Wednesday, 28 September 2011


Hello Dear Readers, and welcome to another delightful Wednesday on the Zoë-Trope!

Today I'm going to talk about love. And not just any love. The deadly kind.

I am not referencing here the sort of feelings that a slender brunette who has never quite fitted in instantly and inexplicably develops for the marble cupcake Adonis who wants to follow her around and watch her sleep and also rip out her throat and chug down her florally scented tastyblood. No.

I'm talking about this: R.J. Anderson's comment about beloved scenes on Twitter.

R.J.'s Tweet yesterday got me thinking about this kind of love. The love that a writer has for her work.

Well, obviously not all of her work, since about 50-90% of the time that you're working on a first draft you're likely to be under the impression that you are trying to chip the words out of solid granite by hand, with only a blunt spoon for assistance.

But there are...certain scenes, aren't there? Scenes that are just a little bit special to you. Often these are the scenes that presented themselves to you right at the beginning of your thinking process about the story, and which made you go: 'No way! That would be SO. AWESOME. And COOL! It would be Awesome with a side of Cool Sauce!' and thereby motivated you through coming up with an actual plot and setting and characters.

In fact, scenes like this are what motivate us through all those bits with the granite block and the blunt spoon. We tend to think about them wistfully, imagining all the ways that the AwesomeCoolSauceness could play out. What if the whole place just exploded? What if the hero literally bounced right off the wall? What if there were, like, shooting stars omg?

These beloved scenes become a kind of comfort blanket for the frazzled writer, I think. Sure, sure, this scene that we're writing now sucks with the force of a thousand black holes. Sure, sure, that last chapter was about as convincing as a politician promising 'change' (ha ha). But AwesomeCoolSauce Scene will be different. It will go exactly to plan. It will blaze off the page with all the beauty and intensity of the very first time you snuggled a kitten. Dammit, AwesomeCoolSauce Scene WILL BE PERFECT (Writer Hulk Smash!).

Except...yeah. No it won't.

I have a very good friend who is working on a book at the moment. She's completed several stories before and has always been interested in the craft of writing, but this manuscript is different. It has caught her imagination and her love in a unique way, and for the first time she's seriously talking about seeking publication. I'm very happy about this, because, having talked to her in great depth about the story and its characters, I'm convinced that the book is going to rock the world's socks. However...

My friend is having trouble with her climax.

Right since the beginning of her ideas process with this book, she's had a plan for how the story and characters were going to resolve themselves. She wasn't perfectly sure how she was going to get there but she did know, with crystal clarity, just how it was all going to end. And for a long time that that knowledge motivated and inspired her. But now it's become like a brick around her neck. Every time I talk to her she's this close to launching into the climactic scenes, and then the next time we speak she's all downhearted because somehow she wrote and wrote but just didn't get there.

Her writerly brain has now invested this scene with so much importance, so much significance, that any attempt she makes to actually write the thing just seems wrong and terrible and off. So subconsciously, her brain is forcing her to swim against the tide, words stretching out in front of her as she frantically paddles but never gets anywhere.

You might think that I would have some sort of handy-dandy advice to offer my friend, to quickly and simply extract her from this fix. But unfortunately I am by no means standing on any kind of creative high ground when it comes to this issue. I was in a very similar position when I was writing FrostFire. The whole book had always been working towards a certain outcome, and this outcome had never altered despite me rearranging the entire plot and giving all the characters a sex change multiple times.

As a result, the climax to my story had grown in my head until it was - had to be - the most heart-rending, beautiful, perfect climax to a book that I hadeverwrittengodammit. I got stuck in the preceding scene for over a month, completely unable to move forward. How do you start the most beautiful, perfect climax to a book that you haveeverwrittengodammit? HOW? What is the most beautiful and perfect first line? First word? I was paralysed by the weight of responsibility - paralysed by my desperation to not mess up this beautiful and perfect scene.

Eventually, some very strange tactics got me through the block. Like, taking a cold shower in the middle of the day and writing in my towel with wet hair and eating about four bars of chocolate as I typed until I felt sick, kind of tactics. Frankly, I don't recommend them.

Here's the nub of the matter. The thing that paralyses us because we cannot bring ourselves to admit it. The truth about AwesomeCoolSauce Scene. No matter how much we agonise over it and visualise it and long for it, we will never actually write it.

That's right. AwesomeCoolSauce Scene is never actually going to exist anywhere but in your brain. The moment you start taking those awe-inspiring, beautiful and perfect ideas and start pinning them to the page with words, some of their awe-inspiringness and beauty and perfection will, by definition, evaporate.

I'm willing to lay my life that no writer in the history of the world - not Shakespeare, not Dickens, not Yeats, not Austen or Bronte or Jones - has ever managed to write their AwesomeCoolSauce Scene. I'm willing to lay my life that they never even managed to write that beautiful and perfect first line, or even a beautiful and perfect first word.

But does that mean that we, as readers, don't look at their words and feel completely transformed by the beauty and perfection of their words and lines and scenes? Does that mean that we cannot and will not yell: 'Holy Cr*p, this scene is So. Awesome! It's so cool! It's AWESOME WITH A SIDE OF COOL SAUCE!'


And by torturing ourselves into a small, gooey puddle with the idea of our impossible perfect scene, we are depriving our potential readers of the chance to read THEIR perfect scene.

So what to do?

Well, here's what I've learned (and if other writers reading this have solutions of their own, please feel free to chime in there in the comments): 
1) You can distract yourself from the responsibility of writing AwesomeCoolSauce Scene by making yourself hideously uncomfortable as you write. But, like I said, not really endorsing that one so much.
2) You can try to fool yourself by saying 'I'm not actually writing AwesomeCoolSauce Scene here. I'm just practising. Scribbling. Making notes. That DOES NOT COUNT!'

3) You can go the other way and outline the Hell out of this scene, using coloured pens, bullet points and a graph so you know exactly what to do, right down to where the characters have to stop to breathe. This gives you a sense of confidence going in, even if you diverge from the outline as you write.

4) This one is a complete last resort for me, because I am hopelessly linear in my process. But of course, if you feel AwesomeCoolSauce Scene hanging over you like a threat the closer you get to it, you can always skip ahead and just write that sucker so it's not freaking you out anymore.

5) Try coming at the scene from a different perpective, like writing the first part from a different character's POV, even if you've no intention of using it in the final version. It might help you to avoid the intensity of knowing it. Must. All. Be. Perfect.
In closing - loving the idea of a certain scene and using this to motivate yourself = good. Loving the idea of a certain scene so much that it literally kills your story (or you, from pneumonia) = very bad. Stay safe, kids!


Jenni (Juniper's Jungle) said...

Ooh, those are really interesting ideas for ways around the problem. It's not a problem I've experienced yet, but I'm bookmarking this post in case I do!

Zoë Marriott said...

Well, maybe you won't, Jenni! I hope not :)

Alex Mullarky said...

It's so true. At least they keep us going, right? :)

Zoë Marriott said...

Alex: Yep. We just have to make sure that we are in a *healthy* relationship with our AwesomeCoolSauce Scenes, not an abusive one :)

Alexandra Shostak said...

Or...outline them in valleygirl speak (Character A totally goes to location X and has the like sooooo awesome interaction with Character B and then like....) Sometimes you realize that it's RIDICULOUS and that the parts you thought were awesome actually have huge plot holes or don't make sense.

Other times I never let the images in my head become those pedestal scenes--I don't let myself develop them. I let them stay images, and then I just try to use the feeling I get from them to develop a story--or use them like a symbol or something to inspire a character.

Zoë Marriott said...

Alexandra: Clearly your planning mojo is very strong! I'm a big outliner, and I tend to go into a lot of detail, so it's harder for me to leave something as a bare image without developing it. But if you're the kind of writer that uses minimal planning or just writes by the seat of their pants, probably AwesomeCoolSauce Scenes are much less of a problem.

Emma Pass said...

This is so true! I used to run into real problems because I'd build a certain scene up… and up… and up… until the rest of the story seemed hardly worth writing at-all, and I'd get completely roadblocked. I've found the best way to deal with it is to ignore the damn thing and - if it *is* going to get written - make it wait its turn!

AmieSalmon said...

I didn't realise that I was actually having this problem at the moment, writing climax scene, also my favourite.
Not happening.
But I have faith I will get there in the end, been making slow progress each day.
(And this is now bookmarked)

Your blog is always most helpful. I am eternally grateful =]

Zoë Marriott said...

Emma: You can *ignore* it? Wow, you're tough :)

Amie: Yay! I live to be useful!

Isabel said...

Wait, so I'm NOT the only person in the world who has this problem?

Wow, who knew...

P.S. The 'Holy Cr*p, this scene is So. Awesome! It's so cool! It's AWESOME WITH A SIDE OF COOL SAUCE!' makes me laugh every time. :D

Zoë Marriott said...

Isabel: No, you are not! And thank you - that's the affect I was going for :)

Isabel said...

Wow... I just realized that this week was exactly a year after my first comment on the Zoe-Trope.

Has it really been that long already?? And I've been reading since July 2010...

Zoë Marriott said...

Isabel: It's your first blog-comment anniversary! I feel like I ought to send you a card, but that would start an expensive precedent, so I'll just say Congratulations and Many Happy Returns. Especially that last one.

Isabel said...

Yay!! Thank you! :)

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