I’ve been rolling through the first revision of my WIP (work in progress) for a week or so, tweaking forty pages a day, when I hit a problem. I had a couple of sequential scenes that, when written, felt intrinsic to the story and quite plausible but on this pass weren’t working. I didn’t know what the problem was. Should I cut them? I didn’t want to but I couldn’t articulate a reason why. Should I revise them? How? I didn’t know what was wrong with them.
So I decided to sleep on it. My reward was weird dreams. In one dream, I’m watching a man being dragged down a river by a sea bass that he had hooked. It was a thing he liked to do, like sea bass charioting. Eventually the fish got away and he had to trudge back up the river, which was only waist-deep, to stake out his favorite sea-bass catching spot. In another dream, I deftly revised a scene in a thrilling chase story, like North by Northwest, and just before I was to send it out to the betas, I realized there was no McGuffin – no reason for the bad guys to be chasing the good guy. In a third dream, I came up with a beautiful subplot that would make the perfect counterpoint to the main plot. But when I woke up, I didn’t know what the main plot was and the subplot had nothing to do with my WIP.
Thus we suffer.
As I was walking through the house to my writing spot, I decided to cut the two scenes. But then when I sat down, I had not the heart. One more re-read convinced me that I had not written into the scenes any emotional investment – they were merely a recitation of facts. Aha! So I slipped in some internal dialogue. For the moment, the scenes have been granted a reprieve.
Writers: do you have a systematic process for deciding why a scene isn’t working and how it could be fixed?
Readers: what engages you in a scene?