Sunday, April 25, 2010

Oh, the Pain

Gabriella Herkert
Catnapped and Doggone

What is the hardest scene to write? I’ve been thinking about this one for a while now and came up with two answers that are really just the same answer put two different ways. How’s that for lawyer equivocation and qualification? Some days, I am a product of my educational upbringing.

The hardest scene to write is the one with the staring blank page. Except maybe for the very prolific Stephen King, every writer has this particular scene in every book. Sometimes, this scene is in every chapter particularly as a deadline looms. As the author, you may know what it is supposed to include. What clue, what character revelation, what invitation to the reader to really bond with the story…but it just won’t materialize. You start. The murderer stalked, no not stalked. He wouldn’t stalk. He’s still limping from being shot in the last action scene. And murderer. I can’t call him the murderer. It’s page fifty. If I refer to him as the murder now…backspace, backspace, backspace and on and on. Okay, start again. The man moved…that’s not right. It eliminates half my suspects. And moved? What the heck kind of verb is moved? People move for new jobs. Barbara Walters moves interviewees to tears. Suspects do not move through…yikes, delete, delete, delete and on and on. At this point in time, you can almost feel the laundry taking on the immediacy of a national disaster. Yep, better take care of that. And the dog needs walking. When was the last time the oven got cleaned anyway? Oh, the ways this scene can take on epic proportion if only in its ability to get the unnecessary details of life to magnify into the most pressing of tasks.

The diagnosis may be writer’s block, of course. I’ve been working on Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way course and I see staring at that evil blank page more clearly as an opportunity to evolve creatively. Okay, that’s self-delusional rah-rah that might not work but it doesn’t mean I can’t try. It also doesn’t mean I’ve got the foggiest clue how to get past it other than to write the horrible scene. Get it down on paper. Call him a murderer. Give the ending away. Move people like piles of earth with a back hoe. It’ll never make it into the final draft but the crumpling sound I imagine I hear when metaphorically ripping that “it was a dark and stormy knight” crap from the typewriter to pitch it, Michael Jordan like, into the waste paper basket on the far side of the room will be satisfying in its own way. And if I’m lucky, or just a little out of the flow, maybe my brain will break loose. It sounds more painful than it is. Unplug the dam and the words, those elusive themes and reversals and pithy comebacks will, well, come back. And I will feel positively giddy about it. That is, if writer’s block is the problem. Sometimes, the diagnosis isn’t an exact science.

My second answer to the what is the hardest scene question is really just a corollary of the first. The hardest scene is the one I’m not interested in writing. If I don’t want to write something, it doesn’t get written. Best to cop to it. It’s not a dodge either. A lack of interest is like a car accident. You can’t look away and it’s never pretty. How much an author enjoys the moment always comes through on the page. You can’t fake it like Meg Ryan in When Harry Met Sally. The joy, the “I crack myself up” laugh out loud scene, the where is my box of Kleenex sob moment cannot be manufactured. That joyful noise from a keyboard humming with I can’t wait to get to the next line can make every other structurally necessary transition or set up scene very hard to write.

I make it worse for myself. I write non-sequentially. When I’m in a funny mood (or at least when I think I’m funny), I pick a richochet repartee scene from the rough outline and let my smart mouth have at it. When I’m in a romantic mood, my characters end up, well, relaxed. But at the end of a book, or when I’m in rewrites, I don’t always have the luxury of matching my head space to my editorial requirements. It’s a lot like matching socks. I love my Pippi Longstocking pair but they are best kept for circus school. If I wore them to work, well, people would talk. There are days that the work socks are the ones you’ve got to pull on to get the job done. It’s the business of being an author. The necessary evil. Every day isn’t a Ringling Brothers event I am sorry to say and pretending I’m not circus people in a button-down office environment can be really tough. Like the blocked scenes, I just have to keep putting one key stroke next to another until I get to the other side. Then, I need to rewrite until it works.
I know a lot of authors will say it is the sex scene that is the hardest (no pun intended). All that orchestration like naked Twister. And the euphemisms. How many ways can you say he got lucky? Add in the ‘my mother is going to read this’ psychic scarring and you can have a pretty tough scene to write. Or a murdered child scene. I don’t use them at all because I don’t want to write that. For me. It’s not the hardest scene to write. I just don’t choose to go there emotionally. Those are choices. For a control freak like me, that’s okay. As long as I’m driving, I’m happy to be in the car. It’s when I don’t have a choice, when the writing gods say today is not my day to produce, that I feel the pressure of pushing through the hardest scenes. Here’s to defeating the monster of the blank page and the unwilling heart.

Thanks for reading.



Florine Gingerich said...

I concur with part two: rewriting when I'm not in the mood is the hardest. It's hard to recreate angst when you've just had a good time.

Gabi said...

I know you've been going through that lately. I have been, too. I'm looking forward to fresh projects and sharing them with you.

Shane Gericke said...

I looooove rewriting, even more than original writing. The latter is hard work. The former seems more like play, and where the good stuff finally comes out.

Gabi said...

Shane, I think there are drugs you can take for this malady. You love rewriting. Wait a minute. Maybe we can do a deal...