I’ve started a stand-alone book not connected to the mystery series, with multiple point of view characters.
Last night I worked on the beginning scene with one of those characters. Several months ago I wrote opening scenes with this character that I liked a lot. Jumping right into the action. But then I realized I needed to back up and introduce the opening scenes.
Words flowed just great last night. Fingers flying on the keyboard. Until I realized the fingers weren’t flying, they were skimming. And I was yawning.
You know what? If you’re bored with the story when you’re writing it, the readers sure aren’t going to be thrilled while reading.
I went to bed.
The problem is obvious. In this scene I have a teacher with a mysterious background, and eight students heading out on a field trip in the mountains. The original beginning started in the middle of dramatic action. This version I wanted to set the stage for that action. What made it so boring was not realizing that setting the stage means just moving a few pieces in. You don’t necessarily have to bring in every tiny piece of stage decoration.
In other words, I was introducing each person and trying to feed in a little of who each person was. Description, a bit of their personality quirks, a little dialog, some of the teacher’s opinions on each of them. I know better than to throw in all the backstory at once, but even this amount of information was too much.
Part of this obvious problem is the number of characters in the opening scene. I wanted to set the names of each before the reader, to plant those names preparing for the coming action. But nine characters in the opening scene, with an introduction on each of them, turned into a boring information dump, even though I salted it with dialog and movement. Especially when only a few are going to be pivotal to the story. (Teaser: the rest are needed to provide bodies…)
So tonight I’m going back and deleting most of what I wrote last night. The opening will be replaced with introduction, description, etc., on, at the most, the teacher and two or three students. And even that may be too much. The remaining students can have attention drawn to them through something as simple as the teacher thinking about taking eight kids into the woods. That’s sufficient to tell the reader there are more kids on scene. And then as the story unfolds, as the action begins, each of those eight will play their parts.
Years ago I would have struggled much longer to make the story work. I would have ignored the inner critic yawning loudly. I would have ignored the inner critic finally yelling ‘BORING!!!!’ and kept writing. I would have told myself that if I plowed ahead, things would improve.
Now, a little wiser, I’m more ruthless. If it’s not working it’s time to cut and toss. If I’m bored I need to go back to the point where I started losing interest, cut everything from that point forward, and start over.
It never pays in the long run to force a story where it doesn’t want to go. The detour takes way too much effort and sometimes you never find your way back to where the story needs to be. I’ve learned to listen to my instinct and to not be afraid to trust that feeling. And this time it only took me a day to figure out the problem instead of weeks of writing and fighting it, and then more weeks of figuring out how to fix the problem.
But man, last night? That was some of the most awful, boring writing I’ve done in a very long time. Let’s blame the heat, shall we?
In the meantime I need to go to the beginning I liked. I think there will be a way to add in what I tried to do last night, in a much tighter way. I probably don’t need as much stage setting as I thought I did.
Maybe I’ll be holding my breath as I madly type, instead of yawning.