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Clarion Writing Prompt #20 The Cranky Scene

September 27, 2010

You know the scene. The one you have to do but can’t bring to life. I’m not talking about the one you think you have to do, and then have an epiphany when you realize you could drop it and improve the story. This one you are stuck with.

You have to write it, but it’s cranky. There are three things the scene has to establish and two things that must happen. The first time you wrote it, it read like an entry in a parts catalogue. The second time you cut it down to pure action and it felt like a Saturday morning cartoon instead of a piece of your novel. The third time you tried you wound up doing more backspacing than typing (which is quite a feat if you think about it.)

A deadline is looming. The cranky scene lies between you and your objective, being obstinate for no good reason. You hate it. Why is it fighting you?

The more you re-write this scene, the less you like the novel it appears in.

Be brave. Because the odds are you are face to face with a literary snark of boojum potency. Somehow or another, with respect to plot, theme or one of those other dimensions of fiction, your novel has suffered a misalignment. The scene giving you trouble is a symptom. You are subconsciously aware of the problem and using the cranky scene to patch it up. Therefore, more than the scene requires doctoring.

Here are some first aid suggestions.
• Make a list of the work your scene has to accomplish.
• Ask yourself whether any of the things it is supposed to establish could be eliminated by simplifying something earlier or later in the novel
• Beside each item in the list, jot down the reason it’s important. Analyse for opportunities to deal with elsewhere or eliminate.
• If the scene had flashbacks or long passes of introspection, block it out to minimize the number of transitions required.
• Assign priorities to the items. Check to see whether the highest priority item has the most emphasis.

And if all else fails, start over with chapter one and read the whole draft through again from end to end keeping an eye out for the threads you are relying on the cranky scene to patch together.

Hope for an inspired insight. (Boojum’s aren’t easy prey.)

3 Comments leave one →
  1. Kari T permalink
    September 27, 2010 10:50 am

    Oh my gosh I can’t believe the timeliness of this article. I am cutting and pasting it right into my notes so I can go through the first aid suggestions in great detail.

    a big ‘thank you’ for this life line🙂

    • September 28, 2010 3:46 pm

      Must be because I’d come across just such a Boojum myself, Kari. I figure when you talk about the stuff that really happens to writers, it’s bound to resonate with other writers. Thanks for telling me it was useful.

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