Monday, 2 January 2017

Why you should write really bad scenes

Most writing guides focus on writing good scenes, getting the conflict and tension in there. A bit of detail to add colour and location, good dialogue. I'm going to put forward the argument for bad scenes - the stuff that gets cut.

The problem with focusing on good scenes and top copy is the moment you write a dull scene, you have a good idea that it should be cut, so you cut. And you start again, which leads to frustration and the feeling that you're getting nowhere. I certainly feel that way. And then I read an article by a YA author who said she had to write nearly half a million words to get one particular novel right. If an average YA novel is 70,000 words then that's 430,000 words not needed.

Does that mean they could be avoided?

Well, it got me thinking to how I wrote Clash and Arabesque. Clash actually started as a very different book, something called Get Even, Get Girl, Get Lost, and the story of Kyle and Alex was really just the opening of the book. It wasn't until I came to rewriting the entire novel that I realised Alex was really interesting and the rest of the book paled compared to those first few scenes. Two thirds were cut right there. About 40,000 words, and nothing of that was reused or reworked. It wasn't particularly bad, just nowhere near as strong.

So I began rewriting to develop those first scenes further. The majority of that first chunk was either rewritten or ditched. I think only two scenes of the original draft survived, and both were developed further and rewritten several times over. It was months before I had enough scenes to take a step back and be able to work on the plot.

I couldn't have planned Clash, and I couldn't have written it straight off. It was a mish-mash of good and bad scenes that were eventually hammered into shape.

Yesterday I wrote a scene for my current project (I'm going to call it Daniel's Daughter from now on, just as a working title so I can refer back to it), As a scene, it's okay. It was fun to write. It's got conflict and tension, it fires off questions for the reader and ends on a cliffhanger. But now that it's written I can't help thinking, 'What if...?' and approach the opening a different way. Over the past year or so, this has stumped me again and again and made me rethink, replan and start over. It's that fear of taking a wrong path that has held me back. It's that fear of writing bad scenes - or at least, unnecessary scenes - that holds back development of new ideas. The result of this is a book with lots of good scenes, but not a lot of development - no depth. I've written some clangers over the past few years!

So maybe writing those bad scenes has its place. I know that yesterday's scene probably won't make the final cut, and today's scene might not either. But I do think that writing them is the springboard to the good stuff.

So for now, the scenes stay, and Daniel's Daughter moves a step forward.


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