Monday, May 23, 2011

My Kitchen Floor and Other Sticky Situations

Writing, when you think about it, can be rather like cleaning the house. That’s to say if you’re a writer, you have to write. And if you live in any accommodation short of a coal bin, you have to clean.

The problem with cleaning your house is that it gets dirty again. Consider my kitchen floor. It’s a glorious, golden maple marked by eighty years of family life. Recently, my own family announced plans to visit so I swept it, mopped it, and waxed it. Boy, did it shine.

Then, a rogue brussels sprout skidded across the floor, leaving a trail of butter sauce. The scent of broiling lamb chops drew my drooling dog to the kitchen. After the meal, I spilled a hot cup of coffee—complete with cream and sugar. I wiped up these messes, but the damage was done. Now, my kitchen floor isn’t just dirty. It’s downright sticky!

Writing is the exact same way. You may think you’re done with that draft, but are you? Time and your trusted critique group can help you decide. In my case, the opening scene, which seemed so spic and span, is really a sticky situation. It snags readers on too many points instead of sending them on into the rest of the story. My manuscript doesn’t touch their hearts because too many questions are sticking in their heads.

How does a writer fix this kind of sticky situation? I’m treating my opening scene like my kitchen floor. Instead of a quick swipe, I’m going back to the beginning and cleaning it up.

In my current revision, I’m asking myself what does the reader need to know right now?

Next, I make a list of those things, and I keep the list short.

I work hard to reveal each listed point in description, dialogue, and action.

I cut anything that doesn’t fall under the heading of Needs to Know Right Now, but I save these bits. After all, the reader will need to know those details as my story progresses. If she doesn’t need to know them now, they don’t belong in this scene. If she doesn’t need to know them ever, they don’t belong in the manuscript.

Just like cleaning the floor, cleaning up this opening scene is proving to be hard work. I’ll get it done, though. Once I’m finished with it, hopefully, it’ll shine.

Now, the Rockville 8 wants to know what part of your manuscript is the sticky part? How do you plan to fix it? Which household chore do you hate the most? If I promise you tea and cake afterward, will you come over and mop my kitchen floor?


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  3. Thanks, Nichole. This is a fresh perspective for looking at, not only the opening scene, but all the scenes. However, I'll leave the kitchen floor clean up out of the equation. Don't think I have enough years to get it squeaky clean LOL

  4. This was wonderful. Thank you Nichole for this unique perspective on writing. Having just finished mopping my kitchen floor, the analogy rang true for me. My sticky point right now is emotion, so much emotion missing. Not from my life, just from my manuscript. So it's back to the chore list to see where I can much mopping left to do...sigh...

  5. Excellent perspective, Michelle. I don't wanna spend years cleaning the floor, either! But that's what it'll add up to! So when I got home this afternoon, I concentrated on my manuscript, instead. And I made some progress. Every time I began to veer off track, I would say out loud, "What does the reader need to know here?" I'd say it helped, but I can't be the judge of that.

    Mary, thanks for stopping by. You know, I think recognizing the sticky spots is half the battle of cleaning them up. Best wishes with your emotion issue. I bet you're well on your way to making that manuscript shine!

  6. A fun post, Nichole! Much more fun than mopping the floor. :-) Often in my house, the only time real cleaning is done is when we *are* expecting company, so family visits are necessary as well as fun. I always have that challenge of pruning the first chapter, although I don't find it easy to identify which bits the reader needs to know now. Often it takes someone else reading it to get that figured out. My latest sticking point was a prologue--I loved it but finally decided, after hearing so often that prologues are backstory and lazy writing, that it had to go. That was almost more painful than scrubbing a spaghetti-sauce-encrusted pot! :-)

  7. Excellent points, Nicole. Love the analogy. Unfortunately, my house isn't as clean as it should be because I'm working hard to finish that first draft of my current project. Sigh. And I don't even have the excuse of living in a coal bin.

    But that, too, I can apply to my writing. You figure out what you can live with, what you'll accept for now, while you're pushing hard in the drafting stage. You need to know when the sticky floor is important and when you can let it slide. Priorites.

    I've decided, at this stage, I can go back and clean anything up later . . . as long as there's something there to work with. And that shows the difference in writing styles/habits, too. While it's important to you to go back and fix those sticky bits right now, I'm willing to let the floor remain sticky for the moment while I work out the rest of the story.

    I'll spit shine right before company comes . . . or the editor requests. ;0) Isn't variety the spice of life? Brussel sprouts and all.

    Excellent points on the process--what does the reader need to know now, focus, and revealing how they find out. Wonderful post!

  8. Thanks for stopping by, Kathy. Now you know why my floors are sticky. I'd rather hang out with you!

    Your take on prologues is interesting. I've had two varieties of advice on them lately. A pubbed mystery writer told me as long as the prologue serves the story, her editor says call it Chapter One. A pubbed romance writer told me her editor says if it isn't three pages or less, it isn't a prologue and doesn't matter to the work. Hmmm.... What do you think?

  9. Candy, I attended a great workshop taught by Sherry Lewis recently. She covered sooooo many things, but when she talked about revising in "waves" I thought, Eureka! I never identified it, but it's what I do.

    How smart that you know exactly what works for you and how to describe it so others can figure out what will work for them!

    Do you find that your revision process leads to a long period of rewriting or are the changes that need to be made even clearer to you for waiting? Does it strengthen your initial theme or change it?