Fortunately, I came back from the conference with more than inspiration.  

It was wonderful while it lasted, but long days at work + busy evenings at home + juggling the usual number of plates = me sitting here wondering where all of that magical feeling of possibility went.  Lucky for me, I also came home with a number of ways to improve my craft and skill as a writer.  And, guess what?  It’s possible to write just fine without fresh new ideas fizzing and popping in my head.  All it takes is butt in chair and get those fingers moving.

While I was at Write on the River, I took in two sessions with agent and master teacher Donald Maass.   In the morning session, he taught from his book The Fire in Fiction.  And when I say taught, I mean precisely that.  No sitting around mindlessly absorbing information with this man.  He made us rework a scene from a WIP right then and there.  I’m not going to pretend to be able to present this like Maass would, I’m just offering the brief report.  I strongly suggest buying the book and really working with it.

Anyway, enough hero worship.  You know how there are those scenes in a book that you end up skimming?  And the scenes in your own work that you can’t decide whether to cut or keep?  Here is the bare bones outlines of the work we did on ‘Scenes That Can’t be Cut”:

1. Identify the parameters of the scene,  using a discrete unit of time if possible.  At what time by the clock does the scene start, and when does it end?  Maass suggested the imagery of a clock actually ticking away in the corner of your computer screen.

2. What will be different at the end of this scene?  What will have changed?

3. Identify the moment in time when the change occurrs – this is the ‘turning point’

4. Freeze frame 10 minutes before this event. As yourself, who & how is your character now?  Do a little character interview, asking things like, “how are you feeling?  What are you thinking?”

5. Freeze frame 10 minutes past the turning point event. Who & how is your character now?  Ask them the same questions.  Has anything changed?

If nothing changes in this scene, it seems to me that either the scene is unnecessary and expendable, or you’d better find a way to make it matter.

Such a simple technique, really, and very powerful.  As I worked through it, all manner of ideas came to me for increasing the tension in other parts of the manuscript.

Which I will do, just as soon as I find the time to write.  My challenge to all of you is to pick a scene that you’re struggling with and actually give this a try.  Then check in here and let the rest of us know whether it worked for you or not.

Coming up on the next blog, a second installment on Donald Maass from Writing the Breakout Novel.

As always, may your fingers be tireless and your muses kind.