So, I’ve been pecking away at the keyboard for several weeks now, working on the first draft of the manuscript for the next book in the Dragonlinked series. I’m near the end of chapter ten. I started the chapter last week, but the writing slogged down during the second scene. I just couldn’t get into it. I knew what needed to happen in there, in general, and I wrote it out. But it wasn’t clicking. It wasn’t so much that the scene was boring, it just seemed off toward the end. I thought about it, tweaked it, and wrestled with it for two days. Nothing. I couldn’t figure out exactly what bugged me about the end of the scene. It was time to get my mind off the scene and do something else. A first read-through of the chapters so far would serve nicely.
I try not to re-read completed chapters until I have a few done. One can get bogged down tweaking every last thing to perfection. You can end up with something wonderful, but six hours will have flown by and you’ve got one singular paragraph done the way you like it. No. My preferred method right now is to just read through and fix only the things that pop out at me, things that take me out of the reading experience. It could be a spelling error, punctuation, the wrong character’s name used in a speech tag, the flow of an idea/conversation being out of whack…just the big stuff. And there was some big stuff. I had the wrong character making reference to a previous thought. I had references to the wrong time of day (morning vs evening). I had a few misspelled words. Well, the words I had spelled were actual words, they were just the wrong words. Thus, spell-check failed to catch them. All of these things I fixed over the course of two or three days. Then, it was time to get back to that problematic scene.
I didn’t want to. I pictured myself like a kid with feet shuffling and dragging, a kid doing anything to keep from having to do the chore that must be done. Buck up, mister, I told myself, get in there and let’s see what we can do. Well, one thing I realized was that the second scene should be the first scene. It would make the chapter flow better. Easy enough; a quick cut and paste and I’d switched them. Then, as I read through the problem scene it finally dawned on me what I didn’t like about it. A lot of the information that the characters were learning had already been revealed to the reader in a previous chapter. It was repetition of information, a no-no. Repetition, whether information or even the retelling of some action by characters, should be cut out (or summarized) whenever possible, unless it is needed for some dramatic or plot purpose. Neither was the case here, and worse, the information wasn’t really needed by the characters in the scene. I highlighted a good chunk of text, gulped, and hit delete. This left me with a very short, skimpy scene, however. What to do? Well, there was some information that in the previous version of the scene I was going to summarize. Maybe I could flesh that information out instead. With that in mind, I set the scene in my head and let the characters do their thing. I liked where it was going. Once the first write was completed, I read over it. It was much, much better. And in fact, two cool things happened with the re-write: a new plot-point, a new layer for the antagonist’s evil plan, emerged, and I was also better able to tie what these characters were doing into the larger plot. Sweet!
If something you are writing just feels off, it might be your subconscious letting you know that there is definitely something wrong with it. Take some time away and then come back to it refreshed. And don’t be afraid to scrap it! The re-writing might reward you with more than just better prose.