughts.

But it’s a balance. You don’t want to get trapped there.

I realized on my third re-write, that I was stuck so deep inside my character’s head the story was getting bogged down by my character’s thoughts/perceptions/emotions … with very little action … in the middle of a battle.

Yawn … Boring.

Red flag.

If you notice that your story feels like it’s dragging, your character’s inner reflections might just be stealing the show. Cut it short and jump into the action.

4. Make sure you’re in the head of the right character.

Sounds like a no-brainer, right? Nope, not really. To determine the correct POV character for a scene, you want to pick the character who is most affected by the events that are happening. And it’s not always the first character that pops into your head.

I got done with my third rewrite of the first four pages of the scene and sighed in relief! It was working. I’d done it. So I closed my lap top for the night and went to bed.

I do a lot of my story brainstorming in those first fifteen minutes when I’m lying in bed trying to fall asleep. Somehow, the things I’ve been puzzling over in the back of my brain all day long just work themselves out … and then I fall asleep and hope I remember them the next morning. J

But that night, it struck me like a bolt from Thor’s hammer …

I’d written the scene from the wrong POV character.

The scene felt wrong because my character was observing things happening in the prelude to the battle, rather than having them happen directly to her.

Red flag.

If your character is observing for long periods of time instead of acting, you might be in the wrong POV.

Random side note: You do want to be careful when you add a POV character. In my genre, epic fantasy, it’s easier to get away with having multiple POV characters than in others, because it’s almost expected. People are used to it, and a lot of times, you need it to tell the full story. But you should never add a POV character just for the sake of adding one.

So, I hope you can glean wisdom from my mistakes … and I can learn through them and gain understanding … And I sure hope the fourth rewrite of this scene finally works. If not, I can always plead insanity, right?

Are you stuck with an impossible scene right now? What are some steps you take to figure out the problem?

21 comments:

  1. I've never, ever been any good at action scenes. It kills me because they're my favorite scenes and they come up a lot in the genre I'm writing. But I think I might have my friend lend me one of our action scenes after reading these very helpful tips. ;)

    Great post Gillian!!

    teenwordsofsteel.blogspot.com

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    1. I love action scenes ... but they sure are hard to write!

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  2. Yeah, I'm trying to figure out how my characters leave a city, taking their leave of other characters, while keeping it interesting and even exciting, but not too long. So far, it's pretty tricky.

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    1. Yes, balance in scenes like that is something I'm constantly refining! That's where honest critique partners come in handy. They can tell if the scene is dragging or if we don't need to watch a tearful goodbye between so and so for the third time! ;)

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  3. So far I enjoy writing in first person. It just makes it so much easier to become the character for me. I have trouble with describing action scenes (although they're loads of fun to write) and people's expressions-- I mean, come on, there's only so many times you can use certain words. Instead of taking a while with backstories and not getting to the action, I tend to completely forget about them and drop them in at random parts of the book-- which makes it really awkward. Whenever I rewrite a scene loads of times, I just figure that the reason it isn't working is because it isn't right. I usually end up completely changing it. It ends up with zero resemblance to what it used to be. Great tips-- they were totally awesome and helpful!

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    1. I have the greatest respect for those who can write in first person! ;) Simply because it's not something I can do! I'll dabble in it here and there, but third person is the most natural to me. Isn't it cool how everyone has such a unique writing style.

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  4. I usalr write in 2nd person is second person a bad form of writing stories. Second person also know by some as all knowing is easiest for me I never use first person cause 2nd person is a lot more my style in 2nd person like i can move from one character to another.

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  5. Excellent insight, especially about the wrong POV character. Sometimes the character who is impacted the most from the scene may not be the one doing all the action :)

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    1. So true! I'm just embarrassed it took my three rewrites of the same scene to figure it out! :)

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  6. Great post! Ugh, I know the feeling all too well. The one scene that's giving me trouble is this flashback, because I'm debating whether to put it in or not--or if there's a better way. Thing is, I already have my protagonist finding information by photographs and dialogue with other people. I think a flashback might be necessary, and I'm a little put off because my dream agent advises against them until at least 50%-75% of the way through the novel. I'm on the sixth chapter! Oh, well.

    Thanks again for the post. Good luck with your battle scene!

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  7. I have finished my first story, however reading it back there are things missing details that need to be added and what I thought was the perfect POV isn't. I have set it aside at least 6 months. but I have no way to figure out which POV is the best. I'm now at a loss.


    Debi

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    1. Have you read Jill's and Stephanie's recent articles on POV, Debi? They might be helpful.

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    2. Whitney, sorry it took me so long to answer, no I haven't but I will put that on my list of helpful articles to read this week. Thanks!!!!

      Deb

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  8. Oooooooh. Well, I'm not stuck on a scene in the sense that I can't get it right (but that has totally happened before). However...I'm stuck on a scene as in, Writer's Rust. Hehe, that's what I've decided to name it--I haven't worked on this story in a while since I've been wrapping up editing another, and now I need to ease myself back into it. Hopefully once I get through this scene/chapter, I'll be loosened up again. :)

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    1. I get a bit rusty too from time to time. I took a two month long hiatus from writing at the end of last year, and breaking back into it was kinda hard! Painful ... but worth it in the long run! :)

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  9. This is good advice, Gillian! I like your red flags. :-)

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  10. Thanks for this post, Gillian! I really appreciated the advice! One of my biggest problems is having my scenes detour on me. In the last chapter I finished, I had a completely different end in mind, but the scene changed dramatically. While it's fine this time, your thoughts on using the wrong POV could be useful in some of those cases. Some of those scenes end up dragging on forever, and it may because I'm in the wrong person's head. Thanks!

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    1. I have that problem sometimes too. A scene that I think I have all figured out and is supposed to be pretty simple ... winds up taking up far more space than I wanted! I'll usually let it slide in the first draft - as long as I'm reasonably comfortable with it - but I know when I go back and edit I'll pay close attention to that scene and make sure I'm not just getting long winded. :) Brevity is not one of my gifts when it comes to writing!

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    2. Haha, me neither! And while I think wordiness is part of my style to some degree, it's probably also something I'll need to deal with in editing. :D

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  11. Nice post! Love the Thor reference. ;) One thing I also do is get feedback from a friend and work it out with them. :)

    Stori Tori's Blog

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  12. Normally if I am stuck on something, I wait and then the answer normally finds its way into my head

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