Wednesday, March 5, 2014

The Missing Scene - Monster in the manuscript

I hate to cut scenes, and the more times I've been through a manuscript shaping, polishing, and tweaking, the more painful it is to remove pages I've come to love. But I do it all the time for the sake of the manuscript.

As horrific as those amputations are, creating scenes to fill holes, provide key details, and, occasionally, replace a cut scene is harder. There are several reasons for this:
  • The new scene has to fit perfectly in between existing scenes (or at least do so little damage a complete rewrite of the manuscript won't be necessary).
  • The new scene has to accomplish specific things, and the characters may be grumpy about cooperating.
  • The new scene forces me to recapture the original mojo, and getting the mood, voice, and tension right is impossible. (All this, when I have been living in the judgmental editor space for days, weeks, or months.)
  • Once written, the new scene reads like a first draft -- because it is.
  • The new scene may be completely wrong -- and need to be cut.
So, almost everything is stacked against a writer trying to write a missing scene and fit it into place. Failure seems inevitable. Fear is palpable. Other than facing a blank sheet of paper, writing the missing scene may be the most courageous thing a writer does. To me, it is the monster, waiting in my pages to turn my manuscript into a 300-page corpse.

Nothing turns this into a wonderful experience, but here are some hard-earned tips.
  • Summarize the scene before and the scene after, so the context is clear without repeated rereadings.
  • Make a specific list of what the scene must do to succeed. (Reveal information. Create an emotion. Set up a problem. Engage a character. Etc.)
  • Commit to writing 3-5 versions of the missing scene. That way, there's no pressure to make it all work in one try.
  • Write a version your character wants written so he/she will leave you alone.
  • Put the missing scene, in its their versions, aside for a week before attempting revisions.
  • Align the scene with the lead-in, follow-up summaries, not the actual manuscript scenes, which are polished and may be intimidating.
  • Revise until you are happy. Choose the version that seems to be best, write down any likely rework elsewhere in the manuscript.
  • Read the chosen, revised scene in contest with actual lead-in, follow-up scenes (or the whole manuscript. If it works, polish and congratulate yourself. If it doesn't, try out a different revised new scene.
Can you take shortcuts? Maybe. Sometimes your muse is generous. But, if you need to grind it out, these tips will probably help you get the job done.

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