Thursday, January 21, 2010

Writing Big

With only a couple days left in the Saskatchewan Romance Writer's version of Book-in-a-Week (BIAW), I’m starting to feel the crunch. Revisions to Emma’s story are coming but I just can’t rush it. I’m such a perfectionist it’s becoming a worry to me for when I’m published – that I won’t be able meet my deadlines because I’m so busy tweaking it. It’s not tweaking for perfection’s sake, though.

One of my challenges for this manuscript (ms) is the requested additional 20,000 words. When I said I could do it, I envisioned all sorts of scenes. At the time I started the revisions, I couldn’t think of anything new and different. Sure, a couple bit scenes here and there, but not one or two huge block-busting scenes to bring tears to reader’s eyes or make their hands fist with rage.

Until now.

Last week instead of doing all the prep work for this week, I took the time off to make a website for my church. I totally got away from Emma’s story. And yet I kept thinking of it at the oddest times – like in the middle of html coding You see, I kept thinking I needed ‘more’ in the story. More excitement. More emotion. More reality.

It was like the extra show that came with the Stargate Continuum (2008) DVD. The director was describing how they needed to make the movie ‘bigger than life’ because it had to be 'bigger' than the TV series. The regular shows use film sets on earth, in space, on jumpers, on a frigate and other spaceships, and on other planets (which all look like BC where the series is filmed). So how to bring something bigger to the screen? I don’t think they succeeded in making it ‘bigger’ as in a block-buster because we saw it on the same large, flat screen TV we watch the regular series and it just seemed like a longer version. But it was certainly as entertaining.

I wanted what the Stargate director wanted.


So last week among the DIV ‘s and ALIGN’S of a 21st century computer language, a scene like you’d find in an old west movie replayed in my mind. As the week progressed, the scene unraveled in vivid detail. Adding it would enhance the ms because it would:
- portray the hero as a Hero in the reader’s eyes
- tie up a loose plotline
- allow readers to feel rage, shock, compassion and humour
- add challenges for the subsequent scenes
The problem was it wasn’t the kind of scene you’d see in your usual inspirational book. Adding it would put me in the ranks of an ‘edgy’ inspirational writer. But it would satisfy my thirst for ‘more’ and be a more entertaining read.

Having decided to write the scene, I began first thing Friday morning when BIAW started. I made good progress on Friday but life with family interfered on Sat and Sunday. Come Monday, I got back into it. In the scene, Emma is sitting by the fire with her foot tucked under her skirt. And it dawned on me while I ate my lunch . . . Emma isn’t wearing a skirt . . . she’s wearing pants. Sheesh. So I had to go back to where I started the scene on Friday and start rewriting. I found a couple more places where I talked about her skirt. I also found two other things I hadn’t been consistent with either. First, I’d written the scene with her in ladies boots under the skirt but when she puts on the trousers, she put on men’s boots. Second, I had her going down to the river to fill a bucket of water yet the only things she has is a couple sacks with some utensils and food. No bucket. At least I don’t envision a bucket swinging from the side of her horse. Their camp is at the base of a butte in the middle of nowhere. So where’d the bucket come from? Since I have her carrying, filling, passing, etc the bucket, that all had to be changed, too. That took up all Monday afternoon.

That left Tues to get on with the big scene which I did with an uncontainable eagerness. The emotional part is done and I’m now working on the aftermath of the event. And this brings it’s own challenges because I’m thinking of using the scene I wrote for the ‘secret’ exercise here on the blog and if I do that, I now have to change things to be consistent with what I wrote on Tues and Wed. It’s like a huge puzzle with all the pieces scattered about and I’m picking them up one by one and seeing if they fit. They may look like they fit but it’s not a perfect fit, so I have to go ook for another similar piece and try again.

Do I need the ‘big scene’? Maybe. Maybe not. There are many romance books out there without any huge dramatic scenes and they do quite well. They’re light entertainment. Look at all the authors selling Chick-Lit and romantic comedies. But I don’t write those.

It’s not that I’m writing the next Gone with the Wind, but I’m in a ‘pool’ of pre-pubbed writers trying to swim out and be noticed for what I write. I want to be known for stories that increase your pulse and stay with you for weeks afterward. I want my readers to forget they’re sitting on a bus or in a Dr’s waiting room and just feel the story. So, I may not be writing a blockbuster movie here, but even a simple inspirational historical like Emma’s story deserves to be the biggest story I can make it. Like Natasha Kern of the Natasha Kern Literary Agency said in her ACFW Denver workshop – think of the worse things you possibly can and make it worse - then write it.

I do believe I’m actually succeeding.

Which do you remember more - books with at least one big dramatic scene or without?


DebH said...

great post Anita
I would have to say that the books that stick with me are the ones that make me forget where I am - or ones that make me talk to the characters as I read. Not all the books that have done this for me had that "big" scene per se.

The most memorable book though had a big scene that had me yelling at the book as in "NO! You can't do that!"

I don't know if I was yelling at the author or the characters, but I'd been very caught up in the story and emotionally attached. I think the emotional attachment came more from the author making me care deeply about the heroine throughout the entire book.

I think if the emotional attachment has been accomplished, a big scene may not be necessary - but I believe it'd be most appreciated by the reader. Everybody likes to get the MORE.

Karyn Good said...

I'm glad to hear Emma's story is coming together and you've come up a big scene to enhance the story.

I was glad to read what Natasha Kern had to say as I'm in the midst of second guessing a scene thinking maybe it's too much, but now I'm going to go with it and see what happens.

I have to say, probably my favorite books are ones with big scenes, lots of suspense and plenty of action. (Which makes me wonder why I was second guessing myself!) But I like big emotional scenes, too. When reading romance, I guess I go for over-the-top kind of characters and scenarios :)

Silver James said...

I always think back to the scene in the movie "Romancing the Stone" where Joan is reading her manuscript and sobbing. Those are the books readers remember--the ones that make them laugh and cry, with scenes that leave their heart pounding and turning the next page because they can't believe what is happening on the page and can't wait to find out what happens next.

Even when I read "traditional" romances, I want a big scene that leaves me breathless. I say go for it. Listen to your gut. And FYI? It's always easier to tone down than it is to beef up, IMO.

Anita Mae Draper said...

Hey Deb, your yelling 'No' at the book reminded me of one of my stories where the woman is having a miscarriage. I was talking this over with my teen and she yelled out, 'No! You can't hurt the baby!' She was 17 and wouldn't listen to my reasoning. I don't think she trusts my writing anymore.

Thanks for the insight. That's how I feel as a reader, too. It's the ones that suck me into their lives through their emotions.

I'll do my best with the emotions. If I can get you to throw my book across the room, I know I've succeeded. :)

Anita Mae Draper said...

Karyn, I'm glad my post was timely for you. The thing with going bigger is that you can always take some out if you change your mind or an editor/agent thinks it's too much. But if it's not there, then they can't envision it.

I think that's what's urging me on...I don't want a boring book and although I think it's exciting enough, I don't want it be be just enough.

Your wip is getting more interesting all the time.

Jana Richards said...

Hi Anita,
I think that the books that stick with me are the ones with emotional impact. If it can make me laugh or cry or think, then I'll remember them.

I also agree with Karyn and Silver about the big scenes and the big action. They're memorable and fun and take a reader for a ride. Karyn asked why she was second guessing herself about writing the big action scene. Donald Maass says this happens to writers all the time. They get attached to their characters and don't want to put them through the wringer. But as Karyn and Silver both said, as readers, they love, love, love those scenes. I say go for it, Anita!

I had to laugh when I read that you think writing a book is like putting together a puzzle. I'm feeling exactly the same way right now. Only the trouble is that all the pieces are the same shape. I can use any one of the available pieces and depending on which ones I use, I get an entirely different picture.

Best of luck with the editing.

Anita Mae Draper said...

Hey Silver, I guess I should've read your comment before answering Karyn's but you're absolutely right.

I sure like watching Romancing the Stone. I wish I'd thought of it as an example for this post. :)

Thank you for reminding me anyway, though.

Anita Mae Draper said...

Hey Jana, I suppose having similar puzzle pieces could work for you, too if handled right. I've made about a hundred puzzles in my life and the one that stands out is a 3000 piece expert one. Every piece, save the border pieces, was exactly the same. And the whole thing was gray except for this 2" boat in the middle. Yes, it was a picture of fog. It took me about 30 hrs to complete it. Pull-my hair out frustrating. Yet the feeling I accomplished when it was done was euphoric.

I have no idea how that would work in a story, but I appreciate the memory. LOL

Helena said...

Your post is a reminder to me that I have a tendency to go low-key, knowing full well that something 'big' is always appealing to readers, and can send the emotion-quotient soaring as well.

Timely for me and a bit scary, because just since I read your post, and after getting distracted by Natasha Kern's website where I started planning a trip to Washington State on the spot ...

Okay, where was I? Oh, yeah, I have just had an idea pop into my head that just might draw my story to a really dramatic conclusion. I had already unknowingly planted the seed -- one of the characters goes missing, at least can't be located. Turns out he decided to go hiking (to clear his head after an upsetting revelation affecting his relationship with Fiona). He left on his own without telling anyone. I was just going to have him show up (now that would be anticlimactic), so now I'm considering a hiking accident which will bring all the main characters together to deal with the emergency ???

Thank you so much for your thoughts on 'writing big' and giving us a reason to pause and re-think yet again.

connie said...

Hi Anita
I remember one scene in a romance I read ages ago - He can't read so she buys him a book and starts to teach him. She leaves briefly and he figures out his name and sees that his father has betrayed him by calling him Dog. He strides out into the rain and she tries to follow and help him.
My hair still gets wet and I WISH I could catch him and comfort him still....
I forget that I can write big scenes and that I can exaggerate in fiction still. Will I ever get over journalism traits!
Good post Anita

Debra E Marvin said...

Go Big, Girl.

I'm right behind you pushing! When I pick up a book and put my precious time into reading it, I want those big moments that stay with me.

Janet said...

Posted on your private blog and forgot to post here - geesh!

Great job, Anita - really getting everyone thinking about writing big. Big may be bold, but it definitely spawns new ideas and paths that will lead a story to a satisfying ending. And they're fun to write.

Anita Mae Draper said...

Helena, yes that Natasha Kern Agency site is easy on the eyes and packs a wallop of information.

Regarding your wip, I much prefer the accident to having him just show up. The problem with that scenario - and I just read this a week ago - is that using an accident in that situation has been over-used if the main character is the victim/injured. Is there any way you can work around that? Like maybe have him stay with a victim? He saves some hiker or something and gets them out alive? That way he's out of the picture for awhile and when he does show up, he's hailed as a Hero. Of course this is just at the top of my head.

Anita Mae Draper said...

Thank you, Connie. You're right... you probably would never have remembered that scene without the sensory rain falling. It just wouldn't have been as dramatic.

I think sometimes we get so caught up in the rules of the story that we stifle our creativity.

So why did I just have a vision of Janet's EE strangling Muse?

I'm sure we've all heard that fact is stranger than fiction. If that's the case, we're not imagining enough.

Go ahead Connie, stretch...

Anita Mae Draper said...

Deb, that's a very good point. I guess that's where all this branding comes in. Because you don't want to waste money on a light read and others want the adrenaline rush of a highly charged emotional scene.

Nice to see you here. :)

Janet said...

Muse and EE do not fight...

"Stop that, you two. I said STOP THAT!"

Never mind *sigh*