Stephanie Burgis
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One step forward, one step back...
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There are advantages and disadvantages of starting a new novel in the middle of revising another. The biggest downside is that my writing-brain is still fixated in critique-mode. So as I'm writing, I keep looking at the brand-new scenes and feeling dissatisfied with them on a final-draft level, when really there's just rough first drafts and aren't ready yet to be judged in that way...which entails very, very slow progress! Yesterday I wrote a scene, wasn't sure it was as good as it could be, but my normal policy (for lots of good reasons) is to just keep chugging until the end of the draft, so I don't lose momentum. But because I was so much in revising mode, I spent the rest of the day worrying at it, finally (with Patrick's help) worked out exactly what was wrong with it...and today I spent my whole hour-and-a-half writing session rewriting the same scene I'd written yesterday.

The good news is that it's now much better. It's kick-started some cool new background-story I hadn't known about until now, and started some new strands of tension. So all in all, y'know, this is great. But my lord, this is a slow method of writing...

The thing that finally hit me last night with lightning-bolt impact as I was discussing the scene with Patrick was a writing lesson I learned a couple of years ago, when we watched the extended version of The Fellowship of the Ring. The thing is, a lot of the originally-deleted scenes that show up in the extended cut do some great things for the plot...but the reason why it was a good idea to cut some of them was because they only do one thing at a time.

For instance, there's a scene of a couple minutes' length that just shows Aragorn and the hobbits slogging along through the marshes, suffering discomfort. Jackson liked it (and so have a lot of people) because it really shows how long and uncomfortable their trip really was. But the thing is, that's all it does - and nothing else. The plot doesn't move, and the characters don't develop. It gave me a good rule of thumb: every scene should do at least two important things at a time, to be interesting and worth keeping. If it only does one thing - no matter how important - it's not worth keeping.

Except that I'd kinda forgotten that...and definitely hadn't thought of it in relation to the scenes I'd been writing recently. So yesterday's scene had just one thing happening - backstory being supplied. Yawn.

Today I went back and gave both the backstory and a new conflict, in a scene that changed from my character on his own, thinking, to my character having a tense conversation with someone who used to be his best friend but is no longer remotely trustworthy and is now trying to talk him into something that is probably a good idea...or is it?

It feels a lot better to me.

Now if I can just try to remember that rule for next time I write a new scene (so that I don't have to go back and rewrite the damned thing every single time)...

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