Tuesday, June 11, 2019

ON WRITING: working up to "That Scene" (and does it fit?)

My writing hero - Harlan Ellison, at his typewriter

There are myriad catalysts for writing a story -- one being a scene that you just have to write and crafting a narrative, sometimes a novel-length narrative, around that, in order to have the opportunity to write it.  This was one of the prime motivators, for me, for the novel I am currently revising.  There were two scenes, actually, that spurred me to write 140,000 words on a first draft, and without those there would have been no reason for me to write that story.  There would have been no story.

When a scene or two is your inspiration, it most likely will be the aspect of the story you think about most.  That's natural.  You may go so far as to write that scene out of order, just because it is so prominent in that part of your brain working on the story.   But even if you do tackle your story from the beginning, and save "that scene" as a reward for getting through the tough work of setting it all up, you're still going to direct a lot of your brain toward it, working it and reworking it over and over, as you write the previous sections, until it's almost a foregone conclusion of how the scene will play out, once you reach that point in the narrative where it belongs.  This isn't necessarily a bad thing, but it can be problematic. 

The thing is, when you write a first draft, of anything, it, by default, has to be garbage.  A writer is discovering the story as they write it, discovering the characters, the setting, the actions (and reactions) taken, the bends in the road navigated deftly (or horribly).  It's a first draft, and it should be ugly.  Revising, as Greg Rucka has stated (and, no doubt, many other authors), is where the real heavy lifting happens.  And roughly 105,000 words into my first draft (which has translated to around 77,000 words on the 2nd draft), I've hit the heavy lifting part, having foolishly thought it all had been heavy lifting.  Ha!  Joke's on me. 

The story I'm currently revising revolves around two couples -- their history (three of them are old friends), their jealousies, their aspirations, and their betrayals, and the secrets each is keeping from the other, all leading to a tragic end, natch.  There's been a murder.  A police detective we followed in a tangential storyline earlier, but who also dealt with one of the couples involved in all this, has the murder drop in her lap.  She and her partner discover two women (the wives) dead.  They go to speak with the husbands, and then take them down to the station to question them -- not only to get information on the victims, but to see if they might be suspects.  This interrogation scene was one of the main impetuses for this story.  I thought about it a lot, and in reading the first draft of the whole thing, I can see it was obviously modeled on the interrogation scene from L.A. Confidential.  And the way I wrote it was all wrong. 

Initially, I had the detectives keep the fact that the wives had been murdered from the men, wanting them to come to the police station on their own, so the detectives could use the men's ignorance (or possibly their knowledge, if either or both were the murderer) against them.  But, as I got to this point in my revising, I realized it made no sense at all, to me, to have things happen this way.  Not only did it feel unrealistic, it also felt out of character.  That meant going back and tweaking the lead-up to the detectives confronting the men, and having Detective Ames tell them their wives have been killed, and it also means I need to completely rework the interrogation scene.  These men will be distraught, they won't be ignorant of what has happened, the dynamic will be a 180 degree shift.  That's exciting, because I know this will be far better than the original scene, but it is also daunting because it means I am back to square one with the pivotal scene, and it's been nice having a solid framework to play off of, as I write this second draft.  Not that I'm complaining, it's just a bit more of that heavy lifting. 

And, though I'm loathe to utilize this cliche (it's true):  when you're writing, you have to be willing to kill your darlings. 

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