Thursday, December 15, 2011

Incubating Ideas

I'm revising an early scenes from my WIP. Originally, I basically had only a placeholder. It reminded me that I needed to introduce a character. We'll call her Rebecca.

Now, as I change this scene, I've been thinking about how I can make it more memorable. I originally started out telling the reader where Rebecca went to school--she's a scientist--followed by a scene describing her meeting the protagonist, Hannah. They were at a restaurant having brunch.

To punch up the scene, I first gave Rebecca a stronger personality. I made Hannah wrongfully assume that Rebecca was rude when in actuality she's just more honest than everyone else. I'm making Rebecca's dialog more direct relative to Hannah. And, instead of placing the scene in a restaurant, I had the characters meet at an aquarium, in front of a sunfish exhibit, to bring up a theme of being an outsider or an alien.

I thought this was a good start.

I wanted to make the scene more emotional, so I thought about timing. Before, Rebecca and Hannah met on a relatively random day, weeks before the BIG EVENT. Now, I have them meeting the night before the BIG EVENT, so they're both under more stress, and they're both feeling a little more desperate as the event approaches.

As I wrote out this scene, the situation pushed the characters to do something that I would have never expected. They are both about to have surgery to remove a body part, and when the evening ends, they dare to undress in front of each other to see their "complete" naked bodies one last time before the operation.

For me, this revision was much better than what I started out with--the scene in the restaurant. To get to my new version of the scene, I had to sit quietly for two days and run through various options in my head. I think this was productive, but now I wonder if two days was long enough. How would my scene change if I took two weeks to mull over my different ideas? Is the time spent thinking and waiting worth the improvement to the scene?

I know one can't take forever to write every scene. We'd be dead. But I'm curious to know how long you sit with new ideas and if you think more time would equal even better ideas. How long do you take to come up with a scene?


  1. Posts like this are hard to comment on, because what's really called for is a long and rambling discussion, not a blog comment. Darn it all. But I'll try, because I'm Very Brave Like That.

    When I'm working on a book, I'm always thinking about it in one way or another. When I go running, I try to think about the possibilities of the story (what else is there to think about when you're running five miles?) and all the different meanings there are to the character arcs and themes, and how to bring those meanings out. A lot of times I come up with ideas for scenes that I won't write for weeks or months as I make my way through the narrative (I always write from beginning to end; I don't skip around) and sometimes I push those scene ideas around for a long time until I actually write them (though I'll make notes to myself). And in revisions, I can work on a single scene for a week or more, and come back to it for more work if it doesn't seem to be working. The chapter in my detective novel about the WW I veteran? That chapter took forever, and a bunch of rewrites as it slowly slowly slowly changed focus.

    Focus (see? this is too big a topic for a blog comment) is always my big issue with scenes that don't work for me. Sometimes I forget at what idea or character a scene is supposed to point. Also, when I'm doing a first draft especially, I'll sometimes write sort of cliche scenes that get the point across but aren't very vibrant or surprising and I sit and rethink them until I find a new way of saying what I want to say.

    I also have noticed that I seem to be writing fewer scenes these days, but I'm lingering a lot longer in each scene. Which makes the plot easier to plan, but is a lot more work in other ways.


  2. Interesting question. Honestly, I don't spend any time. I don't. I'm not a planner in any way, shape or form. Sometimes, I think out what I want to happen throughout the story, but as far as considering a specific scene, I just let my fingers fly. You've certainly given your scene a lot more thought than I give mine. Even while revising, I tend to sit on it enough to make sure it's necessary and written the way I think it should be, but...kudos to you. I wish I could do that! But, I guess whatever works, right?

  3. Sometimes I go running specifically to work out troublesome scenes or plot threads.

    Some of my Very Best Scenes came through writing, where I had no specific idea what I was going to write and the scen sprang forth in a flurry of inspired keystrokes. It was almost as if I was reading it rather than writing at the time.

    The things I put more lasting thought into are more long-form plot and character development issues...who does what and why. These are the ideas that usually hit me when I'm least able to write them down, e.g. in the shower or driving down the highway.

  4. Scott, The WWI scene stopped me when I got to it. It was very powerful, and I liked it a lot. I get what you are saying about focus. I think in a way that's how I see it too. I ask myself if the scene is doing its job, and if not, then I revise it until it does...or I fire it. Cyberlama is very much exciting me at the moment.

    April, absolutely I think it's whatever works. I used to be able to get more words down in less time, but something in me has slowed down a lot. I think more and write less these days. Not sure why.

    Rick, Showering on the highway is also a bad time to get new ideas. In case you're wondering. I've always had to spend a lot of time thinking about the big picture story stuff. That doesn't come natural to me at all. But these days I spend more time planning scenes during revision too.

  5. Unless you take two days for every scene, I don't think it's very long time at all. I take anywhere from minutes to months. Also consider that I write as a hobby, which keeps me free from deadlines.
    I was stuck for most of the year at a spot and couldn't go any further, which I guess is a danger when not outlining. When I decided to go in a different direction, ten chapters came out like a damn broke.
    Naturally, they were ten beautiful chapters! :)

    Slightly off topic:
    You mentioned that your scene takes place in a restaurant. I noticed that a lot of mine do as well. I wonder is my love of eating out has anything to do with it.

  6. Charlie, I wrote so much of my very first novel in a particular restaurant that the restaurant and the waitress I saw most often there became part of the novel.

  7. You know, honestly, it depends on the scene for me, but for SCALES, I have literally spent months on one scene. For others, only a matter of hours. Sometimes you just have to get one thing right and the rest of the book will fall into place. The truth is, like Scott, I'm always thinking about my story. Always. Sometimes I'll talk to my husband about it (like he cares, hah) to mull things over out loud. Sometimes I'll just write out ideas or outline stuff. Sometimes I'll google things and do some research. It's all different. I love what you shared here because it's really nice to see how and why you changed things to make the scene work better. I can't wait to read it!

  8. I once spent two days mulling over a comma!

    I think it all depends on the writer. Some scenes come easily for me, others I hash over for months, and then invariably cut the whole thing from the ms. because it doesn't work the way I want it to and I'm sick of fighting with it.

    As for two days, not a long time. Depending on the scene, I've been known to take weeks (which is what I call stuck) and have to do lots of yard work to break it free.

  9. I write in about a three scene loop now. I start my day by reviewing two scenes back, flesh that scene out, read the next scene to get into the flow of the story and then add one scene. This way I can work in more depth to the story without waiting for each scene to age properly.


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