Friday, April 16, 2010

Do You Know What's Coming?

I realized something interesting this week while working on Shifter 3. When I know what's going to happen, I tend to rush to get through it so I can get to the new, unknown, and thus more interesting stuff. This makes it far more likely for me to summarize and tell instead of show.

It made me wonder why this happens.

I love putting my characters in dire straights. Getting them into as much trouble as possible, and then watching them struggle to get out of it. I paint my characters (and myself) into a corner all the time. This keeps things exciting for me, and hopefully, for the reader. Never knowing how it'll turn out helps keep things unpredictable.

But when I know exactly how a scene is going to unfold, it becomes predictable and thus boring to me. I want it over. It's work, not fun, and I force myself to chug through the scene.

This is when I realized that the scenes that made me feel this way were probably scenes that would be predictable to the reader. Without my personal uncertainty coloring the text, there wasn't any "wonder" in it, if that makes sense. It was just description of an event that happened, not a story unfolding. Even if it was essentially a well-written scene. It just had no heart. No "why should I care?" factor.

So I went back and looked at that scene again, thinking about all the things that could go wrong or could happen that wasn't so predictable. I thought of interesting situations I didn't know the answer to. And suddenly the scene was way cooler and I was excited to write it. That finished scene took the story to a place I wasn't expecting.

I think this is what people refer to when they bash outlining. The "stagnant" feeling that comes from knowing every detail about your story. I also think it can happen whether you outline or not, and it's more about what you personally feel during the scene than how you create it. You can know every detail, but be excited about seeing it hit the page same as you can be excited about not knowing how it will hit the page.

The next time you find yourself bored in a scene, or rushing to get to the end of it so you can "move on" to something more fun, take a step back and think about why you're bored. Maybe this is your writer's instinct telling you there's more you can do to make that scene really sing.


  1. Great advice! I honestly never thought of it this way. Definitely something to consider.

  2. It's like in your in my head!! I find myself doing this all the time. If I'm struggling with a scene or not wanting to write it, there's always a reason. Sometimes it's highly emotional and I need to open myself up to be able to write it. Other times it's boring or lackluster, and if I'm falling asleep writing it, I doubt anyone will want to read it.

    Great post!

  3. I do this to a point inside my head (before the writing). However, when I'm ready to write the scene, I need to know exactly where it's going and where it's going to end up. Perhaps it's the natural outliner in me.

    Good post though, and lots to think about.

  4. Great idea for those stagnant scenes. I do think you have to have a general idea where the story is going to be sure your plot will work.

  5. How is it that every one of your posts hits right on the subject I'm struggling with?

  6. Great post! You give some of the best practical advice online.

  7. Nice. Really awesome advice, once again. Best blog about writing, ever!

  8. So true -- the hardest writing for me was a short story that my crit partners and I plotted out. Since I knew everything, it was a conscious effort to write, to make the writing sound good, finding the right words, without the fun of discovery.

  9. I have this happen to me all the time.

    Two biggest roadblocks for me when I write:

    1. Knowing too much about what's going to happen.

    2. Knowing too little about what will happen.

    The first can make me bored with the writing, especially if it's not coming out right.

    The second means I'm feeling completely in the dark. It's fun, but I know it won't usually result in the best execution, and it can be a little scary.

    I guess that's sort of "the Writer's Catch-22".

  10. Great advice, and that definitely happens! Generally, I tend to know overall where I'm going or what I want to accomplish, but I have my fun in figuring out how to get there.

  11. It was an interesting revelation for me. I think that might be why I always have to write my endings a few times.