Anatomy of how a scene sucks

I spent this evening's writing time working on a critter attack on a diner.

I needed expositional backstory on the two characters I'm introducing without having a visit from the Exposition Fairy - you know, the moment when the recruiting sergeant reads the soldier's personnel file to him so they can talk about shit both of them already know. Very exciting.

But I'm also limited to my main character's POV. Outside of the interludes, I intend to stay in her head the whole book. So I put her in a surveillance van with her superior officer, and he'll ask her to tell him what she sees. Her observations will be mostly correct, because that's what she does, and we'll learn about these two through her eyes.

Ain't I smart?

Only it doesn't work out that way. Because it's an action scene, and Sara can kibitz all she likes but she's still stuck in the van. The van is never the place to be during an operation - ask any of a hundred flunkies, from CHUCK to SNEAKERS to TRUE LIES, whether it's any fun to be the guy in the van.

The van is removed at a distance. You're part of the action, but you're observing it. We don't really care if the innocent civilian gets skewered, and we don't even care if our operatives make it out alive because we just met them. Sara's observations become annoying: instead of telling us simultaneously that Sara is smart and there's these details we need to know about these two characters, we wonder why our smart, active, kickass heroine is sitting her ass in the van when she should be kicking down the door.

I think the whole scene needs to go back to the drawing board. I need to figure out what I want from this scene, too. We need an action sequence at this point - it's been mostly talking for a while now - but even I was bored with this monster.

I honestly feel I might not struggle so much with every damn word of a book if it were the only thing I had to think about. Work and family and child care and housework and money and business and work again... And yet so many of my fellow writers manage it. Angelia Sparrow has a day job, a husband and four kids. Steve Shrewsbury astounded me last year by declaring that he has written and published more than 700 short stories - and that with a farm, a factory job (until recently) and a family.

I'm longing more and more for that Nantucket cottage, enough so that I wrote it into the goddamn book.

I'm two months behind my self-imposed schedule for this year. So what, right? The problem is that if nobody is waiting for your book, NOBODY IS WAITING FOR YOUR BOOK. You're only as alive as your last project in this business, and I'm now seven months from my last premiere.

I need more hours in the day. Or possibly liquor. Here's hoping your work went better tonight, my friends. I'm going to give it a fresh go tomorrow.


  1. I do it by being absolutely ruthless about my time and shoving as much as I can off on the husband. I'd have been scribbling during that endless ballgame. (Also, crockpot!)

    My day job is hours no normal person wants in order to steal three precious hours before the kids get home. My day job also doesn't involve words. If I had to put out several articles a day, I wouldn't have words left for fiction either. I wrote more when I was driving longer hauls, because I was stuck, just me and the notebook at the truckstop/in the sleeper/on the dock.

    As for your exposition fairy scene, I have no idea if these will work. Skip the backstory, maybe? Tell it in flashbacks of another monster attack? Let her kick down the door of the van, go kick monster butt and have him sigh "Dammit, she does this every time."

    I banged away, added 500 words to one piece, whacked a thousand and replaced them with 250 from another. Watched a movie and spent the afternoon testing the crafts from the latter project.

  2. Anonymous12:02 AM

    Idea - You don't have to throw the whole thing out... adjust the scene so that Sara is in the building with the two new operatives, and she's the one wired for communications back to the van... she's initially wired for both video and sound, but the video goes out, and so superior officer chats with her through her earpiece/mic the whole time trying to keep up with what's going on with the mission... Sara can be snarky as hell, kick ass, and you can still get your descriptives and exposition fairy moments in...

  3. Anonymous12:04 AM

    Oh - and I for one am waiting for your book...

    *silly grin*

  4. If you keep trying to force something, maybe it doesn't fit. Should we care about these new people, anyway? Or are you in love with them and need people to know about them?

    Though I do think having a character known as Mr. Exposition (or maybe the french word for revelation) would be kind of amusing, if all they do is provide information about everyone else ;) Then people can say "Well, thank you, Mr. Exposition" or, if his name was Captain Obvious, "Well, thank you, Captain Obvious" - but that's probably another story not written by a professional author ;)

    I just think I'm funny, anyway...and I'm waiting for your book. So get on it and be awesome!

  5. Loved reading this. This site will def. be added to my bkmarks.


Post a Comment