Thursday, August 27, 2009

Slow Down, Dig Deep

A week or two ago, L.T. Elliott made a profound comment on my blog. This is what she said:

"I've noticed in my writing that the scenes that my readers like the most are the ones where I've slowed things WAY down and gotten DEEP into the character's head. For me, when I know a scene's not working, I immediately think this "Slow down, get deep." It might take some re-writes but the story ends up better. That's what works for me as far as spoon feeding. Slowing the heck down."

I think she's so right with these words: "Slow[ing] the heck down." Sometimes I'm so impatient. I can't hardly stand to start writing something new, because I know I can't finish it in one sitting. I've had to really work on the "small steps" philosophy.

Even if I only get 46 words (yes, that was my word count yesterday), it doesn't matter. If I slow down and dig deep, I know they're the best words I can find. I think this mantra will also help me in reducing the number of layers I have to go back and add once the first draft is done. I used to think, "I'll go through and get the emotional aspect on the second pass." But now I slow down and dig deep and find that I can put that layer in as I'm writing--which will definitely save time later.

How do you feel about slowing down and digging deep? Which layers do you find yourself ignoring that you could add in if you slowed down a bit? Dug deeper?

Come on, it's confession time!

Me? I'm working on the emotional stuff. Other things I skimp on: making sure the position of my characters is clear. My crit group beats me up about this every. single. time. (S: "I can't picture where she is in the culvert." J: "Is she like, climbing straight up? I was imagining stairs." A: "I was kinda confused about that too." Me: "Maybe she can just use the fishing line." All: hyena laughing.)

24 comments:

Abby said...

I always skimp on description of the setting and characters and have to go back and add more later. It's what I skip over when I'm reading, because it's usually boring, so I hate writing it. Boring to read, boring to write. Unfortunately, not everyone thinks it's boring. And most people think it's necessary. I know what it looks like. Isn't that enough? ;)

KM said...

My rough draft always has ugly, telling verbs in it. I always have to go back and rewrite with more vivid words.

Karen Hoover said...

I tend to skimp on character's emotional responses to things. Never a good idea when that's what motivates the characters to move forward in the story. Love your blog, by the way. You've always got something here that makes me think. :)

Nisa said...

I haven't had a lot of critiques yet, but I would guess I have a problem with the positions of my characters too... The more I read, the more I learn that I have problems with everything. lol

lizB said...

Yes, I end up needing to slow things down. I'll even do it to the point of overwriting things from the MC's headvantage. Often, I cut a good portion of it later, but getting into my character's head every place I can helps me understand them better - and write them better. Something I overwrote and cut most of in chapter 4 brings a sparkle to chapter 11 (even if I'm not using that particular material, just feeding off it) that wouldn't have otherwise been there. Because I understand my character's motivations better, I'm able to react from his/her psyche better. Good post.

Liz

Calista Taylor said...

I tend to avoid descriptions, which I usually add in when I edit, but the one thing I always avoid are "difficult scenes".

I don't know why they're difficult and there's no particular category. But I know I've come across one when I find myself skimming over it even as I know I should be spending more time on it.

And now my agent calls me on it... "I want to see you go into more detail here...". So knowing that there will be no avoiding the scene, I've finally gotten better about digging in and dealing with the matter when it arises. Blech. : P

At least I know it makes the story much stronger and usually adds more depth.

Scott said...

Okay, between you and Lady Glamis making me think toward the end of the work week . . .

I think I often skimp on the little details about clothes, hair, furniture, etc. when I'm in the initial rough draft phase. I rarely skimp on emotional impact. In fact, with one story, things were so emotional (so close to reality) that it took me almost a week to write the scene out in its entirety.

I used to skip on who was sitting next to who in a restaurant or at dinner. I now give the reader those details, even though it's probably not that important. Still, position of diners makes a difference if somebody is tossing a chip at someone else. : )

S

Bailish said...

If I've got a scene that isn't working for me, I work on it, rewriting it over and over, trying a different angle, or possibly reorganizing the adjacent scenes. If I still don't feel good about it, I'll mark it for my next pass, where I repeat the process. Sooner or later, I'll find the angle that works for me.

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

This is exactly where I am in my rewrite. I am slowing down, adding emotional depth, letting my characters have room to grow in the scenes. My crit group tells me it has really strengthened the story, so it's working.

Rebecca Knight said...

Wow, great points! I've found the thing I need to slow down the most on are my big, dramatic scenes. I really need to just dig deep and "go there" instead of just typing "and everyone died and it was icky. NEXT CHAPTER!"

The weirdest part is when I really just give myself permission to cut loose in my rewrites, I have a blast with these scenes. I have no idea why I put them off.

Lin Wang said...

What a coincidence. I have been thinking about this topic myself, about being more patient and taking the time to really create the scene. Especially since I write fantasy/historical fiction, it is important to transport the reader into the story, complete with descriptions and feelings and sincere emotions.

In fact, yesterday I wrote a post called "Taking The Time" which talks about patience with the whole writing and submission process.

Feel free to check it out:
http://flamesandshadows.wordpress.com/2009/08/26/taking-the-time/

Athena's Little Helper said...

I have a tendency to leave out little actions so that when I read back over scenes, it appears as though my characters are just standing around talking at each other. I have to remember to add motions such as "He placed the cup on the table..." or "She shifted on her feet..." to slow down scenes with lots of dialog. I've trained myself to watch out for it, but sometimes I still have to add that stuff during the editing process.

Lisa said...

I skip on description of setting and maybe even character. I concentrate too much on events and moving things forward and what's next than just staying in the moment.

That's what I like about those infamous Twilight books. Meyer really knew how to map out a moment and keep the characters there, lingering, waiting...it helps build tension too. I need to work on this instead of always cutting to the chase.

Lisa and Laura said...

This is exactly why I need Laura. I suck at description and setting and all the deep thinking. I can rent her out if you want?

kathrynjankowski said...

Yeah, it's hard to find a balance. You want to keep readers engaged but you've got to pull back and focus on "small" moments that can give your story depth.

I'm definitely adding layers as I work on my second draft, developing relationships that were skimped on in favor of action, upping the tension with new challenges for my MC.

I'm working on a post about pacing, too. (Guess you're the ringleader here. Huzzah.) Hope to have it up by tomorrow.

Aaron Polson said...

Definately the verbs. Too many "forms of be" not enough awesomeness. I like to dress up the characters and setting a little more on draft 2 as well.

Katie said...

OOooo! Great reminder. I'm like you. I need to dig into my settings more.

Jessica (BookLover) said...

Excellent! "Slow down, get deep."
So simple, yet so profound.
Thanks for posting this.

christine said...

WOW - This post was truly written just for me! I have been working on this concept all week - and yeah, it is hard for me at times. Fortunately my muse is VERY DEMANDING - and I am often forced to listen to her!

Teri said...

Great advice! I'm so nervous about the elephant, I get overwhelmed and walk the other direction!!! Not exactly the best method to eating the elephant in the room! Thanks for stopping by my blog!

B.J. Anderson said...

Yes, I always find that when I'm having trouble with a scene, it's because I've rushed through it. With me it's setting the scene and letting people realize where my characters are.

Sliding on the Edge said...

My "strategy" (laughing at that word right now) is to return, return, return. Each time I go back to a scene I can go a bit deeper into the what makes my character(s) tick--kind of like an archeological dig. I keep finding tiny shards that I can piece together.

Stephanie Thornton said...

I skimp on showing and do a lot of telling the first draft. It's a lot easier when I'm on a roll to just write she said softly and then go back and tweak it.

And often when I'm stuck on a scene I realize it's because I'm not actually in the character's head. Do you ever have a problem with not knowing a character well enough to be in their head? That's happened when I write from the POV of a secondary character.

Oh, BTW- I left you something on my blog. :)

Nathan said...

I know that everyone has their own methods but I slow down and dig deep when I go back and reread what I plopped down. 'Course I reread and edit a huge number of times, until it fits, you know, like just the right brushstroke. Any way it's fun, work and terrifying all wrapped up in one. nothing quite like it.

Edi*ong-Edit^^g--Argh--Editing, Yeah, that's the ticket.

Nathan

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