Month: May 2017

The Subject of Scenes

Every fiction writer struggles with scenes, occasionally, and each writer has certain types of scenes that are the most troublesome, according to his or her strengths and weaknesses. One writer may have difficulty writing scenes with lots of action. Another may fret over scenes with nothing but dialogue. But sometimes a scene is difficult not because of the writer’s abilities, but because of the scene’s subject matter.

Currently, I’m struggling with one of the most difficult scenes I’ve ever written. The reason is that it’s a seriously important and emotional subject. It needs to be the absolute best I can make it.

In the first book of the Dynamistress trilogy, Dyna becomes a suicide prevention crisis counselor, as I was, myself, for a time. My treatment of that subject in the first and second books was pretty superficial. But in the third book, I wanted there to be something more. So I have a scene where she encounters a would-be jumper on the Golden Gate Bridge.

#1 suicide destination in the U.S.

Now, Dyna is strong enough to  easily just grab the jumper and hoist him back over. But that’s not addressing the problem. It’s like “treating” an alcoholic by removing all the beer from the fridge. I knew I needed to show what a suicide prevention counselor actually does, but with Dyna’s own particular flair. The danger, of course, is keeping the flair to a minimum and treating the topic with the seriousness it deserves.

I first wrote the scene about a month ago and thought I had it done to the point of being happy with it. But the back of my mind said differently. So, a week ago, I rewrote sections of it, improving the scene greatly. But no, I still wasn’t done. I’ve spent probably two full hours just on that scene this weekend.

I’m still not totally happy with it and no doubt will revisit it at least a few more times before the book is finished.  And it’ll be worth it.

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The Perfect Reader

Art, in general, is a subjective thing. Two people can look at the same painting, listen to the same song, watch the same movie, or read the same novel and get very different things out of the experience. I can’t speak for all artists, or even all novelists, but I know that there are certain things I very much want my readers to get out of my work.

For example, I have scenes that carry a lot of emotional weight for me. I’d like to think they have the same gut punch for my readers, but of course, I’m never going to know it unless readers reach out and tell me. To my great satisfaction, this does sometimes happen. And sometimes, you find that one reader who tells you all the things you want to hear… how all the scenes you love as a creator are the ones that writer loved the most, too. I call them Perfect Readers… the ones who react as though you wrote your story just for them.

As opposed to Easy Reader.

Several years ago, I received an email from a young man who’d just finished reading Wish You Were Here. He went on at length, listing all the things he loved about it. But then he mentioned the last paragraph of the novel. The final sentence, even. He said they were perfect. Exactly what he wanted. And this meant so much to me, because I can’t tell you how many times I revised that final paragraph until I felt it was exactly what I wanted, too.

Of all the readers who gave me feedback (whether in actual reviews or in personal emails), he was the only one who specifically mentioned the final passage. His email is one I’ll forever treasure. He was my first Perfect Reader.

More recently, I was chatting with a friend who’d just finished reading Redemption. I was asking him what he thought of certain scenes, including ones no one had mentioned in reviews or emails. “What did you think of the airport scene?” I asked him.

“Omigod,” he said. “That was intense. I about cried.”

“Good,” I said. “‘Cuz I cried while writing it.”

Perfect Readers. I hope all you writers out there can find at least one.

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