Writing Aloud

Most writers type the first drafts of their stories. A few, like me, hand-write their first drafts. Perhaps you’d like to try a third way…dictating your stories.

That’s right. Forget the keyboard or pen. Just speak your story into a recording device.

Reasons

Why might you want to do that? On her site, Cindy Grigg offers 13 compelling reasons. I was struck by the first one, speed. After getting used to dictating stories, many writers find they can crank out their first draft prose much faster. That saves time and makes them more prolific.

Thomas A. Edison dictating in 1907

You might also benefit from the increased mobility. Speaking into your handheld digital voice recorder or cellphone, you’re freed from the shackles of your desk and chair and the need to have two hands on a keyboard. You can wander around the house, around the neighborhood, through the nearest park. The walking (1) keeps you healthier, (2) avoids any chance of eye strain or repetitive motion injuries, and (3) provides more varied stimulation for your senses that you can work into your fiction.

I think Grigg is onto something, too, in listing strengthened storytelling voice as another advantage. I’ve advised writers to read near-final drafts aloud before submitting them as a way of improving readability. Why not speak it aloud from the start?

Further, when dictating, it’s easier to turn off your inner editor. I’ve mentioned before how important that is when creating your first draft.

Methods

The objective is to get words from your head into word processor text. When you type on a keyboard, the process is direct. If you write by hand, there’s another step when you transcribe from your handwritten pages and type it on the keyboard.

For dictation methods, you can speak into your computer microphone or your cellphone and make use of speech recognition software to convert your words directly into digital text.

Or you can use a digital voice recorder or cell phone to record your voice into a .wav or MP3 format. Then you’ll go through a second step, to transcribe the words from one of those formats into the word processor. You can do that by (1) listening and typing them yourself, (2) paying someone else to do that, like Kevin J. Anderson does, or (3) playing your voice back into your computer’s speech recognition software.

The Adjustment

Shifting from typing or handwriting to dictation takes some getting used to. Be prepared for some discomfort at first. According to Monica Leonelle, in her interview with Joanna Penn, the shift can take a few months before you’re used to it.

My Experience

A few years ago, I tried Dragon NaturallySpeaking speech recognition software. I was able to train the Dragon, but I couldn’t get comfortable speaking my first drafts that way. I returned to writing by hand.

I’m having second thoughts about dictation now. For years, I’ve adapted my fiction writing to accommodate my day job. I’ll be retiring soon, so my writing habits will have to change. Perhaps writing aloud will prove to be the new optimum method for—

Poseidon’s Scribe

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Defeating Distraction, Finding Focus

You’re writing at a good pace, but then get distracted, torn away from your story. You hate when that happens, but sometimes the diversion is irresistible. What causes that, and how can you prevent it?

We live in a distraction-rich environment. Even before the Internet, there were rooms to clean, library books to return, lawns to mow, desk items to straighten, and windows to gaze through. Today, there are Facebook posts to like, tweets to retweet, texts to answer, online stores to shop in, blog posts to read, and new sites to explore.

Still, this tendency to get distracted doesn’t make sense, does it? You sat down fully intending to write your story. Then things went awry; that best-laid plan went askew, you diverted to a tangent. Why does that happen?

Let’s separate two types of distraction—external and internal—and tackle each separately.

External Distractions

These attack you from outside and appeal to one or more senses. A funny show comes on TV, a favorite song blares from the radio, the cat snuggles against you, a pleasant aroma wafts from the kitchen.

The cure for these might seem simple; just eliminate external sources of distraction. Write in a bare, soundproof room with the door shut, on a computer disconnected from the net.

That might work for some, but for many of us it’s not practical. It’s better to start by eliminating your most common, most alluring distractions if you can. As for the others, learn to become aware when a distractor is pulling you away. At the onset of each distraction, make a conscious decision to allow it or not.

Consider setting up a “focus object,” an inspirational something to redirect you toward your story, akin to the busts of Beethoven atop pianos. I made a framed picture of Jules Verne with the caption “Keep writing, Steve,” and mounted it above my desk. Pick a focus object specific to you and glance at it when you feel the tug of some external interruption.

Internal Distractions

The internal ones are worse, since your own mind assails you and there’s no one else to blame. Your mind wanders away from your story and suddenly there’s something else needing your attention. You have a bill due today; this story idea needs additional research; you’re wondering what that old high school friend is up to.

These generally occur when you’re stuck and need to solve an unexpected story problem. You feel you have to pause and think before writing further. That’s the moment when your brain takes a meandering walk.

As with external distractions, part of the cure is learning to recognize the distraction at the moment it occurs. If you were truly stuck just before that instant, maybe a short break is just the thing you need. Your subconscious can work on the problem while you’re engaged in the distracting activity.

If you were making progress right before that moment, ask yourself this question: “Is this the best use of my time right now?” On occasion, the distraction will be the best answer. Most times, you’ll realize you should return to your story.

Final Thoughts

Visualization is another technique for dealing with distractions. Keep a vision of you finishing your story, admiring it, and submitting it for publication. Think of how good that will feel. Use that vision to get you focused back on writing.

Recognize, too, that you can’t stay focused forever. You need to give your brain a rest. The Pomodoro Technique can be a way to promote both proper focusing and reasonable breaks.

You’ll find more great advice on dealing with distractions at this post by Leo Babauta and this one by Margarita Tartakovsky.

I hope you enjoyed… Sorry, I’ve got to go. Something else has attracted the attention of—

Poseidon’s Scribe

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6 Ways to Get Those First Words Typed

There before you glows that blank word processor screen. It’s staring back at you, mocking you. It’s daring you to type something, but you don’t know how to begin. It’s so intimidating.

You’ve been thinking about your story a long time, plotting it, developing the characters, working on the setting. You have notes, outlines, plot diagrams, and character descriptions up to here. Now it’s time to write, but no words are coming out.

Friend, you’ve surfed to the right blog post. I’ll get you through this. Most likely, you’re suffering from one of six conditions making it difficult to start. For each condition, I’ll suggest a remedy.

Condition 1: You’re so comfortable with planning your story that the idea of actually writing it paralyzes you. Remedy: Start writing an email to your Mom, or someone else with whom you correspond informally. Write: “Dear Mom, An odd thing happened today.” Then start writing your story. After all, it’s just an email to your Mom…or is it?

Condition 2: You’re looking for excuses to avoid writing. Remedy: Turn off, shut out, and eliminate all distractions. Then take five minutes to immerse yourself in your story notes again…regain the enthusiasm you had when this story was just a glorious notion in your mind. Then let words flow.

Condition 3: You’re afraid your writing will stink, that your first words will be so awful they’ll confirm your suspicions that you’re no writer. Remedy: You may have a misconception about first drafts. Trust me: your final story will look nothing like the first draft you’re about to write.

Condition 4: You believe, if the first words are this tough to write, the rest of the story will take forever. Remedy: Actually, the first ones are the most difficult. Beginning any task is the hard part. Lao Tzu said, “A journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step.” Accept this, and take that first step.

Condition 5: You’re afraid the hook (the beginning of the story) won’t seize the reader’s attention. You’re so worried about this that you can’t start. Remedy: Start writing a different section of the story. Come back to the hook later. You might even find that the “later” place you started is the real hook.

Condition 6: You believe you must write the hook first, and can’t imagine a way to entice the reader. Remedy: Okay, if you really must start with the hook, start by writing a bad one. Then write twenty alternate versions, trying diverse ideas and different ways to grab the reader’s attention. If none of those are any good, keep writing hook variants until you have one you like; you’ll know the one when you write it.

I’m confident one or more of these remedies will help you. When you successfully begin typing, take a moment to laugh in triumph at the once-blank screen that stymied you moments ago. You can tell it you won; you conquered it, with a little help from—

Poseidon’s Scribe

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The 7 S’s of Your Writing Cave

You’ve heard of man-caves. Do you write in a cave? A nook? A special room dedicated to your craft? A place where all you do is write?

I’m curious about the percentage of writers who have such a place. Also, what’s the percentage of writers who don’t have a cave but wish they did?

Let’s explore the concept of writer’s caves and their characteristics. I believe there are seven features you might seek in setting up such a place. You could be looking for one, two, or any number of these aspects. Conveniently, they all begin with ‘s.’

  • Stimulation. You chose your cave because its window scenery inspires. Or you brought motivational aids into the space, such as pictures, incense, or music. You laid out the room so that it stirs your creative fluids and launches your mind in flight.
  • Silence. The cave is the one room in your dwelling that’s quiet. No conversation noise, no traffic noise, no TV or radio. You need peace to write and can only find it here.
  • Separation / Solitude. Okay, that’s two s-words, but they are related. To write, you need to isolate yourself from others, to be alone. The presence of spouse, children, or roommates requires you to attend to their needs, to engage with them, and you can’t write under those conditions.
  • Single-mindedness. You dedicated this chamber to writing, and that is all that occurs within. No distractions permitted. Here you focus only on creating masterpieces of fiction. You’ve banned all mental wandering, research, games, daydreaming, and navel-gazing from this room. It’s nose to grindstone here.
  • Supplies. You need certain stuff to write. Perhaps this stuff includes your computer, printer, ink, reams of paper, favorite pens, reference books, etc. You’ve gathered all these things in one space, convenient and ready at hand.
  • Security. Your cave didn’t start out as anything special, and perhaps it isn’t special now. But you’re just comfortable here. It’s become a habit. Since it’s working, why change a thing?
  • Setup. In your cave you’ve achieved ergonomic perfection. You’ve chosen a chair shaped for optimum comfort and proper spine support. The computer screen is at the right height. You’ve positioned the keyboard and mouse such that you could work here all day without fear of repetitive strain injury.

I’ll make two guesses about writer’s caves. First, I’ll bet they used to be more common than they are now. I say that because pens once required frequent dipping in an inkwell, and you didn’t want to be toting one of those around. After the advent of typewriters, those machines weren’t exactly portable either. These technologies chained writers to specific desks.

Only the invention of pens with internal ink reservoirs freed writers to write anywhere. Today’s laptop and tablet computers also provide portability that allows you to write wherever you choose, and to bring your digitized reference materials with you.

My second guess is that most successful authors have caves. Those who churn out best-sellers might cite any of my 7 s-reasons for their own caves, but after awhile, it amounts to Security. They’ve found something that works and see no need to change.

That’s not to say that caves are essential to writing success, or that all the best authors have their own caves.

What does Poseidon’s Scribe’s writing cave look like, you ask? I used to have one, but don’t any more. I had a den that I set up with everything I then needed—spacious desk, shelves of books, inspirational framed pictures, internet connection, printer, supplies, etc.

Subway writing caveI don’t write there very much anymore. Now I write first drafts while commuting on the subway.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

At home, I take my laptop wherever I’m close to an outlet, and it could be in any room, any seat, like Couch writing cave on the couch in the living room. In good weather, I sometimes write out on the deck.

 

 

 

 

 

In short, the world is my cave.

How about you? Do you write in a special place? What do you call it? What is it about that space that makes you want to write there?

Leaving a comment about that is your homework, assigned by—

Poseidon’s Scribe

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Sensazione

We’ve come to the third principle in Michael J. Gelb’s remarkable book, How to Think Like Leonardo da Vinci. In recent blog posts, I’ve been relating each principle to fiction writers, encouraging you to think like Leonardo as you write.

SensazioneThe third principle is Sensazione, which Gelb defines as “the continual refinement of the senses, especially sight, as the means to enliven experience.” Leonardo knew that we experience life through our five senses; therefore, only the person who could enhance his or her senses in perception and accuracy could experience life fully.

Da Vinci’s sight and hearing were superb, and he worked to improve all his senses. He regarded sight as the most important, following by hearing.

The exercises in the Sensazione chapter of Think Like Leonardo da Vinci are among the most fun in the book. For example, Gelb suggests you smell and taste things while blindfolded until you can identify each odor and taste, even those with only slight differences.

How does this relate to writing? The Point of View character in your story also experiences life through her or his senses, just as real people do. However, the only way you can convey these sensations to your reader is through words.

I’ve blogged about the senses before, and encouraged you to incorporate all five of them in your stories. To apply Sensazione in your writing, you must choose words that precisely convey the sensations experienced by your POV character.

I don’t necessarily mean you should pile on adjectives like beautiful, pungent, sonorous, delicious, and velvety—or adverb forms. Adjectives (and to a lesser extent, adverbs) can be useful if you’re selective and choose just the most apt one. Some adjectives, like “beautiful” and “delicious” are not distinct; they tell rather than show.

Another method is with metaphors and similes. If you can compare the sensation your character is experiencing with something to which the reader can relate, and make the comparison distinct and descriptive, that’s Sensazione.

As Leonardo knew, sight is the primary sense for humans, and so it will be for your characters most of the time. But if you appeal to the other senses, too, it can only enhance the reader’s enjoyment. Also, there are times when a character’s first sensation is through one of the other senses, such as when a sight line is blocked and the character hears or smells something before seeing it. Your character might be blind, or in darkness, and will have to rely on the other four senses.

If you work to cultivate your senses in your own life, by going through Gelb’s recommended exercises, you should also strive to become more adept at describing each feeling and sensation in words. As your skill improves, readers will be drawn into your stories and connect with your characters’ experiences.

Ah! I see, hear, and smell breakfast being prepared. I’ll have to end this post now, for soon I shall feel the fork in my hand, and a succulent repast will be tasted by—

Poseidon’s Scribe

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September 13, 2015Permalink

Starting With Pen or Keyboard?

Do you write your fiction stories longhand before typing them? I do, and I’m not alone. There are several great blog posts touting the benefits of the pen, by Lee Rourke, Patrick E. McLean, Melanie Pinola, Chris Gayomali, and Julianne MacLean.

LonghandWhy do we pen-wielders do it? Why do we eschew the fantastic technology of the modern era, designed specifically to make writing easier, and choose instead the old-fashioned, obsolete, and outmoded pen and paper?

Are we Luddites? Are we afraid of, and angry about, those newfangled machines with their pushbuttons, glowing screens, and word processors?

Maybe some are, but not me. I love my laptop and am quite at home with its wizardry. I type at a competent speed, and am adept with word processors. No fear there.

While working on this post, I thought hard about my reasons for preferring the age-old writing stick over more recent digital marvels. There are many reasons why people still pick up pens in a computerized world, but these are not my reasons:

  • There are fewer distractions; I’m less likely to pause to look up things, research, respond to e-mail, etc.
  • It’s easier to ignore my inner editor and so I write better first drafts.
  • I get a better sense of accomplishment when I see the cross-outs, arrows, insertions, etc. rather than pristine text.
  • I can reconsider deleted text since it’s still visible.
  • My speed of writing longhand matches my thought process better  than my typing speed.
  • Longhand evokes the spirit of writing as a craftsman’s task, writing books the way all the great classics were written.
  • I prefer the tactile sensation of my favorite pen scratching out words on paper to the frenetic pushing of dozens of identical buttons.
  • I write my first drafts faster in longhand.
  • Pen and paper are far more reliable than computer or tablet.
  • Studies have found that, in people who are equally skilled in longhand and typing (children), that longhand produces better writing faster.
  • Other famous writers like Truman Capote, Tess Gerritsen, James Patterson, and Susan Sontag write (or wrote) longhand.

True, some of the above reasons resonate with me. But if I cited them, I’d really be rationalizing a decision made because of a different factor. Here’s the real reason I use a pen:

  • It’s the only way to make my commuting time effective. I commute to my day job by subway train, and I cannot bring a tablet computer to work, so writing longhand is the only way to do it.

I still have to transcribe my inky scribbles to a computer. But that becomes the first revision process for me. Writing looks different when it’s clean and pristine on the screen rather than the unplanned dreamland of longhand. The act of transcribing therefore becomes the creation of a second draft. Often I’ll print that out double-spaced and do further editing of follow-on drafts on the train, with a pen.

When I’ll retire from the day job, I’ll have to rethink my writing habits and might retire my pen. Old habits die hard, though. We’ll see.

What’s your preference, pen or keyboard, paper or display screen? What are the reasons for your choice?

Now that I think about, I have another reason for using a pen. If I didn’t, I couldn’t very well call myself—

Poseidon’s Scribe

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Your Writing Voice

Writers VoiceWe call it laryngitis when you lose your voice, but what if you never found it in the first place? To be clear, I’m not writing about a medical condition of the larynx, but rather about your writing voice.

Definition

What is a writing voice? I liken it to your vocal voice in that it is distinctively yours, an individual indicator like your fingerprints, your retina patterns, and your signature. It’s a marker that can be used to identify you.

In other words, a few paragraphs could be taken at random from your published stories, and a reader might be able to recognize that you’re the author.

Is your writing that identifiable? Is it unique? If not, how can you get to that point?

Two Elements

Before we arrive at a way to answer those questions, I’ll cover what I believe to be the two elements of a writer’s voice.

The first is the subject, the topic about which you commonly write. This can take the form of a genre or themeSomeday when you have compiled a full body of work and your name comes up, if people say, “That’s the author who writes about ______,” it’s that ‘______’ that forms part of your voice.

The other element has to do with style. It’s not just the subjects you write about, it’s how you do it. The Wikipedia article on Writer’s Voice suggests that this element; a combination of character development, dialogue, diction, punctuation, and syntax; is all there is to a writing voice. I’m not willing to discount the subject/topic element, though.

Discovery

How do you find your voice? This marvelous blog post by author Todd Henry provides a great way to help you find your voice by answering ten questions. These questions help you reach your inner passions and hopes. In this way you’ll touch the deep emotions and motivations inside.

Why does that method work, for discovering your voice? Certainly the answers will help you determine the subject half of your voice. The answers will suggest topics you should write about or genres to write in. Only by tapping in to your central core of strong enthusiasms will you be able to sustain the discipline to complete what you start to write. If you work at it, those deep hopes and passions will become evident in your writing.

What about the style element? How are you supposed to discover that? I’m not sure answering Todd Henry’s ten questions will answer that. I believe your writing style is a matter of imitation early on, then leading to experimentation, and finally perfecting.

No Guarantee

Let me set some expectations about this process of finding your writing voice. In the end, you’ll have a unique voice, one recognizable as you. That doesn’t mean anyone else wants to hear it. This isn’t a recipe for fame or financial success in writing.

I’ll write a blog post sometime laying out the sure-fire, step-by-step formula for how to become famous and rich by writing.

Sure. Keep checking back for that one.

What’s the point, you’re asking, of this voice discovery process? Why go through it? I’d answer that all the authors who are famous, or rich, or whose writing is considered classic, all of them have a distinctive writing voice.

I think finding your voice is necessary, but not sufficient, for success. You might discover your writing voice only to learn it’s not marketable. If high sales numbers are what you’re after, experiment more. Try slight alterations of voice until you hit the combination of subject and style that sells.

Best of luck to you in finding your writing voice. Still searching for mine, I’m—

Poseidon’s Scribe

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October 19, 2014Permalink

The Seven Habits of Highly Effective Writers

In 1989, author Stephen Covey came out with his best-selling book, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.  I’m a sucker for self-improvement books and found Covey’s book inspiring and practical. At the risk of insulting the late Stephen Covey, I’ll dare to suggest seven habits of highly effective fiction writers.

The_7_Habits_of_Highly_Effective_PeopleCovey presented his seven habits in a logical order, with a nice, organic structure. His phrased his habits—aimed at helping people live better lives—as brief directives, but took about a chapter to explain each one. They included such things as “Be proactive,” “Begin with the end in mind,” and others.

In a similar manner, my suggested habits have a rough order to them, but are not as neatly structured as Covey’s. My habits do not parallel Covey’s, but they do consist of brief directive statements which require some explanation. Here they are:

  1. Listen to your inner storyteller. First and most important, you’re a writer because you have story to tell, because you can’t imagine not writing. Keep that inner spark always burning; it will sustain you through the difficult times.
  2. Form the discipline of writing. Sometimes your inner storyteller doesn’t yell loud enough, and the rest of life’s obligations close in. If you’re to be a writer, you still need to write, write, write. There is no substitute for time spent with butt in chair and fingers on keyboard.
  3. Get help with the craft. Seek all kinds of help. Study English again. Develop your vocabulary. Read about writing. Read the classics. Attend writing classes and conferences. Join a critique group.
  4. Follow your muse. As you write more, you’ll think of characters, plots, and settings during odd, idle moments when you’re not writing. That’s your unconscious, creative voice—your muse—talking. Pay attention. Though she may lead you to unimagined and uncomfortable places, she might help you develop your unique writing voice.
  5. Submit your best. Don’t rely on editors to see the genius of your story through all the spelling, grammatical, and plot errors. Do a thorough job of self-editing, thinking critically, viewing your manuscript as a reader and English teacher might. Submit only when you can honestly say it’s your best product and you’re proud of it.
  6. Be a professional. Present yourself to the world as if you’re already a successful author. Establish an author website. Don’t get so angry at editors, reviewers, blog commenters, or readers that you descend into flame wars, emotional outbursts, or other unprofessional conduct.
  7. Actively seek improvement. This may sound like number 3 above, but that earlier habit is about the initial learning of fiction writing; this one is about continual development, honing, and advancement of your craft. It means to cycle through all the habits as you go, improving known weak areas, always working to ensure your next story is better than all the previous ones.

Long-time followers of my blog will recall my post proposing 15 writing virtues. The seven habits I’m advocating today are another approach. It’s easier to remember 7 things than 15 anyway, right? There are many paths to self-improvement, and you’re free to find your own. For now, it’s back to growing and improving for—

Poseidon’s Scribe

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September 7, 2014Permalink

I Dint Proofread This Blog Post

Yes, I should have proofread this blog post before publishing it, but you know how thyme gets away from you. It’s possible there may be errirs I didn’t catch.

ProofreadingProofreading is impotent because readers get annoyed when they see mistakes left behind. They may conclude you’re not a competent writer. Worse, depending on the mistakes you make, you can convey a meaning counter to what you mint.

I’ve blogged about editing once or twice before, and I may have been lumping proofreading inn with that term. There is a distinction. In fact, in large publishing houses, there are different people involved; the editor and the proofreader halve different skills.

Editing should precede proofreading, and it concentrates on the biggger picture. An editor is checking for focus, readability, clarity, logic, good transitions, and consistent tone.

A proofreader, by contrast, is checking for speling errors, the bad affect of grammatical errors, use verb tense problems, words that might missing, mis$ing or incorrect punctu@tion, and poor sentence structure such as run-on sentences or sentence fragments that.

How do you go about proofreading? There’s some excellent advice available here, here, here, and here.  I’ll repeat some of that advice below, grouped into categories:

Spelling

  • Don’t trust spell checkers. Use them, but realize they only check four spelling, knot the correct use of a word.
  • Keep a dictionary on hand. This helps with obscure words that spell-checkers don’t no.
  • Read backward. An old trick, but it werks! You’l spot errors more eesily.

References

  • Keep reference materials on hand. The web can work for most things, but not all.
  • Double-check facts, figures, and proper names. Making sure of these things now can save embarrassment later. Ensure you check “internal facts” such as consistency with your character names, ages, hair and eye color, etc.

Freshness

  • Give yourself a break. Keep yourself mentally fresh and alert. Proofreading requires attention to detail.
  • Give the manuscript a break. This means to let your creation sit for a time (days, weeks, even months) before proofreading, to make it seem fresh to you. It’s easier to spot errors that way.

Other Proofreading Tricks

  • Adopt a critical mindset. Think like an auditor, or channel your most frustrating English teacher from school. Assume your manuscript is awash in errors and you’re going to find them.
  • Print out the text, review the hard copy. This works for some people.
  • Create a customized proofreading list of your most common errors. I highly recommend this. Keep the list dynamic by adding new errors you uncover.
  • Proofread for one category of error, or one type of problem, at a time.
  • Read the text aloud. Sometimes errors are easier to spot when spoken.
  • Ask someone else to proofread your manuscript. Ideally this would be a fellow writer, or a friend who knows English well and is willing to give you honest criticism.

Its my sincere hope you take more time proofreading you’re stories than I’ve done with this blog post. Eye was a bit rushed today:; but that’s really no excuse?! Starting with the next post, I’ll return two the polished, error-free, grammatically perfect prose you’ve come to expect from—

Pose-sigh-dunce Scribe

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Writing the Tough Scenes

Blank Screen BluesSometimes, you need a certain scene for your story, but you just can’t write it. Has that happened to you? Something about the scene gives you the Blank Screen Blues. Words won’t flow. The idea of writing the scene repels you. You invent excuses not to write.

Most likely the problem is one of the following kinds:

1. There’s a ‘story problem’ where the plot isn’t fitting together, or you need a character to do something that character wouldn’t do, or the scene’s setting is wrong.

2. The scene involves a subject or action you find disgusting or abhorrent.

            Story Problem

This blog post provides a good five step process for overcoming ‘story problems’ that keep you from writing a scene. Here are the steps in brief, though you should read author Rocky Cole’s more detailed descriptions:

1. Determine why you need the scene.

2. Decide what characters are in the scene and what they want.

3. Decide on a location and time for scene.

4. Figure out how the scene starts and ends.

5. Write the dialogue first, then fill in the rest.

            Distasteful Topic

There are certain topics that are difficult to write about. These vary from writer to writer, of course, but can include abuse, alcoholism, death, rape, sex, suicide, violence of other kinds, etc. Some writers find it easier to write about violence to a human than to certain animals.

Sometimes the act depicted in the scene is necessary to the overall story, so you know it’s coming up as you write along. You figure you’ll be okay when you get there, but then comes the day to write that scene and it’s just not happening. You can’t bear to put the words down.

You might be tempted to take the scene offstage. That is, don’t write it, but continue with the following scenes, where the characters recover from or react to an event that happened during an interval between the last scene and this one. You figure that, with enough context, the reader will fill in the gap.

According to the advice offered on this site, that’s a bad idea. The whole idea of fiction, the thing that keeps it interesting to readers, is the notion of characters in conflict. If you take the conflict offstage, you’re keeping your reader from seeing how your protagonist reacts to real difficulties.

I agree with this. Say you can’t seem to write the fight scene where your hero faces the villain. In a way, your own bravery is in question, more so than that of your hero. You need to face your villain, the unwritten scene itself.

Commenters on a Nashville Writers Meetup forum agree too, and recommend just buckling down and using the emotions you’re feeling to write the scene. One quotes novelist Sarah Schulman as saying “If it doesn’t hurt, you aren’t doing it right.”

Along with other blog posts on the subject, this one by author Kelly Heckart emphasizes the need for you to force yourself to do what’s right for the story.

In this forum site, one contributor suggests you might be focusing on your own emotions, your own reaction to a disagreeable act. Instead, concentrate on the reactions and emotions of your characters; that might give enough detachment to allow you to write the scene.

Speaking of detachment, author Linda Govik recommends that you set the whole story aside for awhile, even a year. You might find it easier after that time to write that troublesome scene.

Yet another way to achieve the necessary detachment is offered by the author of this post who recommends thorough research of the disagreeable topic as a way to gain more comfort with the notion of writing about it.

You know what they say: “when the writing gets tough, the tough get writing.” Well, maybe they don’t say it, but I’ve heard it said by—

Poseidon’s Scribe

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