Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Fixing a Problem Scene—4 Approaches

Interno--Baccio Maria Bacci--1888-1974Problem scenes. I usually have several areas that just don’t work in an unfinished manuscript.

If I’m writing my first draft, I’ll just totally skip past the problem and continue to the next scene in my book. No big deal. If I’m particularly bothered by it and just want to put it out of my mind, I’ll make a comment to myself in the margin of the manuscript with Track Changes and keep going.

But…at some point the problem area has to be dealt with.

There are a few different ways that I’ll usually approach this chore. The first is to see if I can cut the scene out completely. Really—if it’s that bad, do I really need it? Can I sum up the content in a different way—through dialogue or a short transition? Does the scene serve a purpose and propel my plot forward, or would it be all right to just leave it out altogether?

My second standby is to open a new Word document and rewrite the scene without looking at it…basically by just reading the previous scene and going from there. Sometimes even the old word choices will serve to mess me up and keep me from rewriting the scene stronger.

Now I have a new technique to work with, courtesy of my writing friend Jan Morrison. She calls her technique ‘free fall’ and it applies the best of brainstorming—the stream of consciousness approach—to a problem scene.

Jan advises going to the problem area and picking out one thing about the page/scene that you like. It might be a great phrase or sentence. Then you put that snippet up at the top of a blank page and do a free fall/stream of consciousness exercise with it---until you reach the end of the thought or concept. Then, Jan advises taking the best out of that exercise and do the same thing, again, on a new sheet of paper. This sounds like a great way to explore a concept and a fresh way to take a look at a problem area. Jan calls it ‘mining for gold,’ and she further explains the free fall approach here.

A fourth way to a approach the problem scene is by distance from the manuscript or other ways of looking at the scene with new eyes. There are different ways to accomplish this—by actually letting time pass, by printing the scene and reading it on paper, reading the scene aloud, reading it in a different font, etc. I don’t always have a lot of time to just let a manuscript sit, but I do like printing it out or reading it aloud to better diagnose what’s wrong.

How about you? What do you do when you’re faced with a scene that doesn’t work?