Dawn Colclasure's Blog

Author and poet Dawn Colclasure

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Writer in distress

Today I was chatting with someone and during our chat, I recounted one particularly frightening experience I had while living in L.A. many years ago. Talking about this experience made me suddenly recall the many times someone has had to "grab me" or "push me out of the way" when certain dangers have struck. I realized one thing: There are many episodes of the past where I was a "damsel in distress."

Well, today, I was a "writer in distress."


Today was THE day I would tackle the Problem Chapter in my novel revisions.

I set about working on the revisions of my novel thinking I'd just do the requested "scene fixing" an editor made. Wasn't long before I got hung up on words and sentence construction. Now this particular editor is online. We chat every so often. I logged in today and, thankfully, she was online, too. I asked her about a particular sentence I'd written earlier and she noted it was a "mess." (I joked something about how "that's what I get for writing first thing in the morning" since I'm a night owl.) I'm glad she was online at the time I was working on this; it REALLY helped to ask her input on certain bits and pieces of the novel she wanted fixed up.

I felt particularly victorious after I improved what had been a "sitting and thinking" scene (something I'm not very fond of in novels), but that victory didn't last for very long. I soon came to the "Problem Chapter." Why is it a problem chapter? Almost the whole thing needed a facelift, per the editor's request, and I couldn't figure out how I was going to rewrite it! (I LIKED that humorous episode where my character meets this other character! *whines*) I didn't know why the editor wanted it changed. Her opinion was that it wasn't "realistic" and she also thought another character could've been introduced better. Yes, two characters are introduced in this chapter, first the supporting character then a minor character. The supporting character is IMPORTANT to the story so I had to be careful on just how she was portrayed in her debuting scene. I wanted to show her as a strong-willed woman who doesn't take crap from anyone, someone who is my protagonist's friend but also a very meticulous and hardened character.

One thing was clear: I could NOT write this chapter with the distractions of being online. This called for some rolling up of sleeves and using pen and paper! So I got off the computer, printed the chapter out, grabbed my notes and headed outside. Normally, sitting outside helps me when I get stuck with my writing. But that didn't happen this time. After a while of frustrations, I started grumbling over how I WISH TO GOD a writing buddy was around to help me out. Now since these two characters are nurses, I at first thought of how I could portray them in their work environment. I started debating whether or not I could get away with stealing a scene from ER (and exactly which characters from that show could "act" as my characters, thereby helping me along in devising a scene between them). I finally got up and came back inside. I was hungry, anyway, so I went into the kitchen to make some lunch. Still, I was SO FRUSTRATED! Was I going to have to go to a hospital and sit there, watching nurses interact so I could pick up on some ideas?? I even banged my head against the cabinet, grumbling, "Fix it. Fix it. Fix it!!" I made myself two tuna sandwiches, grabbed some chips and soda, and headed to the table. (I don't normally eat two sandwiches for lunch, but I was STARVING!) I looked over my notes while I ate, then I thought about other scenes my supporting character appears in. All of them are true to the kind of person she is. I thought maybe there's something I could "use" from the other scenes she's in for her introductory scene. Then I realized that...actually...there WAS! In one scene, my supporting character raises hell because patient files are missing. Hm, could that be something I could use now? Thinking on that scene, I realized that, yes, I COULD make that a repeat occurrence! There's a reason why files are missing later in the story, but I could use that to be my supporting character's debut scene. Yes, it could work. Then she talks about the OTHER character (the minor one) visiting a patient. And my protagonist COULD go see what was up, thereby covering the "meeting him" requirement of the chapter...

Yes! It COULD work!! It COULD be done! The whole scene started playing out in my head and I quickly started writing down how EVERYTHING would happen in that first part of the chapter, every step of the way.

When I finished eating, I got back to working on the chapter. I WAS back online as I'd been eating and as I wrote, but I didn't let that be a distraction this time. (I told the person I was chatting with that I was working on my novel as we chatted.) After I finished writing it all out, I was ecstatic. It was A LOT better than what I'd originally written. Believe you me, I really liked it better than the original. It just all fit together, and I later realized that the final scene of that part of the book acted as the "inciting incident" for the next scene that followed. It actually made what happened next MAKE SENSE! I didn't even notice that when I was writing it, and when I did, I was, like, "Whoa..." My muse knew EXACTLY what she was doing. :)

Now I'm anxious to show the editor the revisions for this chapter. It's quite an accomplishment I got it done and I'm GLAD it's over with. I just really like it much better. It's more interesting, plot-moving, and, above all else, realistic.


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