Thursday, November 12, 2009

The Wrong Place

by Joyce

For the past few weeks I've been stuck on a certain scene. No matter how many times I rewrote it, something just wasn't right. I even tried putting it on hold and moving on to the next scene, but I couldn't write the next one because I kept thinking about the one I couldn't get to work.

Finally I said, "Screw this. I'll go clean the bathrooms."

I talk to myself. A lot. And I didn't say "screw." I used that other word.

I don't know if it was the Clorox fumes or divine inspiration, but as I scrubbed mildew out of the grout with a toothbrush, I figured out what the problem was.

The setting was wrong.

The part of the scene I had written had witty dialogue, interesting characters, the right amount of tension, and something was revealed that may be important later. The only thing wrong with the scene was the location. I used the same location two or three scenes earlier. Without even thinking about it, I had the characters come back to the same place. In the following scene, I had them somewhere else. When I realized I could make these two scenes into one, I could have smacked myself in the forehead, which would have been really messy holding a toothbrush covered in Clorox and mildew. 

I rewrote the scene keeping all the elements that were working and breezed all the way through to the end of the chapter. At least when I get stuck in the future I'll know to ask myself if my characters are in the right place. And I won't have to clean the bathroom.

Has anything like this ever happened to you? How do you pick the location of certain scenes?


Annette said...

Interesting post, Joyce. Now you have me thinking. And it's too early in the morning for that.

Usually, the location for a scene seems pretty obvious, but yeah, there have been times when moving the action someplace else makes a lot of sense. Especially if all the characters are doing is talking. Move them somewhere where they can be doing something else while they're talking.

Jennie Bentley said...

Interesting... I don't think I've ever had this happen. Not sure I'd notice that something wasn't right if the dialogue was witty, the characters interesting, and the necessary stuff was revealed. Which makes you either a better writer than me, or obsessive-compulsive. Given the toothbrush, I'm inclined to the latter.

Good for you, figuring it out. And I'm serious, I don't think I would have. WHY was one setting better than the other? What did one add that the other didn't? Inquiring minds - mine - want to know.

SZ said...

Cleaning was a good idea. Half of what I write, when I do, is on the street. Usually walking down town or jogging in the park.

I wrote a song once in an hour walking to work. I had to run in the office just to get it down.

Joyce said...

Since you asked...

Originally I planned on one scene at a funeral home, one in church, then at the cemetery. The chapter ends at the cemetery where another victim is found. (Hard to believe this is a funny book, huh?)

Anyway, even though some of the elements in the funeral home scene worked, there was no need to split things up between the funeral home and the church--and I could make the church scene a bit more humorous. It seemed like I was drawing things out too much. So I had them skip the funeral home and go right to the church.

Clear as mud, isn't it?

Joyce said...

And JB, If I cleaned the grout more often, I probably wouldn't have to use a toothbrush on it!

ramona said...

Whew, Joyce, I thought you were going to say you solved the problem by sending your characters to the bathroom.

I guess the question to ask is, "What's the most effective place for this to happen?" and go from there.

I have been to some funny funerals, following by funny trips to the cemetery. However, we never found any dead bodies--other than the ones already there.

Wilfred Bereswill said...

I've written scenes before that don't ring true. When it happened it was hard to move on and it took a while to figure it out.

In my case it was a timing issue. The time sequence for my protagonist and antagonist were off. Once I figured out the problem, the fix was significant, but easy and it increased the suspense quite a bit.