When somebody tells you what you’ve written doesn’t work (for whatever reason), that doesn’t mean you should rip it up and throw it away. It can be easier to think of writing as an all or nothing process, since the horrendous idea of having to rewrite everything is often a really good way to convince yourself to do nothing.
But something that doesn’t work doesn’t have to be removed or recreated from scratch, it just has to be improved. That goes for any kind of writing, whether it’s central to the plot, or a minor subplot, or backstory, or exposition.
Things that may seem vital to the integrity of your idea, key to the development of the narrative, or the very reason you wrote the story in the first place, never are. Nothing in your story can’t be reworked in a way that does whatever you want it to do, and does it better.
Let’s say you have a scene where a boy is being spoken to by his grandfather, and the boy is bored. That’s the point of the scene, since later when the pair are trapped in a fantasy land and being attacked by dragon-unicorns (dragonicornTM), the boy learns his gramps is anything but boring when it comes to things that count. Or something.
Anyway, this scene establishes the relationship between them at the start. Problem is, it’s boring. But when the reader tells the writer, the response is, “Well of course it’s boring, it’s supposed to be. What do you want? Grampa should talk like Oscar Wilde?”
And soon sarcasm leads to fisticuffs, someone pulls a knife, and then where are you?
The point is even something as counterintuitive as making a scene about boredom more interesting is fairly straightforward, if you go in thinking about how to do it, not whether it's possible or not.
So, you could establish the boy is already annoyed about something else (having to stay with Gramps and miss out on seeing his friends, for example) and even though what he’s being told is interesting, he acts surly.
Or the boy has heard this story before and keeps interjecting to finish or even correct parts of the story. Having heard a story before is enough to make it boring, even one that was interesting first time round. Although it’ll be the first time for the reader, so they can still find it interesting.
Or have the boy doing something at the same time as having to listen to gramps. What someone’s saying doesn’t have to correspond with what they’re doing.
Or use humour. Grampa could be funny. The kid’s reactions could be funny. The conversation the kids is having with his friends via text could be funny.
In each of these variations the key idea of the boy finding his grandfather boring is still there. But that doesn’t mean the reader has to be bored.
Similarly, however committed you are to the way you’ve written a scene, you can write it to be better while still fulfilling its function.
The function (whatever you decide that should be) is not tied to one particular way of writing. You have control over what a scene means, and that meaning can be transmitted whether the scene is funny, sad, or whatever.
This is true of everything you write. You may not be able to see how it will end up from what you have at the beginning, but you have to believe it has the potential to turn into something better. Because you can rest assured when you read something beautiful, it most likely started out pretty ugly.
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Thursday's post will be on how to exploit the order of information in story. See you then.