Monday, December 26, 2011

Third Time's the Charm

I've reached a critical scene in my work-in-progress (WiP), Cataract Canyon, which will be the third adventure for river ranger Mandy Tanner in my Rocky Mountain Outdoor Adventures mystery series that I'm writing for Midnight Ink. In this critical scene, Mandy and her partner Rob Juarez are sharing what they've found out about what's really going on and are making some conclusions. Those conclusions will drive their decision about what to do next--and that "what to do next" is the big confrontational climax.

The problem is that neither one of them knows everything yet, and even when they share the information they each have, they don't have the complete picture. So, they're confused and so is the reader. Sometimes that can be a good thing, but sometimes not if the confusion is too much. The first time I wrote this scene, the result was "unripe" like these not-red-yet persimmons. I left out issues and people they should have discussed, so for the reader, threads in the plot were left hanging loose. Even if Mandy and Rob didn't know everything yet about these issues and people, they should have brought them up in the discussion.


On to attempt two with that scene. In that rewrite, Mandy and Rob hashed out everything and everybody and every clue that they had come across so far. They figured out most of what was going on, and in the process, too much was revealed to them--and the reader. Very few surprises were left to be revealed in the climax. In other words, the rewrite stank. It was overripe, just like these bananas.


After sleeping on it with a nagging feeling that the scene was just not right yet, I ripped out the whole thing and started from scratch. Mandy and Rob reveal some important information to each other--and the reader--but not too much. They figure out enough of what's really going on to make some smart decisions, but not to eliminate all the risks. So, there's room for surprise and danger to appear in the climax. Now, the scene is "just right," like these apricots. Perfectly ripe, but not mushy, and with enough meatiness to sustain my characters--and my readers--as they rush forward into the climax.


Thus, the third time was the charm. The third time I wrote this scene, I felt that it finally worked. What would have happened if I didn't take the time to keep on reworking it until it was right? The dullness of an unripe plot or the rottenness of a too-ripe one would have propagated into the climax, leaving readers unsatisfied and with a bad taste in their mouths. Yes, doing this rework put me behind in my writing schedule, but it had to be done.

On to the climax ...

If you're a writer, have you had to rewrite a scene multiple times before you felt its flavor was perfect? If you're a reader, have you read a scene that you felt should have been rewritten until it tasted better? Please share!

9 comments:

Robin Allen said...

Excellent description of the adage "writing is rewriting." I'm not an outliner, so the story comes out in the writing of it. Usually I can tell pretty quickly if something isn't going to work. But sometimes, I get far into the scene before I realize it's not working. With every book, though, I'm getting better at catching troubled scenes early.

Sheila W. Boneham said...

Yes, Beth, and yes! I have certainly struggled with scenes. Fortunately I enjoy revising more than writing drafts, so I don't mind reworking, letting things settle, and reworking again. And yes, I'm sure we've all read books that seem to have been rushed through the draft-to-print process without benefit of effective revision. As a reader, I always feel a bit cheated, and as a reading writer, a bit annoyed. SWo thanks for your thoughtsful craftsmanship - look forward to the book!

And now I need to make a fruit salad for lunch after seeing your illustrations!

Beth Groundwater said...

Thanks, Robin & Sheila, for your comments. It's nice to know that some folks are reading the blogs during the week between Xmas and New Year's Day! Sheila, I'm so glad you found the post inspiring--at least enough to make fruit salad. :)

Darrell James said...

I rewrite almost every scene (yes, it takes me forever to finish the job.) I often try writing a scene from a different character's POV just to see what happens. I've become a little obcessive this way.

Beth Groundwater said...

Hey, Darrell, it's the obsessive writers who get published! I've often heard that the rewriting is what separates the published from the unpublished.

Linda Hull said...

Beth,
I wish I only rewrote a scene three times. I work and rework every scene multiple times until they feel in tune somehow. OCD is no joke.....

Beth Groundwater said...

LOL, Linda, yes I rewrite scenes multiple times, too, during different phases of the project. In this phase, I'm cranking out the rough draft of a manuscript and trying to go fast to get all of the initial scaffolding down. However, I couldn't push forward on the rough draft with this scene the way it was. So, I had to rewrite it 3 times for the rough draft. I'm sure I'll revisit it later during my multiple edit passes, but at least now I can continue with the draft.

Kristi said...

Thanks for the article Beth. (I'm over from Gups). I, like Sheila, love revising and rewriting. And like you, I've found that sleeping on it sometimes brings clarity. It was good to see the other comments and see that rewriting again and again is the key to success. Best to you.
Kristi

Beth Groundwater said...

Thanks, Kristi, and keep on rewriting. Here's my wishes for writing successes in 2012 for all of the Inkspot readers who write!