I've been writing one of what I call my "hot mess" stories over at clarion_echo - which involves writing a lot of scenes that don't work. And in doing so, I found my biggest danger flag that tells me when a scene is not working.
So I figured I'd share. (And maybe encourage you to donate to my six-week writing experiment for charity.)
Now, a "hot mess" story is one of those tales where I have an interesting start, a fascinating set of characters, and zero idea where it's going to wind up. Some stories slide out of the ol' birth canal fully formed, with a nice solid spine of a character arc and a smooth, baby's butt of an ending. Others, however, arrive only via an unanesthetized Caesarian section, where you have an idea and hack, hack, hack your way to the center. Many are stillborn. The survivors involve a lot of blood, stitching, and other messy things the prospective parents would not rather see.
So what I'm doing is writing a scene as I try to figure out what these characters are doing, asking whether that's the right scene, and just as often as not scrapping what I've done before and trying again. And you know when I can tell that a scene isn't working?
I have to write it.
Most of my writing is stuff that I want to do. For example, in the current story - tentatively titled "Stomach Shack" - I have two ex-club kids trapped in a cabin with a shrivelled black stomach that eats love. Who wouldn't want to write that? I mean, dude, there's a love-eating stomach. I can't wait to get to the damn keyboard.
However, after I wrote the first scene, where the thorn-tentacled monsters with flypaper skin were battering on the screen windows, I realized the next scene? Had to be a flashback that explained how the club kids got trapped there. So I explained how they met the crazy magician in a dumpster, and after 500 words I was like, "Oh my God, I have to explain how they know each other and what kind of club scene they were in so that I can get back to the love-eating stomach."
And there. There is my danger.
Because the minute I have to write something to get to the cool stuff, I'm probably fucking up.
This is not to say that we don't eventually need to know some background detail - but whenever I'm sitting there going, "Once I slog through this information I can start telling the fun stuff," the reader is probably thinking, "Once I slog through this information, I have no guarantee that there's any more fun stuff." And he'll probably get bored and wander away in search of a ham sandwich.
So you know what? Fuck that scene. That scene's getting in the way of the good stuff, and I have to learn to hear the little voice inside of me that goes, "Aw, man, do we hafta?" A story shouldn't be your parents hauling you down to a Florida vacation, where you'll get to enjoy yourself only after enduring eighteen hours in a car with broken air conditioning and a twitchy younger brother. A story should be increasing shots of awesome across the bough, with as few little bits as general.
What'd I do? I wrote a different scene. It had a little back story, but instead I decided that the Big Meeting could wait for another day, and instead chronicled the magic glowsticks fluttering in the rafters of the cabin, like bats, and concentrated on how scared these poor, stupid, and very much in-love club kids were.
And that worked. Because I found the scene that wasn't like eating spinach to make me stronger - instead, I had a delicious slice of moist chocolate cupcake in my fingers, arriving neatly onto the page, and that was what I needed.
For that day. I may rewrite it tomorrow. Wanna see how I'm writing this story, with excessive commentary? Sponsor me in my charity blog-a-thon for Clarion!