I hope you all saw Scott’s tip yesterday, the first of a series on meta-documents. Though now that I use Scrivener, I no longer use meta-documents. Or, rather, I do but they’re all incorporated into the one Scrivener document so it doesn’t feel like lots of different documents.
But I digress: on to today’s tip which has nothing to do with meta-documents and also kind of contradicts my previous tip about using square brackets. It emerges from a conversation I had with the marvellous Sarah Rees Brennan. It turns out that she does not skip the boring or tricky bits but instead bribes herself into writing them. Her reward is to write the fun scene on the other side of the tricky bit. So if she doesn’t write the scene she’s been avoiding then she’s not allowed to write the scene she really wants to write.
There are many reasons for doing this but the most frequently cited one is that if you skip all the hard bits—as I advised you to do in the square bracket post—you may never finish the book. As Zeborah puts it:
It means I write all the easy parts of the book first, meaning I have to write all the hard parts later in a single chunk, meaning I probably won’t finish the book. Whereas if I force myself to write entirely in order, I can use a future easy-and-fun scene as a reward for getting through a hard scene.
Another reason not to skip tricky scenes is that sometimes you don’t know whether a scene is going to be hard until you’ve written it. I can’t tell you how many times a scene I was dreading has turned out to be easy and vice versa. A slightly spoilery Liar example after the cut:
In the third part of Liar there’s the climactic scene in Yayeko Shoji’s apartment between Micah and Yayeko and her mother and daughter. This scene was not in the first few drafts of the book and was suggested by Karen Joy Fowler and my wonderful Australian editor, Jodie Webster. As soon as they said it I knew they were right. It was exactly what the book was missing. However, I wasn’t sure I could write it. I thought it would be ridiculously hard. I whinged to Scott, who told me not to be a wuss and write the damn scene, as I have told him many times.1 Which I did in about half an hour with no difficulty at all. It’s probably my favourite scene in the whole book.
What if the “hard” scene you’re skipping is just as easy to write as that one was? What happens when the “easy” scene you write first turns out to be really hard? Will it put you off ever writing the “hard” scenes?
Obviously all of this depends on what kind of writer you are. It will also depend on the book. Sometimes scene skipping is just the ticket. Other times not so much. Sometimes it will turn out that the reason you’re skipping the scene is because it doesn’t belong in your book. Rule number ten of Elmore Leonard’s writing advice is to skip the boring bits.
There you have it: don’t skip the tricky bits! (Unless you need to.)
- We get to trade off on who is bad cop and who is good. Oops! TMI. [↩]