Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Dropping Scenes that Work

As I work on my book I’m always tempted to include scenes that I think would be good, or that I want to see in that story, but more often than not, when I actually take the time to read through the book from the beginning, I realize that the readers don’t really care about those things.
That’s happening to me now as I work on The Queen.
I feel this tension between the desire to include stuff that I think would be good, and stuff that is contextually necessary. I find it easy to forget that my goal is to tell a good story, not to impress readers.
If you are a writer, don’t let what you want to happen interfere with what needs to happen to make the story work.
As you write your story, as you build the narrative world at the beginning of the tale remember that every character, every struggle, every significant setting that you introduce is a promise to your reader of the importance of that person, place or conflict to the story.
Eventually readers will care more about you keeping your promises to them, by showing the relevance of all that storytelling. And keeping those promises by giving the reader what he wants is more vital to telling a good story than including witty snippets of dialogue or clever descriptions of characters or fun little scenes that strike a chord.
When I finally finish a novel of 500 pages, I will have at least that many pages written that I cannot use, not because the scenes and dialogue aren’t good, but because they aren’t vital.
And so, here it is, one of the hardest things for me to remember when I am writing: context determines content.
It isn’t so much about what you include, it’s how well it fits and how well it meets reader expectations about where the story needs to go.


Paula Millhouse said...

I agree - everything I want to say does not always advance my story - it often hinders it. When I take the time to re-read my story as a reader, what I want to say as a writer often gets in the way.
While "backstory" helps me as the author to fill in the gaps, it doesn't always help the reader. It's a double-edged sword.
I'm also a painter, and learning where to leave out the extra brush-strokes often enhances the piece more than putting them in. Let the witness use their imagination - that's the real hook - put them to work and it becomes a beautiful thing.

Thank you for all your hard work - you are an inspiration to me.
Paula Millhouse

Eric McCarty said...

I love Tolkien's story above all others, but I got bogged down in his lengthy descriptions of terrain. The pains which he took to give copious descriptions of history and landscape provided depth and texture for the expansive world he created, but the expense was I sometimes felt as beat down and hopeless as the ring bearer.

Evelyn said...

"...desire to include stuff that I think would be good, and stuff that is contextually necessary."

Why/how do you know what I'm thinking? I am a little worried that I may have to remove things that are important to me. They have to be work, they just have to! Another thing to dread. Sigh.

That's not the reason I'm here. I came looking for you because I just read your article in the January issue of Writer's Digest. Again I ask the question, "How do you know exactly what my problems/thoughts are???"

Thank you -- it helps to not feel so alone. I am so following this blog! :) Um, I think I need to send "The Lie That Tells a Truth" to my Kindle sooner rather than later!

What can I say? If you can catch me with a magazine article... well, you get my point.

Thanks. You're pretty cool. Writers Digest should love you too! :) That issue has me so thrilled that I subscribed!

Evelyn said...

I did just send The Pawn to my Kindle. :)

The previous comment was all about how much I need help from you experts to keep moving.

I like Paula's comment too!