I’ve been indulging in some candy bar scenes this week. These are typically the scenes you hold off writing, because they’re the fun ones; the ones that signify major plot points or key emotional stepping-stones for your characters. You’re supposed to hang them out in front of you like a reward you get after the rest of the wordage is down.
I find, though, these are also the scenes that help me keep a story on track. They’re the ones that set the character of the whole novel, and the touchstones I keep returning to when I feel like I’m losing my way. Getting a candy bar scene down ahead of time can help me focus on where the bit I’m actually up to in the plot is heading. They’re also the points at which my characters shine brightest – where their personalities and motivations are most clear. So they also keep me focused on how I am developing the people inhabiting my story.
Typically, these are the scenes where my Muse kicks into overdrive, so they are addictive. I tend to find they leave me a bit wrung out, though. And often when I come to incorporating them into the story as a whole (imagine a kind of literary connect-the-dots), I find they are heavy on emotion, but lacking in the kind of world-building depth that really brings a story to life. That’s fine, though. That’s what first drafts are for, after all.
For me, the key issue is balance. If I write all my candy bar scenes all at once, I just end up with a bunch of disjointed, high energy scenes that don’t actually tell a story. I confess, this was pretty much how I approached writing in my teens. I’m not sure if it was the teen thing, or an overdose of candy, but the other problem I experienced with this approach is that what I ended up with was also kind of melodramatic and silly. Also, I ran out of energy to write the bits that knitted the story together as a whole.
But if I just try to slog it out from beginning to middle to end, I get lost in the fog of the present and can’t see where I’m going, or how to get there.
I like to think of it as finding my way by following a kind of trail of candy through the forest of my unwritten draft.