Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Open heart surgery...

I ripped out a 'deadwood' scene this morning.

This sounds sensible, doesn't it? But, believe me, it is so hard to do. Once something's written, it's not easy to dump it, especially when you running to a deadline and you want that word count to build. (Luckily, my deadline's been extended and my writing feels like fun again!)

But just as I axed a secondary character a few weeks back, I cut a scene today and changed point of view for the scene that followed and suddenly what felt dreary is coming back to life again.

I remember once, when I first started writing, and I was talking to Ann Charlton, an Australian M&B writer, whose work I adored. Ann was a huge inspiration for me and she said that often, the bits you love best when you first write them, are the bits you end up throwing away. At the time I was horrified.

There's nothing quite so wonderful as writing something that excites you while the words are falling from your fingertips. And there's nothing harder than ripping those words out days or weeks later.

But after twenty-four books, I know what Ann Charlton meant. There are many times when you want to cling to a piece of writing because it has a particular sentence of phrase that felt magical or clever when you first wrote it. But when you step back to see if that passage, scene or chapter is contributing to the characters, or to the tension or to the romance, you sometimes realise that it sounds pretty, but it doesn't really contribute anything of significance. And it has to go.

As I'm in gardening mode these days, I think of this as pruning rather than surgery. The book, like a shrub, will be neater and healthier without that cumbersome, drab, no-tension scene.

Marion Lennox wrote to me once and said she was throwing out 60 pages after reading my article on emotional punch. (As if I can teach Marion anything! I'm not claiming any kudos here, just indicating how dedicated to her craft Marion is.) But that's the kind of guts it takes sometimes to improve you writing. Since then, Marion's gone on to win two RITAS and a R*BY.

So... I've resisted pulling this scene for about three weeks now, but finally it's gone. I've lost lots of words (nothing like 60 pages), but I feel as if I have my characters back. It makes such a difference.

1 comment:

2paw said...

Cruel to be kind!! I invest in things - I want them to be right, and it is a wrench when they are not, but once they are gone, I feel so much better. Glad you ahve water again, and congratulations on the #10 place!!!