Wednesday, March 15, 2017

The Right Conflict at the Right Time

When writers get stuck, they're encouraged to throw an obstacle into the story. The typical example cited is to have someone with a gun enter the scene. (There was a recent meme making the social media rounds suggesting most stories would be improved if the second sentence was "And then the murders began.") That suggestion may help writers get through the first draft, but after that's done, it's imperative to reread the story and see if the conflict works with the whole or is a distraction.

I'll offer some examples from Summon the Seasons, since the revisions I'm making inspired this post. The rough draft had three places where characters went off on a side quest. Two of these were seen through the protagonist's eyes, and in the third one, she waits for other characters to return. I wrote these scenes to make things more difficult for my heroines, but after rereading them, I felt that the first and last scenes didn't contribute anything important to the overall plot. In fact, the last one felt as if it was dragging the pace just when the characters should be preparing for the climax. I already removed the first scene and will remove or drastically rewrite the final one. At another point in the story, the characters rescue a minor character from a bad situation and cart her around with them for a while. However, her skills duplicated those of the main character, and she didn't contribute anything to the story afterwards. She'll be removed too.

I mentioned before there were three side trips in this story. I'm currently revising what was the second one. The protagonist lost something that would help her accomplish something vital to the overall plot, so she's on a quest to replace it. In the rough draft, I spend a couple of pages having her look for a key, then a few more on finding where the item she needs is hidden. In the revision, the key hunt will remain the same, but the search time will shrink. In addition, what Kay finds--or doesn't find--will be much more unsettling in the revision than before. It will tie in with her character arc, and, since I'm changing the setting, it will provide a new perspective on something that happened in Fifth Season. 

By making all these changes, I plan to end up with a shorter, better-paced story with significant obstacles, not just random ones. Have you cut scenes or characters from rough drafts? If so, do you think it helped the story, or did you prefer the rough draft? Feel free to share in the comments.

6 comments:

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

I cut an entire ending in one. The one time I wrote a scene before completing my outline. Once I had the outline, I realized that scene was wrong and never used it.

Pat Dilloway said...

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. And then the murders began. HahAha...

Crystal Collier said...

I hear you! I usually plot pretty solidly before starting, but when I get stuck I call on the rule of seven. Think up seven completely different ways the plot could go or complications, then let them sit until one shines as the right idea, or spawns the right idea.

Sandra Almazan said...

Sounds like outlines are very helpful, Alex!

Pat, that's probably more appropriate than we realize.

I'm more of a pantser than a plotter, Crystal, which is why I run into these problems. I want to outline my next series before I start it--which is why I haven't started that one yet.

Theresa Milstein said...

Thanks for giving a glimpse into your revision process. Rough drafts are just that--rough.

Sandra Almazan said...

They sure are, Theresa. Thanks for stopping by!

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