Look at me, I’m learning!
As many of you know, I am allergic to storyboards, character worksheets, index cards, multi-tabbed notebooks and all examples of an organized writing process. I’ve tried to do them all, I really have. They make me break out in hives. I think they’re wonderful–for other people. But for me, they feel like forcing a square peg into a round hole…where the square peg is my brain, and the round hole is one of those gnawing little mouths on a cheese grater. Just. Can’t.
But a few weeks ago, I was reading a wonderful new historical, The Wicked Ways of a Duke by Laura Lee Guhrke, and something kind of cool happened. I had to put it down. No, that’s not the cool part…hang on. When I came back to it, of course I had not marked my place with a bookmark (that would smack of organization! *sigh* how I became a librarian is beyond me). So I thumbed through the scene I’d been reading to find my place. It was a looooong scene. A loooong conversation, in fact, between the hero and heroine, and it went on for pages and pages and pages. But I realized that…when I was reading, it hadn’t felt long at all. LLG had me so caught up in the scene, it could have gone on for fifty pages, and I would have been delighted.
Which made me think about
Goats on a Boat Surrender of a Siren. You see, in Goddess of the Hunt, the characters are almost always in motion. Riding, shooting, nearly drowning…there was always a physical activity that helped propel the scene forward. The pacing in SOAS is very different, because it’s sort of a cabin romance–a large part of the tension comes from the fact that, for a large part of the book, the hero and heroine have very little to do. There are scenes where they just talk to one another, for pages and pages and pages, and I’ve been worried that those scenes do not flow so smoothly as the brilliant LLG’s.
Here is what I did. If I’d been an organized sort of writer, with four colored highlighters at the ready, this would have been much easier. But I didn’t have those, so I propped TWWOAD by the computer and typed out five or six pages of that conversation. Then I used Word’s highlighting function to shade each of these elements in a different color: Dialogue, dialogue tags, introspection, stage direction (what the characters do, physically), and setting description.
It looked like this:
I don’t know that it’s very clear from those two tiny snips, but when I looked at the whole result, side by side, it was very clear that my scene differed from LLG’s in one big way: Wayyyyy more green. (This is structurally speaking, of course. LLG’s prose is better than mine in about a thousand ways, but you know…) Green was the color I used for stage direction and action tags. All those things like, “She nodded.” “He shrugged.” “Their gazes met.” “He reached for the teapot.” I had tons of that stuff in my scene, and LLG had very little.
Epiphany time! I realized the reader doesn’t need every blink, nod, shrug, and stare spelled out for her. Those things are filled in by the reader’s imagination for the most part (I imagined them while reading LLG, at any rate) and writing them all out slows a conversation down. I’ve been cutting this sort of thing whenever I can as I revise SOAS – cumulatively, I’ve cut three pages of it in the first half of the book! And I did it with color coding, heretofore something I’d believed to be the essence of eeevil.
If there’s a type of scene you’re struggling with, and you know of an author who does that same sort of scene very well – I highly recommend trying this exercise, or something like it. If even I can do it, anyone can.
Oh, and the other huge difference I noted between my scene and LLG’s? LLG’s adverb count: Zero. Mine: Too shameful to admit. I’ve been cutting those, too.