I tore apart chapter 3 on my new Harlequin Presents manuscript yesterday after not writing for a week due to guests and life and a quick trip to Seattle for a bookclub visit and lunch with my son Jake on his 15th birthday. I thought chapter 3 was great until I printed it out and read it and then I was like…oh, dear, not so great. The action felt forced. The plot points were waaaay too familiar. The entire chapter was as authentic as synthetic fibers.
I knew I was going to need to tackle the problematic chapter but I wasn’t sure what the fix would be and so I had these imaginary conversations with myself, playing my writer friend Megan Crane/Caitlin Crews and me in some serious dialogue about writing HPs. I pretended she was the one not happy with her chapter and she was coming to me for advice. It sounds silly but it allowed me to detach from my book and approach the story problems intellectually instead of emotionally. And this is what I came up with:
1) If the scenes are forced and lacking authenticity, are these scenes even necessary?
2) Is the scene feels too familiar, is there another way (or place) to convey the same information?
3) If the action isn’t natural, what really needs to happen here? What is the reader looking for? What does the reader need at this point?
And I had answers, decent ones, but to make sure I wasn’t fooling myself I picked up the phone and called Megan to see what kind of advice she’d give me as as she’s read every Harlequin Presents I’ve ever written (see my stack of books on her bookshelf in the photo below) and she’s writing amazing Harlequin Presents as Caitlin Crews and I LOVE what she’s doing.
Megan and I discussed my troubling chapter 3 and she pretty much said what I expected–if the scene isn’t working, there’s a reason why. And then we talked about the whys it wasn’t working and what HAD to happen in the story to move it forward. You see, Harlequin Presents are special. They’re not like any other romance genre, and the Presents reader knows this. The Presents reader is an expert on the line, too. You’ve got to not just meet the reader’s expectations, but blow the reader away. Thus, my struggles. Thus my constant analysis: does this work? Is this amazing? Is this the very best I can do?
I hung up the phone with a game plan, a goal for the chapter, and goals for every scene within the chapter and now I’m happily writing again and chapter 3 is nearly finished and put to bed. I’ve got some rough draft scenes for chapter 4 but don’t anticipate writing much more this weekend as my big boys arrive today in Honolulu and I can’t wait to see them and hug them and have them with me for the next month. I have missed those boys sooooooo soooooo much!
If you’re a writer, how do you know when a scene isn’t working? And if you’re a reader, do you ever read something and think, ‘this doesn’t work’? Or do you ever wish you could rewrite something you’ve just read? Share your thoughts with me and I’ll draw two names from the comments below to win a Barnes & Noble gift card, a Hawaii Starbucks card, and some tasty treats from Hawaii. This is a gift with some serious Aloha so talk to me and you’re entered! The Making a Scene contest will run through Monday night midnight and I’ll announce the winners Tuesday morning.