Sunday, August 14, 2011

The Good Wife: What a Novelist Can Learn from a Hit Television Show’s Deleted Scenes

by Susan Cushman

The (optional) theme for the next round of posts here is “Literary Blunders, what catastrophic mistakes have you made either in your writing or your career and what did you learn from them.” Well, since my “career” is still pretty young, I don’t have a lot to share in that department yet. But it did get me to thinking about literary “mistakes” that all writers make and the courage it takes to delete the part of any story, script, or book that isn’t working. I think there’s a lot to learn about this from television script writers.

Robert and Michelle King, creators and writers for the CBS drama, “The Good Wife,” co-authored a piece for the New York Times on July 10 called, “What Would ‘The Good Wife’ Do?”

I read the article after spending a few weeks re-watching Season One of “The Good Wife” (my favorite television drama) on DVD and taking notes on the writers’ comments concerning the deleted scenes for each episode.

The Kings agree that although the scenario is ever-changing—as wives of philandering husbands in the political limelight aren’t always standing by their men these days—the melodrama of political scandals still makes for good television. And watching what ends up on the cutting room floor makes for good lessons for writers of any genre, although, as the article says:

 “Reality is also usually grayer than fiction. The bad husband must have some good in him, or why would the wronged wife love him in the first place? And if the husband is not all bad, if this indiscretion is just a moment of weakness, or a decade of weakness, is there hope? Is there something in the husband for the wife to forgive?”

Whether you’re writing fiction or nonfiction, there are lessons to be learned from watching the deleted scenes. (And it’s lots of fun!)

In the Pilot, the scenes that were cut were mostly due to time. The writers were trying to play out the arc of Kalinda’s (played by Archie Panjabi) attitude towards Alicia (played by Julianna Margulies)which was difficult because of the political dynamic with Alicia and Cary (played by Matt Czuchry). When they lost their assistant to another show (“Community”) some adjustments were called for which wouldn’t happen to someone who was writing a novel.

In “Crash,” a scene was cut because the writers agreed that the viewer “got it” without an additional scene to reveal a plot point. This was helpful to me to watch and observe how this same thinking can play out in novel-writing. Sometimes we “over-write” and don’t give the reader credit for understanding something the first time we reveal it.

In “Boom,” a scene was re-written and re-shot, rather than being deleted, because the tone was off. A character was too angry for what was going to happen next. If that type of nuance in writing for television is important, it’s also important to the fiction writer.

Diane (played by Christine Baranski) has a scene in “Bad,” in which she is playfully, almost sexily “romancing a gun.” I actually liked the deleted scene, which was cut because of time, and because the writers believed that the point was made in other scenes. I’m wondering how hard it is for television writers to let go of those precious scenes when it’s necessary, just like those of us writing fiction hate to delete sentences and metaphors that we think are beautiful, if they’re not working.

Another example of deleting a really good scene, I think, happened in “Unplugged.” Kalinda receives a life-threatening bee sting (she’s allergic) through which the writers wanted to show more of her Achilles’ heel. But in the end, the scene had no content—it existed on its own and was interesting and oddball, but it didn’t serve the story.

Similarly, in “Hybristephilia,” a happy scene at home with Alicia is deleted because the plot isn’t advanced; no character is upturned.

Brook Kennedy, Executive Producer, talks about the importance of each scene and each character: “Bits about ourselves are revealed in these characters.” That’s why we’re glued to it, right?

Archie Panjabi, who plays Kalinda (my favorite character on the show) says, “Even in a legal-procedural show like ‘The Good Wife,’ all the characters are complex.”

Robert King adds, “Each episode ends with some sort of moral question or ambivalence.”

Just like chapters in a novel should end with something that drives the reader forward.

In June I participated in the Fairhope Writers Colony Retreat, hosted by Sonny Brewer in Fairhope, Alabama. Each day, local authors joined us to talk about the art and craft of writing, changes in the publishing world, and anything else that came up. One day C. Terry Cline was our guest author, and we got to talking about the importance of each chapter, and each scene in a book. Terry believes that each scene should contain the following four elements:

1.     Conflict
2.     Character development
3.     Carry the story forward
4.     Multi-layering (sights, sounds, smells)

He added that it helps for each chapter to end with a cliff hanger—the more subtle, the better—but something that again makes the reader keep reading.

As I’m heading into the final third of my novel—and revising as I go because I can’t help myself—I’m hoping to put to use the wisdom gleaned from the writers of good television dramas and novels. What are your favorite television shows? (I’m thinking of studying the deleted scenes in “Mad Men” and “Parenthood” next.) Have you studied the writing to see what pearls are there to help you move your own stories forward in a gripping way? Join the conversation here by leaving a comment.

Susan Cushman has nine published essays, one novel and two memoirs tucked safely away in a drawer, and a novel-in-progress that she hopes to publish one day. In 2012, her essay, “Chiaroscuro: Shimmer and Shadow,” will appear in the second volume of the anthology, All Out of Faith: Southern Women on Spiritualityfrom the University of Alabama Press. Susan is director of the 2011 Memphis Creative Nonfiction Workshop coming up in September. She blogs at "Pen and Palette." 

Friday, August 12, 2011

Organized Chaos by Anna Michaels

I love this month’s topic - managing time. But I have to chuckle at the idea that anybody in the writing profession can actually plan a day’s writing and have it turn out that way.  That might have been true twenty-six years ago when I started my career.  I got up in the morning, made breakfast for my husband and children, then went into my office and wrote, first on an electric typewriter where revision required two gallons of whiteout, and then later on a cumbersome old computer powered by DOS, which made me cry every day for three weeks after I switched from electric to electronic.

Today, here’s how those plans turn out. I get up every morning and make breakfast for myself.  What luxury. The whole day is mine! I take a cup of green tea chai into my office and open up the computer. I plan to finish Chapter Three of my next Anna Michaels book. (I say this because I write comedic mysteries under my own name, Peggy Webb, and literary fiction under the pen name, Anna.)

First, though, I check my email. Sound easy? Try checking a personal email which contains an urgent message from one of my editors that he needs promo material for the next book, pronto.

“No problem,” I reply via email.  “You’ll have it by this afternoon.” Add that to the calendar. 

Next, go to the two business email addresses for Peggy and Anna. Two people want interviews with Peggy and have sent questionnaires, three want to book Anna for signings and lectures, and fans on both sites have sent lovely letters that absolutely must be answered that day so they will love me forever and recommend my books to the thousands of people on their Facebook pages. Not to mention their Twitter accounts.

Oh, did I forget to mention that I then hurry to post something on my two Facebook Accounts...and send new material to my web guru to update my two websites?  And I’m feeling guilty because I haven’t yet opened a Twitter account under either name, and I hardly ever say a squeaky word on Beyond Her Book and Goodreads and so many more great places where readers and writers gather that it makes me dizzy to think about it.

Where did the time go? I wanted to be writing by ten, and here it is and I’ve tackled only two of the urgent requests, I still haven’t written the promo material, and I don’t know whether I’m Anna or Peggy. Sigh!  Since it’s lunchtime I decide to be both so I can eat for two!  Fun!  Two hamburgers, two bags of chips, two ice creams.  Wait. I think I’ll leave off one of the ice creams or I won’t fit in my chair.

Now it’s afternoon and I’m exhausted because I have a deadline and I’ve been busy all morning but I still haven’t written a word. I take a ten-minute power nap to refresh myself, and I don’t even have to loosen my clothes because I’m still in pjs. I meant to wear real clothes today, but I got caught up in the business end of my career and couldn’t find a place to stop.

Since the day is half gone, and I’ll be in pjs in a few hours, I’ll just be comfy while I write. At last! 

The doorbell rings.  It’s the UPS delivery man with a box of books from my publisher. I try to act as if I’m an Eccentric, Exciting Writer in Cute Lounge Clothes, instead of a disheveled-looking woman in wrinkled pajamas.

With that crisis over, I’m finally back at the keyboard, ready to do what I love best, telling the story.  By I’ve written only half the amount of material I need in order to meet my deadline. Here’s the real discipline. Here’s the time management. I keep writing. I don’t let the clock dictate when I should leave the office. In twenty-six years I’ve never missed a deadline, and I don’t intend to start now.  I write until I’ve met the page quota I set for myself.  Sometimes that’s till , sometimes till   I do what it takes to complete the real work of an author – writing the book.

My time management plan can best be called Organized Chaos. When I sign a contract to deliver a book, I figure out how much time I need to write it, then I factor in travel and emergencies in order to plan monthly and weekly page quotas. The next step is to meet those quotas, No Matter What.  I can’t control what other people do, and I certainly wouldn’t want to miss a single one of the invitations, letters, and requests that come my way.  But I can control whether or not I meet my writing deadline. It’s called Discipline. Plain and Simple. And it’s the best time management plan a writer can have.

 I’d love to hear from you about the ways you meet the challenges of too much to do and too little time.

Anna Michaels is the author of The Tender Mercy of Roses, a novel Pat Conroy calls “astonishing.” She is now in love with a new set of characters and the story they are whispering in her ear.  She is also working on another Southern Cousins Mystery as Peggy Webb, who has produced almost 70 books in a career that spans 26 years. Visit her at and and on FB under both her writing identities. Ask for Free bookplates on both her websites. Enter her Goddess Contest. Win signed books.  Send chocolate. 

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Too Dark For Superheroes

A ghost story

By Andy Straka

. . . .Maybe somewhere in the e-book future lurks the Ghost of Legacy Publishing Past . . . .

      I half expected the old man in the green eyeshade not to show.  But when I stepped off the elevator on the twenty-fourth floor of the Acme Legacy Publishing building in New York a few minutes after midnight, there he was.  
      In his corner office with his shirtsleeves rolled up, nursing bloodshot eyes.  The nub of a cigar protruding from the side of his mouth like a bad memory.  On the ink-stained blotter behind him, a half empty bottle of Scotch flanked the empty glass in his hand. 
      There was something lonely, even heartbreaking about him, I decided.  I wasn’t sure why I’d come.  He regarded me with a cagey stare, even in his weakness.  He was an industry icon.  He was still chained to his desk.
      “You’re late,” he said.
      “What did you expect?”
      “I don’t know what I expected, exactly.  I guess I thought you’d be . . . with everything going on . . . a little more on top of things.”
      “Well, I’m not.  Sorry to disappoint you.”
      “Disappointed?” That brought a guffaw out of him.  
      “I’m just a writer.”
      “Just a writer, huh?” He twisted his lower lip, adjusting the angle of the cigar. 
      “What are you doing here at this hour, anyway?” 
      “I could ask the same of you,” he said.
      “You invited me.  Remember?”
      “Yes, as a matter of fact, I did.”  He turned and looked at the stack of manuscripts piled in his corner, before looking back.  “But you’re the only one who accepted the invitation, my friend.  Everybody else just wanted to do it by email.” 
      I couldn’t think of any response to that, so I kept quiet.
      “You want a drink?” he asked.
      “Why not?”
      “Here.  Pull up a chair.”  He beckoned toward the one empty chair in his office and reached for the bottle of Scotch.  He produced another tumbler like his from somewhere, filling both glasses while I sat down.  “Cheers.”  He handed mine across to me. 
      The Scotch tasted good.  We regarded one another for a moment.
      “You’re some kind of spirit, aren’t you.” 
      “You might say that,” he said.
      “I figured as much . . . when I got the message, I mean.”
      He took another long pull on his drink before rubbing his hand across the stubble on his chin.  “You know why you’re here, don’t you?”
      “I think I do.”
      “There’s no use sugarcoating it.  We’re going to have to let you go.  We aren’t offering you any more contracts on your books.”
      “I know.”  I took another sip of the Scotch.  For ghost Scotch, it really did taste good.
      “Of course you do,” he said.  “You’ve been out there like everybody else, as soon as you could find an opening in your contracts or write something else, publishing for yourselves on those infernal electronic gadgets.  Going straight to your readers.”
      “Apparently, I have some.”
      He paused for a moment.  “You.”  He smiled, pointing a bony finger at me that looked for all the world like Robert De Niro smiling and pointing at Billy Crystal in Analyze This.  “You haven’t lost your sense of humor.”
      “Not yet.”
      He laughed, but his countenance suddenly darkened.  “They’re all dead now.”
      “Dead?  Who?”
      “The real, old-fashioned writers.  They’re all dead, or worse, gone over to the dark side like you.”  
      “I’m sorry.  I suppose that’s true.”
      “We had them all back in the day.  All the great ones.  You could go downstairs and smell the ink flying off the presses before the books were sent to the bindery, just as the writers could smell the ink on the typewriters.  It was magical, I tell you.  That’s what it was.”
      I nodded, not wishing to puncture his dream.
      “Huxley had it right, you know.”  He picked up a sheaf of papers from in front of him, snapping the sheets together against his desk like they were precious gems.   “It’s all become a brave new world now.  We’re going to need a lot of brave new writers.”
      “I guess that’s one way of looking at it.”
      “You plan to be one, kid?  You plan to be a brave new writer?”
      “I guess I am already.”
      He smiled.  “Well, I guess you are . . . one thing, though.”
      “What’s that?”
      “You won’t have me to kick around anymore.  You won’t have me to blame for your rejections or your editing issues or your lack of marketing or whatever else.  It’s all on you now.  It’s all on you.”
      “I get it.”
      “You’ll have to do everything.  Everything, you understand?  From the copyediting to the book jacket, layout, publicity, tours . . . You not only have to write, but you have to figure it all out and make it work, and hope that they sell.  Why you’ve practically got to become a damn superhero.”
      “Well, I don’t quite think that—”
      “Do you even know what you’re up against?” 
      “I hope so.”
      He turned in his chair and looked out the window at the sparkling late night jewel that was midtown Manhattan. “It’s too dark out there for superheroes, kid.”
      “I guess we’ll see.”
      “But I sure could’ve used you, back in the day.”
      “Wish I could have been there.”
      He smiled once again at something, maybe the memories.  “We could’ve told some good stories, couldn’t we?”
      “You bet.”
      “’Cause that’s all it’s really ever been about, hasn’t it?  The stories, I mean.”
      “Pretty much.”
      “Kind of sad when you think about it though, isn’t it, kid?  Sweet for you, I mean.  Sad for me.”
      “Sad and sweet for all of us.”
      “Maybe,” he said.  “You’re the poet, kid.” 
      “But that’s not the worst part of it,” I said.
      “Oh, yeah?”  He arched an eyebrow. “What’s that?”  
      “I’ve got a feeling the party’s just begun.”
      He glared at me for a long moment.  Then he leaned his head back and howled, a laugh so loud it startled me into a new awareness as both he and the glass in my hand dissolved into bright particles.  
      Coming fully awake, I found myself staring into my computer screen.  2014?  1984?  
      I looked around the room to make sure I was back in my own office.  I was indeed.  Turning to look at my bookcase as the personal book-sales-per-minute counter on the laptop in front of me bleeped another dozen downloads.

Publisher's Weekly has featured Andy Straka as one of a new crop of "rising stars in crime fiction." His books include A WITNESS ABOVE (Anthony, Agatha, and Shamus Award finalist), A KILLING SKY (Anthony Award Finalist), COLD QUARRY (Shamus Award Winner), KITTY HITTER (called a "great read" by Library Journal), RECORD OF WRONGS (hailed by Mystery Scene magazine as "a first-rate thriller"), FLIGHTFALL (a recently released novella), and a new thriller, THE BLUE HALLELUJAH, coming this September.  You can follow him on Facebook, on Twitter @AndyStraka, or at He is no longer published by a major publisher, yet he sold over eleven thousand ebooks last month. 

Friday, August 5, 2011

Carolyn Haines: The Thirty-Hour Day

Time management is an issue no matter what profession a person chooses, but I think it is a particular problem for those of us in the creative realm. While a banker must balance his books, a writer can avoid writing for months at a time-until a looming deadline crashes in. And for those writers who are working on spec rather than a contract, it can often be harder to motivate to spend that solitary time in pursuit of “the greatest scene ever written.”

Because I teach fiction writing at the University of South Alabama, I get to look at the issue of time management from many different angles. My own perspective—a full time teaching load, grad students with thesis projects, the paperwork, politics, and committee work of participating in an English department, not to mention book promotion (a 24-7 job), touring, giving speeches, and trying to write the next book.

Add an animal rescue on top of that, which brings so many emotional upsets as well as hard physical labor and expense, and I am extremely busy.

The thing is—I love all three aspects of my life. I could give up teaching, but I don’t want to. I love being able to share what I know with students who are fevered to write. If I gave up the animals, who would care for them, and some need a lot of care? And I’ve written stories since I was nineteen. Not much chance of leaving that behind.

I have made many sacrifices, though. Many. But those are personal and a blog is not a place to explore them. Let me just say that I believe the writing life often costs women a lot more than men. I’m sure this is a point that could be debated, so I do not speak it as a truth, only as my opinion.

The writing life is demanding. It requires total focus for long periods of time. In teaching hundreds of students, I have come to see how vital the role of time management and perseverance plays in getting published.

Many people think talent is the key to publishing. Yeah, it sure helps. But raw talent is of little practical use unless a writer also has discipline, drive, tenacity, and the ability to take criticism constructively. I see many young people with talent so pure and raw that it takes my breath away. But if they miss deadlines, procrastinate, make excuses, or dither away their time, I also understand that these students will likely never publish. Unless they mature into better time managers.

Because the drive to write comes from within, an external teacher can’t force a student to “do what’s necessary.” 

There’s a bit more to it here—many of these students are nineteen or so. At that early age, I had no great discipline for writing fiction. I wandered around in the world of writers who intimidated me to death. Try reading Doris Betts or Lee Smith or Flannery O’Connor while you’re struggling with your own short story. That’s a ticket to true despair. While these writers have so greatly motivated me, they can also prove to be intimidating to the green writer.

But the urge to write has to push aside fear and ego and all of the things that keep people from writing. The story has to be told—and it is my story, so I must tell it. (A writer must have a bit of an ego to think that people will want to spend their leisure time reading his/her work. This ego is leavened by abject fear, though!)

I feel that I have an obligation to my readers. Many have followed me through 11 Bones books and numerous other stories. They buy my books and spend their reading time on my creations—and I owe them the best story I can tell, which means a whole lot of work.

I can’t get that work done if I procrastinate. I hate being up against a deadline. I hate that pressure. I worked as a journalist for 10 years, and I met numerous DAILY deadlines. But I was writing 200-400 words at most. The hard thing about a novel is that it can be up to 100,000 words and the work stretches over a year. That means 365 days of work even when I don’t feel like it or would rather watch a SUPERNATURAL marathon on TV. Some days I want to be entertained without using my brain at all!

So I try to do my hard writing work in the morning, so it’s done and I can’t begin to find excuses not to do it. I do my editing in the afternoons. I work everyday. Even when I am not actively writing, I am working because I am thinking about it.

But if I am sick or traveling—I give myself that time off. Illness robs me of my creativity and focus. Travel discombobulates me and I am not grounded enough to write.
That’s how I handle the writing life. I stay focused in the moment on what I’m doing and I never accept excuses about how hard it is or how I’d rather clean toilets than write. I have those days, but I don’t let them beat me.

A native of Mississippi, Carolyn Haines lives in Alabama on a farm with her dogs, horses, & cats. Bones of a Feather, the 11th book in her Sarah Booth Delaney series, is now available.  Sign up for Carolyn Haines' Newsletter & feel free to visit her Website, along with her Facebook, Twitter, & Fan Page.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Chains and Timers

by Cathy Pickens

How do I manage my time?  After spending years reading every book possible on organizing myself and my time, buying all manner of organizational “aids,” and even being hired as a consultant to tell other people how to manage their time, I can tell you how I manage my time:

Not well.

To juggle a full-time job along with my writing and writing-related stuff, I’m frequently grateful I married my husband late in life. He already knew how to feed himself. I have no children, no pets, and no houseplants.  No living thing relies upon me for sustenance.  (Of course, if I had been responsible for another life form and if something had gone wrong and I’d been charged with neglect, would I have had time in prison to write? Hmmm.)

I’m basically no help for all those who have others relying on them for care.

Even with what, to others, could look like acres of free time and freedom, I still wrestle with getting things done, especially writing, because my creativity manifests itself most strongly as I create ways to avoid writing. If you want to see some clean, neat closets and drawers, come to my house when I’m supposed to be writing.

I can make time to write, but then find myself wasting it because, given the time, nothing but fears rush in.  After eight books, what do I fear?  That the next one won't be as good as I want it to be. They never are that good.  And because I know it'll be hard work.

So I must sometimes drive myself to my work, even though I love it.

I know I’m not alone (although I look as though I am, in the photo).  True, there are those who gush on about how they love writing, how they spend every waking minute writing, how … Just shut up.  You’re either lying or you’re crazy.  Admit it.

I’m not alone.  In a column for the Charlotte Observer, Doug Robarchek once wrote about a man who wanted to be a writer.  As I remember the story, the would-be writer was visited by an angel, who offered to take him to Writer Heaven and Writer Hell, so he could see what he was getting into. 

The visit to Writer Hell was terrifying: writers chained to their desks, hunkered over endless work, sweating blood, screaming in anguish. 

“This is horrifying!  Oh, my!  Take me to Writer Heaven!"

“Sure,” said the angel, and in a twinkling, the would-be writer was looking over another scene: writers chained to their desks, hunkered over endless work, sweating blood, screaming in anguish.

“This is dreadful!  It looks just like Writer Hell!  What’s the difference?”

“Here in Writer Heaven, the writers are published.”

Any creative work is difficult and messy.  Which brings me to the time management tip I return to most often: the BIC method, I call it—Butt In Chair.  There’s no help for it.  You must take your pen in hand and get started.

Mark out time, even if it’s just 15 minutes a day.  You can write a 250-word page in longhand in 15 minutes.  At that rate, you can draft a book in less than a year.

Fifteen-minute spurts work for other difficult tasks, too.  The Fly Lady advocates tackling your housework by setting a timer and working for 15 minutes.  The whole point, of course, is seeing what you can accomplish in that time will make you set the timer again.  So if you let yourself write for 15 minutes, you’ll want to stretch it out to 30 minutes.  Before long, you’re on a roll.

When all else fails, I go for the chain-myself-to-my-desk method.  Only I rarely sit at a desk, and a chain would mar the wood.  So I go to a cafe that doesn’t mind if I sit there after the morning rush.  I get breakfast and a giant glass of iced tea.  And I make myself sit there until I get to work.  And I can’t go to the bathroom until I’ve done something productive.  A full bladder can really get me focused.

So pick your favorite tips for chaining yourself to your work or decide what you can get done in 15 minutes.  And don’t tell me you LOVE your work each and every day and you don’t even have to treat yourself to a gingerbread bagel or go to the bathroom.  You’re just making the rest of us feel bad.

Revising Scenes--the Big Picture by Elizabeth S Craig

Right now, I’m preparing a book for e-publishing.  It’s a mystery that I wrote five years ago. 

It’s one of those editing tasks where you think it’s going to be a breeze.  That you’ll maybe change some character names, put in more action verbs, brush up a few things and you’ll be done.  Instead, it’s like a “simple” home renovation project where you plan on just painting a bathroom and end up discovering your house has a dangerous structural problem that involves demolition.
The revision is taking me absolutely forever.

One thing that I’ve found that’s making me go quicker is to actually diagnose what’s wrong with a scene.  I did a quick read-through and there were several scenes right away that I wasn’t happy with.

One of the scenes involved a murder suspect’s visit with my sleuth.  The scene just didn’t resonate with me at all.   At first I thought it was because the transition between the previous scene and that one was really brief.  The scene felt abrupt after the discovery of the body.  And it was abrupt.  So I changed the transitions and it read better.
Then I thought that the suspect’s dialogue didn’t sound true to the character.  And it didn’t.  She was using language that didn’t fit her street-tough mentality.  It just didn’t work.  So I changed it.  But then I didn’t like it because I didn’t think the young woman would speak to my elderly sleuth that way.  And it didn’t sound like something I would write for my readers (and I keep my readers in mind while I’m writing.) 

So I decided to look at the big picture.  What was the purpose of the scene?  It was there to give my sleuth some information about the crime scene from the person who discovered the body.  I needed to get my sleuth that information—but she didn’t necessarily have to be the person to deliver it.  Wouldn’t it be better if someone else delivered the information? Oh—and what if the person delivering it was unreliable?  Maybe that person has some useful information, but maybe they’ve got other parts wrong.
Not only could someone else entirely give my sleuth the information, but it didn’t have to be delivered right then.  Not knowing this tidbit was making my sleuth antsy…why not keep her a little antsy for a while and bug other people for the facts she needed?  Why not give her a little mini-conflict?  Why just dump it into her lap without her having to work for it?

Diagnosing a scene’s problem:
What am I trying to accomplish in this scene?  What’s the big picture?
Does this scene need to take place at this particular time?
Should this scene be set in this location?
Should this scene involve these particular characters?  Should other characters be involved?
Does the scene have any conflict? Can conflict be added?

If the above answers are yes, then could the problem be something simple like clumsy dialogue, poor transitions, not enough showing instead of telling?
Finally-- can the scene be cut altogether without losing anything?

When I started really analyzing the reasons I was feeling dissatisfied with a scene, the revision started speeding up. 
Have you had to do CPR on some of your scenes?  What’s your usual approach when doing so?

Elizabeth writes the Memphis Barbeque series for Penguin/Berkley (as Riley Adams), the Southern Quilting mysteries (2012) for Penguin/NAL, and the Myrtle Clover series for Midnight Ink. She blogs daily at Mystery Writing is Murder, which was named by Writer’s Digest as one of the 101 Best Websites for Writers for 2010.  Find her on Twitter (@elizabethscraig), Google+ (Elizabeth S Craig) and the Writer’s Knowledge Base.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Writing Like a Hummingbird

By Augusta Scattergood

The aging oscillating fan in my office has cried uncle, given up in the relentless heat. The fan no longer rotates. Like that fan, this summer I’ve spent a lot of time sitting very still.

On the day the temperature inside my house never got below 84 at my writing desk, I happened upon Nicole Seitz’s post about thinking.  
Nicole validated my quiet activity, or rather, inactivity. Sitting and thinking creatively is different from just sitting with your face in front of a fan. Different and oh-so-necessary for writers.

Sometimes, when I’m faced with deadlines, too many projects piling up on my desk, or when—like now— one big project is complete and another awaits judgment, I buy the most captivating notebook at the stationery store, find a comfortable chair, and I begin thinking and scribbling.

Then I open my favorite writing book.

Like many writers, I have an entire shelf of craft books. I refer to them when I’m stuck on a plot issue, pondering point-of-view, muddling around the middle. Sometimes.

But I mostly avoid books with “Inspiration” in the title. I’m not that great at writing prompts. I don’t enjoy books that push me hard out of my comfort zone while I'm in the thinking stage of writing.

My favorite book, THE POCKET MUSE, is different. Every time I open it, something new jumps off the page and into my notebook. Monica Wood’s book is subtitled “ideas and inspirations for writing.” Even with that subtitle, I love it. This is why.

It’s compact and solid. One terrific bookmaking job!
I often smile just holding  it.

A soothing shade of green—the only color in it or on it other than black and white—frames the outside and the inside.

More things pack the pages than you’ve never thought about. Photographs, author quotes, (fake) horoscopes, fonts- wonderful fonts!

So many good things that turn sitting into creative thinking before you can say “Where’s my iced tea?”

Today I’m thinking about hummingbirds, and not just because they are flitting and fighting over our feeder. Here’s what Monica Wood says about them:

During the first draft of anything I write…I find myself getting up and down continually, almost as if the work were too bright to look at directly. I used to consider this approach to the blank page a flaw in my character, but I have come to refer to it affectionately as the Hummingbird Method of Writing.

Hummingbirds approach flowers in much the way I approach a first draft: sip, draw back, sip draw back…
I also like hummingbirds because they hibernate. In hostile conditions they can enter a torpor, their breathing nearly indiscernible, their reactions either very slow or entirely lacking.
Another hummingbird fact writers can relate to: twenty percent of its body weight is heart.

I just love that.

I love so much of this little book.  I even love the prompts, like this one that took me right to the heart of one of my characters:

Write about the last time you got your wish.

Or this:

Imagine a coat. Imagine the pocket of that coat. Imagine what’s in the pocket.

I understand Southern writers of yore did a lot of pondering on their wide, blue-ceilinged, wrap-around porches, iced drinks in hand. As huge ceiling fans turned the hot air around, Mr. Faulkner, Miss O’Connor and their cronies cranked out a creative thought or two.

Sitting in a big chair, dipping into THE POCKET MUSE, watching my hummingbird flit—all while thinking quietly— will do just fine this summer.

Here’s a link to Monica Wood’s website, with a few of her writing prompts. And what a treat I discovered there- a second edition, in blue! 

And almost before I added the newer book to my wish list, a very thoughtful person bought it for me. 

(Note the stickie notes in my green book. I can’t bear to scribble in it, but I do put an occasional, tiny underlining or check mark.
As of now, the blue edition is pristine.)

Augusta Russel Scattergood spends her summers writing in the northeast where it’s supposed to be cooler than her home in St. Petersburg, Florida. Her first middle-grade novel, historical fiction set in 1964 Mississippi, GLORY BE, will be published in January, 2012, by Scholastic and is already available for pre-order.