Tuesday, April 24, 2007

It's the little things and sex

When I was a little kid I was stuck in advanced beginner swim lessons for EONS because I couldn't keep my knees underwater during elementary backstroke - a stroke I only really appreciated once I was very pregnant. But summer after summer the whole time thinking that this session I would finally nail it - I'd be back with Kelly Soost on the shady side of the pool with the increasingly younger kids.

The same thing is happening in my writing.

I'm out of the baby pool - having figured out the basics of character, POV (not deep POV - just the head hopping) goals and conflict. But book after book I'm still on my back with my knees sticking out of the water on certain craft items. And this was supposed to get EASIER!

Now, that said - we drunkards have talked a lot about the McKee seminars so if you are feeling like you're at a hump you just can't get over I feel like McKee has really opened up the way I write. But I'm still having problems - two of which were hammered home this week.

1. Transition scenes. Ugh. Is there anything harder? You have to get your character from one perspective to another - you have to have them convince themselves of some course of action, you have to have them grieve, mourn, lust, whatever and then dust themselves off and head out to the next plot point. These scenes are so hard. In my current book I have a mother stroking her sleeping daughter's hair and the way I wrote it the first time around (which survived many draft changes and has stayed the same for over two months) she thinks about how tired they are. For like three paragraphs and then she stands up and confronts her ex-husband. It was awful - especially considering the relationship between mother and daughter and the mother and her own mother are a little tragic and sad and disjointed...so, why didn't I show that instead of tell the reader how tired they are. So the lesson I learned this week that I feel like I learned last week and will learn again next week - THERE ARE NO TRANSITION SCENES.

Every scene is a chance to show the reader something - character, conflict, motivation, backstory. Any one of those things that we're always throwing our hands up in the air about and screaming "where do I put this?" You put it in transition scenes.

2. Sex scenes. Finished Ice Blue last week, Anne Stuarts latest and reread it again tonight. Well, not the whole book - because as a whole the book is so disjointed and problematic that there is no point in rereading the whole thing. (scene after scene of the heroine going 'you're going to kill me?" and the hero going "yes." Heroine: "When?" Hero: "When you are no longer necessary to the assignment" and then the heroine falls in love with him - which would be ABSURD! if it weren't for the sex. Sex is not just sex in Anne Stuart novels - it is the best character and conflict reveal she makes. Her sex scenes are hot and moving and scary and romantic and fun. They show all the things she tells us in other parts of the book and they advance the plot. Amazing. Really really something.

My sex scenes - not so much. Gotta do something about that.

So, how about your elementary backstroke craft problems? What's got you stuck on the shady side of the pool?


Sinead M said...

Great post, Molly and love the swimming metaphor.
It's funny, I've read that scene twice now and each time thought it was such a nice scene, but you're right, all our scenes need to do more than just one thing.
something we know, but forget every once in a while.
But I strongly believe it's the transition scenes, the small scenes leading to the big reveal or action that are the hardest and sometimes the most crucial.

I hate writing the small scenes..

And sex scenes... but Anne Stuart is a master at them.
Haven't finished Ice Blue yet, but I agree with your points on it.

Molly O'Keefe said...

I think that's why we are always so amazed by Susan Elizabeth Phillips - those little transistion scenes are so hidden or effortless or something.

The Sopranos - oh my God. Sinead - these last episodes are a master class in suspense and red herrings and truly making small details into huge issues - so good. SO GOOD>

Maureen McGowan said...

I think you've been out of the shady side for a long time Molly. But we all do have things that toss us into deeper waters than we're comfortable with at times.

I completely agree there's no such thing as a transition scene.

As for me? I feel like I'm having trouble just treading water these days. Sinking, sinking, sinking

Christine said...

My biggest issues seems to be brining my characters internal motivations out so they are relevant to the internal plot. I always seem to have a great external plot going on, but not so much with the internal. I'm slowly getting better.

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