Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Bonus Scenes -- Less pressure, more fun

Ah, the middle of the book. Somewhere between the halfway mark and three fourths, things start to sour for most writers. This is the slog. One thing I have at the ready to keep me writing is my list of reasons. These remind me of why I need to/must write the novel, and do so in a convincing way. But having good reasons doesn't often make the experience more fun.

I've discovered another trick. It may seem counterintuitive, but I rescue myself my adding scenes.

Doesn't that eat up time and extend the agony of working toward the ending? Not really. While I spend time writing extra pages, what I learn expands my understanding of my characters and reveals the full potential of the plot. This exercise cuts time off of the rewrite and catapults me into the "required" pages that sit on my to-do list.

Here's my process (the first two steps are from an earlier post):
  1. I title the scene. This forces me to think about it holistically as opposed to as a series of exchanges.
  2. I add a subtitle that begins, "In which..." Anyone who has read a lot of older novels is familiar with these subtitles. "In which our heroine Beatrice steals Alexandra's locket." Beware of subtitles where a character "finds out" something or "insults" another character. Ask what finding out leads to. If she finds out her best friend has betrayed her, is she forced to flee Coventry? Ask about the results of that insult. Does Harold challenge Christopher to a duel at dawn?
  3. I write the scene that most engages me. This may be one that raises the most questions or one that is emotionally important. Either or both of these can build a connection with a work, especially if it is missing a vital piece. But, more often than not, the scene I choose to write is the one that promises to be the most fun.
  4. I allow myself to do a lousy job, race forward to parts that are calling to me, and get totally off track. I'll even jump around to write from different points of view if it feels right. After all, there's no pressure here. On paper, this scene is not essential to the story.
  5. I make sure to write any part that is difficult or unsettling, or at least to explore it through detailed notes.
If one bonus does not reconnect me with the work in progress, I'll write another and another until I'm back in the groove. If I need to, I'll write one in the voice of another author -- often the least appropriate with the most outrageous result.

This extra work forces me to dig deeper and to view my work in progress from fresh perspectives. It is a courtship exercise that helps me to fall back in love with the story and rediscover the fun. When I can't wait to get back to my real chapters, I'm done with the bonus scenes.

The value in the insights and rekindled enthusiasm always outweighs the investment in writing. In addition, I find the subsequent work goes faster, with the words spilling out with little hesitation. In general, I've found bits and pieces find their ways into the manuscript. (In one case, a block of a dozen pages fit in without changes.) While I've been reluctant to take detours into bonus scenes, I've never regretted it, and it always has added to the fun.

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