Delivering the Word

One of the hardest tasks an author faces is writing out the first draft of a scene. So many expectations whirl around in their mind, along with vague notions of what consequences from the previous scenes should play out in the next one. A writer can try to sketch out so much all at once that they are left with a blank page, defeated by the totality of what they haven’t written.

When this is the case, it is smarter to break down the process into stages. First of all, what needs to be accomplished in the scene? That is an issue of plotting, not character, in most cases. Luckily for an author, plot can be derived from notes drawn up beforehand. Rather than beating your breast about your purgatory of writer’s block, you can sketch out notes about what you want to have happen in the scene. Go ahead, write down a half page or whatever of basic objectives you have in mind.

Then decide which one of the notes you want to flesh out first. You may like to start at the beginning of a scene, but you don’t have to. You could write out the part that sticks out the most in your mind. Say, Rachel has to tell Jack what she found out. Where does she tell him? How does she go about broaching the subject, given the personalities and circumstances? What will he do with the information after she tells him? Questions like these are more important than where that patch of dialogue appears in the scene—because they determine what must come before and after that conversation.

Notice that already the whirling farrago of expectations and desires in your mind is becoming winnowed down into realistic terms you can plot out. Follow up this train of defined parameters by writing them out. If the scene features dialogue, for example, just write that. What does Rachel say to Jack? What does he say back? Nothing more than that. Do it knowing that you are leaving stuff out, like Rachel’s thoughts, that you include in every scene. You can come back later, like the next day when you are editing what you wrote. You don’t have to do everything all at once.

The dialogue, or whatever moves you strongly enough to write it down first, is your spear point. You use it to burst through the gauzy wall in your mind that is blocking you from transmuting thought into written words. Don’t bear the entire world of the scene on your shoulders. Think of the process, rather, as finding the end of a thread that you will keep unspooling.

Exercise: Once you have consulted your notes and decided which one to tackle, put that file aside. Don’t let the note constrict what you will write out in full. The note is just another shackle on your pen. Only after you have written out the full burst of your initial enthusiasm should you return to the note and see if you actually went in that direction. If you didn’t, who is going to know besides you?

“The best way in the world for breaking up a writer’s block is to write a lot.”
―John Gardner

Copyright @ 2020, John Paine

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