Writing – When a Scene Isn’t Working

Share

I’ve been gone for two weeks, but I’ll talk about that next week. This post got too long, and I want to dive right in.

I was having trouble writing yesterday (all day long on 2 short pages) and then something happened and it started to work. I was having a lot of trouble getting everything across without it dragging or info dumping. I was cutting more words than I left on the page. I hate negative numbers days. It feels wrong to throw away words. This is in the fourth Jane Yellowrock novel, still untitled, and floundering. When suddenly, out of the scene-building (not writing. It wasn’t that easy. It was building, like with brick and mortar, and I was getting tired) a new character appeared, not one I’d planed for or intended. It was one of those aha moments and I went from manual labor to writing in an instant. It all came together. I thought I’d share!

Here’s what I needed in this scene:

  1. Info about Brandon (He’s older than he looks. He has an interesting past that Jane has never bothered to look into. He was described in the previous scene and previous books, so no description here.)
  2. I needed to introduce and describe the Chief of Police, Billy Chandler, and interaction between them all, because he may reappear later. (Character description.)
  3. I needed to show Jane in an interview room in cop central. (Character development.)
  4. I needed to show the time of day, anchor the season of year and location (setting)
  5. I needed to show that Jane is mouthy to cops, and that she fits in best with tough guys and guns. She’s a tee shirt and BBQ kinda gal. (Character development.)

I admit that Jane is a little punchier than usual I this scene, and I’ll likely tone that down a lot on the next rewrite, but for today’s purposes, I’ll leave it as *written.* (Not built!) I’m going to start at the beginning of the scene, without intro, because it stands on its own. I hope.

First the scene, without the breakdown. After the scene, we start over, with my breakdown comments in parentheses ( ) after each segment.

“So, you don’t know who the guy is, or why he was in your room, or why he was carrying illegal, with a mounted suppressor. You’re innocent as the day is long and you have no idea why this guy slipped into your room and started shooting at you.”

“Pretty much,” I said. The Chief of Police, Billy Chandler, didn’t like me, but it was just on principle, not because I’d gotten one of his men killed. Billy didn’t like transient nonresidents carrying concealed in his town, and he didn’t like tall motorcycle mamas with an arsenal and an attitude, guarding troublemaking fangheads. Of course, he had liked me no more when I’d just killed vamps for a living, and he liked vamps even less than he did me. Cops.

“To carry concealed, blades have to be less than six inches long. North Carolina law,” he said. “The shortest one in your arsenal is twelve inches.”

I almost said, “Penis envy?” but clamped down on my big mouth. I love messing with cops, and one day I’m gonna mess with the wrong one. But I was getting smarter. Finally. I couldn’t stop the grin, however, and Billy’s eyes narrowed as if he’d heard the words I didn’t say. “I wasn’t carrying,” I said, sounding reasonable and calm. “The blades were on the table in my room.” Not to say that I didn’t carry them concealed. I did. Often. And if stopped by the cops, I’d use the vampire carta as my defense, not that the reasoning would get me very far.

“And you don’t know who he is?”

“Nope.” He’d asked me that ten times in the last hour. I’d had enough. I waved at the one way mirror and pointed at my Coke can. “Can I have a refill here? The service in this joint is awful.” I looked at the chief. “No tip, this time, Billy.” Back at the mirror, I said, “You guys got all my money. Put some into a machine for me, would you?”

Billy shifted on the hard table. He was sitting on the edge, trying to tower over me, trying to use height to cow me. And though I’d never say so, it was working, sorta. I was six feet tall in my bare feet. In boots I was taller than most men, and wasn’t used to them looming over me. So I shrank down lower in my seat, slumping, and stuck my feet out the other side. I held the empty can up again, flicking it with a fingernail, making it tink.

“You’re a pain in the ass, Yellowrock.”

“Ditto, Billy. Why don’t you sit in a chair. The table has to be making your butt numb. Is my lawyer here yet?”

“He’s here.” Billy sounded frustrated and out of sorts. Maybe he needed more fiber in his diet; fewer donuts, though he wasn’t overweight, just soft around the middle. “You’re free to go.”

“No, ‘Don’t leave town,’ advice?”

“Far as I’m concerned, you can leave town again and not come back. Things are more peaceful without you around.”

“Only on the surface, Billy Boy. Monsters swim in the deep dark depths.”

He blew out his breath and stood as a twin entered. I checked the hairline and said, “Brandon,” and looked beyond him into the hallway. Then it clicked. “You’re my lawyer.”

“Graduate of Tulane, criminal justice degree in 1946.” He pretended not to see the chief’s double take. “And while I don’t practice in North Carolina, I do have privileges, pro hac vice,” he said, as if that meant something. “But to make sure all your ‘I’s are dotted, I brought along a friend.”

A female blood-servant walked in behind him, not someone I knew, but she smelled like Lincoln Shaddock’s blood, expensive perfume, money, and entitlement. She was taller than I, which made me uncomfortable for some reason, was blond with perfect makeup and flawless skin, had a natural elegance that looked inbred rather than trained, and she was wearing a lilac-colored suit that had obviously been made just for her. I crossed my arms over my tee-shirted chest and nodded from my slouched position. She nodded from her superior one and twinkled blue eyes at him. “Thank you Chief. We appreciate you expediting the release of Miss Yellowrock.” She put out her hand as if she expected him to kiss it.

Looking up at her, Billy Chandler blinked and melted even as he sucked in his soft belly and pushed back his shoulders. He shook her hand and smiled. “Ms. Mooney, your family has always been an asset to this department and this city. Anything we can do, within reason and the law, is always our pleasure. And you pass that along to your mother, you hear? Anything.”

Yeah, like he had a chance with the woman. And what was with the royal “we”? And wait. Mooney? One of Shaddock’s first scions was a Mooney. I straightened and looked the blood-servant over.

“I’m quite sure Dacy is well aware of local law enforcement’s appreciation for her generosity.”

“Those in-unit computers have made a vast difference to the cop on the street.”

“We have to protect our boys in blue,” she said, still twinkling at him.

“Yada yada,” I said, standing. “It’s nearly dark, I’ve had no sleep to speak of for days, I’ve been invaded, shot at, dragged down to the LEC, and kept without food and water, and I’m ready to get outta here.”

Mooney flashed me a wide smile and gestured to the door. I led the way into the hallway, passing by the lady lawyer. She looked like a million bucks. A Paris Hilton with unfeigned self assurance and molecular-deep class. Her suit was silk, her bag was snakeskin, and her hair was twisted up in a sleek French twist. She smelled good. And I really didn’t like her for it. Which made me feel all kinds of guilty, and angry for the guilt. “Miss Yellowrock, it’s an honor to meet you,” she said as I passed.

I swallowed down my retort and the sigh that wanted to follow. In the hallway I turned, tucked my jealousy away into some hidden part of me, and put out my hand. “And it’s a pleasure to meet you too.”

We shook and she said, “My car is outside. We can speak there.”

I collected and signed for my valuables, and meekly followed Mooney outside. Even in the mountains at 2,134 feet elevation, August in the South was hot. The muggy heat slapped me like a steamy towel across my exposed flesh. “I know you must be starving,” she said. “Let’s stop for an early dinner so we can talk. She stepped to a waiting black Volkswagen, that was, honest to God, a limo, slightly stretched and sparking in the late afternoon light. I had no idea they even made Volkswagen limos.

Sliding bonelessly into the car, she was as graceful as a swan, and I was all kinds of ungainly clunky as I slid in after her. Brandon closed the door after himself, seated across from us, and the car pulled into traffic, around the loop, and onto College Street.

Mooney said to the driver, “Take us to Mr. Shaddock’s place, please, Erving.” He lifted two fingers in acknowledgement before the privacy window went up. The VW rode heavy, as if armored, and it had computer screens and cell phones on chargers. And holstered guns in the doors’ side pockets. Immediately I felt better. I always did around guns.

Now – the scene with my breakdown:

“So, you don’t know who the guy is, or why he was in your room, or why he was carrying illegal, with a mounted suppressor. You’re innocent as the day is long and you have no idea why this guy slipped into your room and started shooting at you.” (Stereotypical cop-talk, which is okay in small doses. It introduces the character, lets the reader feel comfortable with him and sets up the scene faster than I could any other way.)

“Pretty much,” I said. (This starts a tiny info dump, but rather than just say what kind of cop he is, I make it personal and offer a tidbit to the reader of Jane’s past.) The Chief of Police, Billy Chandler, didn’t like me, but it was just on principle, not because I’d gotten one of his men killed. (Important reminder to the reader of the past. A sheriff’s investigator was killed once on a vamp-hunt.) Billy didn’t like transient nonresidents carrying concealed in his town, and he didn’t like tall motorcycle mamas with an arsenal and an attitude, guarding troublemaking fangheads. (Reminder to the reader of her job in the town. Jane is pulling a security detail for vamps.) Of course, he had liked me no more when I’d just killed vamps for a living, and he liked vamps even less than he did me. Cops. (This is important because one of the men in Jane’s love life {or lack thereof} is a cop.)

“To carry concealed, blades have to be less than six inches long. North Carolina law,” he said. “The shortest one in your arsenal is twelve inches.” (Factoids give a hint of reality and secure the scene setting. It sounds like something a cop would say something that Jane would know.)

I almost said, “Penis envy?” but clamped down on my big mouth. I love messing with cops, and one day I’ms gonna mess with the wrong one. But I was getting smarter. Finally. (This is the kind of thought that always comes through my own head at times like this. I have better filters than Jane. I don’t grin. But I do think the thoughts.) I couldn’t stop the grin, however, and Billy’s eyes narrowed as if he’d heard the words I didn’t say. “I wasn’t carrying,” I said, sounding reasonable, professional, and calm. “The blades were on the table in my room.” Not to say that I didn’t carry them concealed. I did. Often. And if stopped by the cops, I’d use the vampire carta as my defense, not that the reasoning would get me very far. (Reminder of world building, and my excuse should I need Jane to do something outside of the known human law in real life. This pertains to the reader’s suspension of disbelief.)

“And you don’t know who he is?”

“Nope.” He’d asked me that ten times in the last hour. I’d had enough. (Pertains to character building and development. She is a professional, but everyone has their limits. Jane is a kick butt first, make up later girl.) I waved at the one way mirror and pointed at my Coke can. “Can I have a refill here? The service in this joint is awful.” I looked at the chief. “No tip, this time, Billy.” Back at the mirror, I yelled, “You guys got all my money. Put some into a machine for me, would you?” (Jane is … um … not obnoxious … maybe irritating at times. I like her that way. But this is a part that I’ll likely tone down on rewrite. It goes overboard even for Jane. But right now, I like the words and can’t make myself change them.)

Billy shifted on the hard table. He was sitting on the edge, trying to tower over me, trying to use height to cow me. And though I’d never say so, it was working, sorta. I was six feet tall in my bare feet. (Have to say this somewhere in the book. Now felt like a good spot.) In boots I was taller than most men, and wasn’t used to them looming over me. (Here is where something started to come from the deeps of my stressed and overworked brain. The tipping point.) So I shrank down lower in my seat, slumping, and stuck my feet out the other side. I held the empty can up again, flicking it with a fingernail, making it tink.

“You’re a pain in the ass, Yellowrock.” (Pertains to future relationship. You can tell they like each other on some level. This continues through the dialogue between them, so I won’t say it again.)

 “Ditto, Billy. Why don’t you sit in a chair. The table has to be making your butt numb. Is my lawyer here yet?”

“He’s here.” Billy sounded frustrated and out of sorts. Maybe he needed more fiber in his diet; fewer donuts, though he wasn’t overweight, just soft around the middle. (What do we know about the chief’s physical description? This is it. But I can see him now, with just this little description. Will I add more description? Maybe not. Maybe this is all I’ll need.) “You’re free to go.”

“No, ‘Don’t leave town,’ advice?”

“Far as I’m concerned, you can leave town again and not come back. Things are more peaceful without you around.”

“Only on the surface, Billy Boy. Monsters swim in the deep dark depths.”

He blew out his breath and stood as a twin entered. I checked the hairline and said, “Brandon,” (Brandon has a mole that tells him apart from his twin.) and looked beyond him into the hallway. Then it clicked. “You’re my lawyer.” (Jane learns something about an old friend. Very old. She hasn’t bothered to learn about him. Shame on Jane. This relationship now somewhere new to go. Oh – I didn’t know Brandon had gone to law school until now, which was a fun moment of discovery.)

“Graduate of Tulane, criminal justice degree in 1946.” He pretended not to see the chief’s double take. “And while I don’t practice in North Carolina, I do have privileges, pro hac vice,” he said, as if that meant something. “But to make sure all your ‘I’s are dotted, I brought along a friend.” (And here it clicked. Finally! The next part took about 20 minutes to write.)

A female blood-servant walked in behind him, not someone I knew, but she smelled like Lincoln Shaddock’s blood, expensive perfume, money, and entitlement. She was taller than I, which made me uncomfortable for some reason, was blond with perfect makeup and flawless skin, had a natural elegance that looked inbred rather than trained, and she was wearing a lilac-colored suit that had obviously been made just for her. (The opposite of Jane in every way. And notice that Jane sees and describes her in detail. The guys could be wearing tutus and unless it pertained to the case, Jane might not notice so much. But let a beautiful woman enter a room and all women notice. Even Jane. It’s a girl thing.) I crossed my arms over my tee-shirted chest and nodded from my slouched position. (I don’t have to say Jane is outclassed and maybe jealous. Show, don’t tell.) She nodded from her superior one and twinkled blue eyes at him. “Thank you Chief. We appreciate you expediting the release of Miss Yellowrock.” She put out her hand as if she expected him to kiss it. (Jealous.)

Looking up at her, Billy Chandler blinked and melted even as he sucked in his soft belly and pushed back his shoulders,. (More of Billy physical description, though only enough to show his reaction to the woman.) He shook her hand and smiled. “Ms. Mooney, your family has always been an asset to this department and this city. Anything we can do, within reason and the law, is always our pleasure. And you pass that along to your mother, you hear? Anything.”

Yeah, like he had a chance with the woman. And what was with the royal “we”? And wait. Mooney? One of Shaddock’s first scions was a Mooney. I straightened and looked the blood-servant over. (Jane is all about the job. This is about the job. She can react on a professional level now and push the girl stuff away. Show don’t tell.)

“I’m quite sure Dacy is well aware of local law enforcement’s appreciation for her generosity.”

“Those in-unit computers have made a vast difference to the cop on the street.”

“We have to protect our boys in blue,” she said, still twinkling at him. (Use of *our* makes a connection between them. Flirting, but only on a professional level.)

“Yada yada,” I said, standing. “It’s nearly dark, I’ve had no sleep to speak of for days, I’ve been invaded, shot at, dragged down to the LEC, and kept without food and water, and I’m ready to get outta here.” (Jane is in a hurry. All of the above is true. But Jane is acting out, which fits her antisocial history, and with her difficult childhood in a children’s home. She is out of her normal social situation, and she knows it.)

Mooney flashed me a wide smile and gestured to the door. I led the way into the hallway, passing by the lady lawyer. She looked like a million bucks. A Paris Hilton with unfeigned self assurance and molecular-deep class. Her suit was silk, her bag was snakeskin, and her hair was twisted up in a sleek French twist. She smelled good. And I really didn’t like her for it. Which made me feel all kinds of guilty, and angry for the guilt. (Jane is self aware. That is what makes her exasperating phases acceptable to me. She knows what she is feeling is not right and deep down, she wants to do better. She just doesn’t know how.) “Miss Yellowrock, it’s an honor to meet you,” she said as I passed. (Which forces Jane to go all the way to nice. Not her normal state.)

I swallowed down my retort and the sigh that wanted to follow. In the hallway I turned, tucked my jealousy away (Now that the reader knows she is jealous by observation, I can say it and let her deal with it) into some hidden part of me, and put out my hand. “And it’s a pleasure to meet you too.”

We shook and she said, “My car is outside. We can speak there.”

I collected and signed for my valuables, and meekly (more indication she is over her irritating stage for now) followed Mooney outside. Even in the mountains at 2,134 feet elevation, August in the South was hot. (Needed to anchor the setting: time of year, elevation {which is a reminder of the city they are in} and weather.) The muggy heat slapped me like a steamy towel across my exposed flesh. “I know you must be starving,” she said. “Let’s stop for early dinner so we can talk.” She stepped to a waiting black Volkswagen, that was, honest to God, a limo, slightly stretched and sparking in the late afternoon light. I had no idea they even made Volkswagen limos. (Pertains to characterization of both women and Jane’s knowledge of cars.)

Sliding bonelessly into the car, she was as graceful as a swan, and I was all kinds of ungainly clunky as I slid in after her. Brandon closed the door after himself, seated across from us, and the car pulled into traffic, around the loop, and onto College Street. (Pertains to reality as we know it and to suspension of disbelief. If the reader sees a bit of his reality in the scene, then the unreal parts are more believable.)

Mooney said to the driver, “Take us to Mr. Shaddock’s place, please, Erving.” (Shaddock owns a BBQ joint, a hint that the woman has researched Jane and sets up future dialogue/conflict if I need it.) He lifted two fingers in acknowledgement before the privacy window went up. The VW rode heavy, as if armored, and it had computer screens and cell phones on chargers. And holstered guns in the door’s side pockets. Immediately I felt better. I always did around guns. (Jane is happy now. She has worked through her unprofessional moments, and found herself.)

This was fun! Hope you enjoyed it.
Faith
FaithHunter.Net
GwenHunter.Com

Share

12 comments to Writing – When a Scene Isn’t Working

  • Hepseba ALHH

    Thanks so much for the snippet and the break-down. Isn’t it just something when the smoothest-looking scenes have such struggle behind them, but it gives us wannabes hope that our own struggles may one day turn out equally well. Still, breaking down where info gets inserted and why makes it look so clear, but then it still seems so hard to do with each new case. Thanks for giving us an example of how it should be done, especially the show-don’t-tell with the jealousy. :)

  • Ah, yes, struggling. I’ve been struggling with short story for two weeks now. I just figured out that the real story begins on page 3 which has helped a lot, but every word, every change, every aspect of this piece has been a fight. I’ve considered scraping the whole thing on several occasions but I’m too stubborn at this point to let it go. I’d love for one of my characters to solve the problem for me like yours did. Just introduce me to a new character or plot point that’ll make it all work. Oh well. Until that happens, I’ll keep fighting.

  • Heps, when I’m building a scene, I go through the *what does this sentence (phrase/word) do for the scene* every moment. It’s awful. But eventually, with each rewrite, it smoothes out. But it ain’t fun.

    Stuart, I hate that. I (the AKA) did an entire book that way. Fought for every word. Hated every moment. But could not stop because the first line was so … perfect. The first line! Dumb reason to keep on with a book that turned out to be 140,000 words. But it finally worked, I finally finished, and it will finally come out in print in the US next month (I hope). I have UK fans who love that one best.

  • Welcome back, Faith. You have been missed.

    The thing that struck me from your post is how much thought you put into every paragrah, every line, every word. I know a lot of this is second-nature to you now, but still… wow. Everything serves a purpose. Everything.

  • Mikaela

    Thank you Faith. It was an intresting post, as usual. So far I have slogged through this revision, but I am hoping that have changed. The story is better for it, so I’m happy. I still haven’t decided if it is one novel, or two shorter novellas. I think it is a novel. Maybe.

  • I love it when characters just step in and introduce themselves. I have one that I was weaving in the narrative background for a chapter or so, (because I can’t image there being a million red heads in one evil corporation and I wanted s sympathizer to the heroes plight as well as keeping my cast of extras down) and then suddenly she’s seduced one of the “more bad than good” narrators in the story and left him handcuffed in a closet in his skivvies while she robbed him of his access card to help the heroes escape.

    She’s also seduced me into giving her a short story to tell her back story (as well as bringing in world building, post book mission and a romantic subplot with the dude she left handcuffed to a pipe).

    Loved the break down. Learned a lot. Now I’m wondering if I might be using too long of descriptions in my scenes. :þ I’m going to post a link here on my blog today :)

  • Thanks Edmund. You really know how to turn a girl’s head! I still think Jane is too snippy (even for Jane) but I can see her mellowing out a lot in the rewrite. Or not. (laughing) We’ll see.

    Mikaela, I’ve been there too! Is it a short story? An intro to a novel? What?!? But isn’t this a fun journey!

    Ax, I love the way she took over your writer’s soul and made it all work for you. Kudos!

  • Wow, adding a character. That might just be what Thieftaker II needs. God knows it needs something. This is wonderful, Faith. As Edmund says — the thought you put into all you do is both impressive and daunting. Makes me feel pretty much like a slacker.

    Great to have you back. We missed you.

  • Great to be back, David. Though I admit that I LOVED the 2 weeks off!

    What I liked about the character is that she is *everything* Jane is, and *everything* Jane isn’t. She is as fast as Jane, smarter than Jane, richer than Jane, better connected than Jane, has far better social skills than Jane, prettier than Jane, blond, elegant … Jane should hate her. So instead, I’m hoping they’ll be good friends, though with an out-of-the-blue character, I never know. I can’t wait to see what happens next! Whoowhoo!

  • I second, third, or fourth (or whatever number it is) all the folks who say how much they appreciate seeing how you work.

    I also second Ed in saying I see how much thought and work and I feel like a total slacker. Will work on the novel (applying Faith-like thought and effort) tomorrow! (Tonight is lesson planning).

  • You’re welcome, Pea Emily. Slacker? I only made three page (3 pages!) today. So much for being a professional writer. *I* feel like a slacker. But we all feel that way sometimes.

  • Young_Writer

    I love it when you break things apart, it’s so much more clear. Thank you, Faith, for another great article.