Today’s Visiting Professor, author Diane Vallere, takes the podium to talk about pounding through those tough scenes that bring you to a standstill.
You’re chugging along on your WIP. You’ve got main characters, secondary characters, love interests, and villains. You’ve got plot twists, red herrings, and setting. Your deadline is so far away you have to shield your eyes and look past the horizon to see it, so you know you’re in good shape. And suddenly, you lose your momentum and can’t figure out what happens next.
You plod ahead, forcing a daily word count, eventually replacing your writing time with exciting projects like sorting the laundry. When you do force yourself to return to your WIP, you stare at the page, wondering why things shut down. Or sometimes, your draft is done. While you’re busy patting yourself on the back, an early reader points out a hole in your plot, a need for more information, and you are faced with the task of going back in and fixing a problem. Sound familiar?
We start to wonder, can we even do this? Were we foolish to think we could write a book?
I’ve developed a highly scientific solution to this scary-pants situation. I call it the “behind door number 3” approach. In short, I admit that any number of things might happen next, and I challenge myself to write three possible scenes to follow where I’ve stalled.
Not one. Not two. Three.
Why three? Because my mind always wants to believe that I was on the right track. Who wants to admit they’ve wasted days increasing word count on a dead end plot line? Not I. that part of my brain says if I just power through, I can get my mojo back. So that’s scene #1. It’s words on a page. It’s lifeless. Before I finish the second sentence, I’m bored. Yawn.
Then there’s scene #2. By nature, it’s not like scene #1, but it still has a little of scene 1’s DNA. I’m still trying to make it all work, but the bully inside my brain is already calling me a copy cat and taunting me to step it up. Scene 2 is tentative. It’s brief. It’s a little like Rocky 2: it has promise but it doesn’t quite deliver.
But now that I’ve thumbed my nose at the internal name-calling bully, I’m ready for scene #3. Bring it on! I charge on in a new direction. So many light bulbs go off over my head it’s like I’m under a newly plugged-in strand of twinkle lights.
Scene #3 rocks. By the time I’m done writing it, I’m ready to keep on writing. Scene 3 is a roundhouse-kick through the wall I’d hit. Now I’m karate-chopping my way through blank pages, tearing up my word count goals again.
Recently, I asked a beta reader for feedback on THAT TOUCH OF INK, the second book in the Mad for Mod Mystery Series. The reader had read PILLOW STALK, the first book in the series, where protagonist Madison Night juggles the attentions of two different men: a playboy homicide lieutenant who she has just met (Tex), and a handyman-slash-murder suspect she’s known and trusted for years (Hudson). In chapter two of INK, where I had summarized Madison’s relationship with the lieutenant, the reader asked, “what about the handyman?”
It was a valid point. Madison clearly had feelings for two different characters in PILLOW STALK, but how to get all of that in to THAT TOUCH OF INK, while not trapping the reader in back story? Here are my three scenarios:
“Night, I didn’t see the footage until you did. I didn’t even know you had a ghost like that in your past.”
“Lieutenant, in case you forgot, we all have ghosts in our past.”
“Yes, and I can tell you, it’s better to face those ghosts than to walk away from them. Learn from the past. Don’t ignore it. Look at Hudson.”
[The problem here is that the scene is all about Tex. And because Tex and Hudson have an adversarial relationship when it comes to Madison, Tex would probably not use Hudson as an inspirational example of how Madison should move on]
“Night, maybe you were the most shocked person in that theater, but I was a close second.”
[After only one line I knew I had the same problem. This was Tex making the situation about himself. Not about Madison, not about Hudson. The name-calling bully was right! Next!]
“Night, I know that footage took you by surprise. It surprised me too. But you didn’t have to walk away.”
“It’s my past, Tex. My issues. My baggage to deal with.”
“Nobody said you had to deal with it alone.” He paused. “Maybe I’m jumping to conclusions. Maybe you didn’t deal with it alone.”
An eerie calm came over me at Tex’s inference of Hudson James, the other man in my life. After finding out the truth about [redacted], I’d withdrawn from life. And then Hudson started coming over.
First, it was to check the smoke detectors in the building. When he said they were due for inspection, I didn’t question him. A week later it was a tear in the carpet on the back steps. When he showed up the following week with a box of energy-efficient light bulbs for the hallway, I met him with two glasses and a bottle of merlot. From that point on, I created the projects, and we worked on them together. We never talked about the homicide. I never told him what I’d learned about Brad. We’d simply enjoyed each other’s company. Slowly, in time, I’d started to deal with …
[I love #3 because it does several things: it introduces Hudson as a character to this book. It shows his quiet, caring side in how he creates excuses to come to Madison’s building to check up on her. It shows her willingness to join him. And it shows that he never pries into her life.]
Getting stuck in the middle of a manuscript or facing the challenges of feedback and edits is all a part of the writing process. Next time you’re stuck and don’t know which way to turn, try eliminating the pressure of picking the perfect words by using the Door #3 approach.
Worse case scenario, you get a chance to practice your roundhouse kick. Best? Writing under twinkle lights.
Okay, RU crew, what’s your secret to getting unstuck from a troublesome scene?
Here’s a blurb on one of Diane’s books, PILLOW STALK.
Interior Decorator Madison Night has modeled her life after a character in a Doris Day movie, but when a killer targets women dressed like the bubbly actress, Madison’s signature sixties style places her in the middle of a homicide investigation.
The local detective connects the new crimes to a twenty-year old cold case, and Madison’s long-trusted contractor emerges as the leading suspect. As the body count piles up like a stack of plush pillows, Madison uncovers a former spy, a campaign to destroy all Doris Day movies, and six minutes of film that will change her life forever.
Bio: Diane is a textbook Capricorn who writes mysteries and loves clothes. In an advance review of her BUYER, BEWARE, the second in the Style & Error Mystery Series, NY Journal of Books said, “Vallere takes the reader through this cozy mystery with her signature wit and humor.” Library Journal called PILLOW STALK, her first Mad for Mod Mystery, “a tremendously fun homage,” and added, “Vallere debuts a well-paced cozy series. “ In addition to these two series, Vallere has signed on to write a fabric store-themed mystery series for Berkley Prime Crime. She launched her own detective agency at ten years old and has maintained a passion for shoes, clues, and clothes ever since.
Author Lesann Berry presents: Embrace the Pain of Research on Friday, May 3rd.
- Weekly Lecture Schedule – April 28 – May 3
- Beating the Sloggy, Saggy, Soggy Middle with Heather Webb
- The Scene Stealers – And Why Every Writer Needs (at least) One by Ruth Harris
- How to Get Past Writers Block by Larry Bjornson