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One of the cardinal rules of writing is of course KISS. Keep It Simple, Stupid. I have a key scene in a library in my book. It is pivotal. The heroine meets the baddy for the first time and also starts discover strange powers and the power of the Stone. So pretty much THE SCENE!
Personally I thought it was a brilliant bit of writing. Some incredibly descriptive bits that are my darlings of the whole book (kill them, you say? Never!) Keeping this in mind I sent draft 2 of the book to Julie Cohen to read. Of course she was going to tell me it was the most amazing piece of fiction she had ever read and how I should send it out to agents ASAP! I am also delusional and given to grand dreams if you didn’t already know. She called me back once she’s read it and I came to earth with a bump. She gave fabulous feedback all of which I agreed with one exception. I had too much going on in the library scene and I should probably simplify it.
Ha! Simplify it? Hadn’t she read it? Didn’t she realise the blazing importance of the scene? Everything in there HAD TO BE THERE! I conceded that I could clarify it better and deepen the conflict. But simplify! Was she CRAZY? I did a quick re-write and sent it back to her, settling back with a smug grin waiting for her to come to her senses. It came winging back saying that it was still too complicated and she really wasn’t sure what was going on.
The woman was OBVIOUSLY STUPID! I mean really… it was all there in black and white! Was she BLIND? I obviously replied in softer terms than that and she should realise a, b and c because it was all there in the scene.. Well that isn’t what came across she replied. Honestly… some people.
Determined to prove her wrong I threw myself into Draft 3 of the book and soon stumbled into the library scene again. I rolled up my sleeves. I’d show her!
At the end of that weekend I was floundering. The deeper I dug the emotion the more complicated the scene became. I had bodies being taken over supernaturally, I had people being mind controlled… all by different entities. But still EVERYTHING had to be in that scene, I knew best because it was MY story and I could make it work.
The next weekend I went back to the same scene, digging deeper and realising how much better my writing was becoming from having to do this. Maybe Julie could have had some point about this whole revising thing but I wasn’t simplifying. Have I mentioned I can be a tad stubborn?
I finished the scene but it left me with a bitter aftertaste… I knew it wasn’t quite right. So I left it and my book for about a month and when I picked it up again I decided I wouldn’t worry about that scene just yet. However like a scab I couldn’t help picking at it and I rewrote it again.
By this time the scene was about three times the length of the original scene and me and the heroine were heartily sick of it. I had left her pinned to the floor of the library by a supernatural force for much longer that she expected and it was making her cranky. But I wasn’t going to be beaten! And about two weeks ago I got my heroine out of the library. YES! In your face, Julie Cohen, the scene was done! To celebrate I took myself off to the cinema to see ‘Source Code’. Halfway through the movie I had this feeling of dread trickle down my spine. Good storytelling needs clarity in each scene, a need to keep it simple (Source Code does this well, I think).
And as I watched Jake Gyllenhall blown up for the fourth time I realised Julie was bloody right. The scene WAS too complicated. I needed to have either a body snatcher or a mind controller but not both in the same scene.
I dragged myself back home and opened the book again. My heroine screaming in my head to not make her go into the library! Not again! I made notes of what needed to be cut and slowly moved on with the rest of the book. The scene is still there though, fat and bloated and bloody complicated all because I failed to follow Julie’s advice:
KISS – Keep It Simple, Stupid!