I recently read through a long thread of comments from a random group of authors talking about their writing process during NaNoWrMo (National Novel Writing Month). Many of them were lamenting about the same problem, how they had to “slog” or struggle through much of their story to reach those delicious candy bar scenes.
What is a so-called candy bar scene? It’s not a scene that involves a Snickers or a Kit-Kat, if that’s what you’re thinking. It’s a scene that “tastes” so good to you, the author, that you just can’t wait to reach that part of the story so you get it all written down. It’s a juicy scene that you have been looking forward to sharing with readers perhaps ever since you had the idea for the book.
Well, I have some advice for you new writers out there. EVERY SCENE in your book, from Page 1 to the very end of the story, should be a candy bar scene.
Now, before you raise your hands defensively and say, “No, Mike, that’s just not possible—there are great scenes in every book but there has to be some filler, too, all books have it…”
No, all books don’t have it. I can open up any of my all-time favorite novels (I’m not going to name them) and turn to ANY page in the story and—voila—I’m smack in the middle in a candy bar scene! Each and every scene is scrumptious and engaging. There are no plodding, lackluster, or filler scenes. This even includes flashbacks and simple scenes that at first glance do not even appear to advance the plot.
If you want to write a truly great book, you must do likewise. During your writing process, you must, with great care and discipline, eliminate every non-candy bar scene from your story, whether that means cutting the scene out (often the case) or reworking the scene (even more often the case). If it’s the former, simply muster up your courage and delete that scene. If it’s the latter, put on your creative thinking cap and dig deeper. Ask yourself: why am I not as excited about the scene as I need to be in order to make this into a wonderful book? Trust me. If you are not in Candy Bar Mode when you’re writing a scene, the reader won’t be, either. Your story will drag along at this point, and your reader will have exactly the same feeling of wanting to get past this part and move on to something more interesting as you do.
So, how can you jazz up humdrum scene so that you’re just as fired up about writing it as every other scene in the book?
Unfortunately, there is no simple formula for solving this problem—it’s a creative one. But I can share a quick example from one of my books to show you how I do it. In Lust, Money & Murder, there is a section of the story where my hero, Elaine Brogan, graduates from a conservative, all-girls high school and then wins a scholarship to a very liberal, coed college. When she enters the college as a freshman, she is not only shy and self-conscious around boys, she’s a virgin. All this makes her feel like a misfit, especially around her sexy, open-minded roommate.
In these pages of the story I decided to summarize, rather than dramatize, how she lost her virginity in a well planned-out way. It was a few paragraphs long and rather boring to write. I was clearly not in Candy Bar Mode. But I went on writing the rest of the story, knowing I would fix it, somehow, on the second draft.
On the next read-through, it became even more obvious that I wasn’t nearly as enthused as I should have been when writing that part of the story—the narrative came across flat. I thought something needed to be there but I wasn’t sure why. I first simply decided to cut it, but when I studied the scenes that preceded and followed it, I realized that cutting it would leave a gap. Many readers would wonder how Elaine made this difficult transition from a conservative, all-girl environment to the liberal, coed one.
I put on my thinking cap and started brainstorming. I began to imagine, in great detail, how Elaine would lose her virginity…and I realized that this could be funny. Poor Elaine feels like a social misfit and wants to escape this feeling as soon as possible. She’s also very pragmatic, a problem-solver. This was a chance to show more of her character, too. I decided that she would go out and hunt down three different suitable-seeming guys, and the first two would be disasters but the third one would rise to the occasion, so to speak. This triggered the analogy of Goldilocks and the Three Bears—the first guy would be too hot, the second guy would be too cold, and the third guy would be just right…or at least he would appear so at first.
Then I started creating these three characters, with the idea that the third and last one—Mr. Just Right (Almost)—would actually turn out to be a sports fanatic who was virtually “pickled in Viagra.” When he’s on top of Elaine, going at it, he startles her by crying out “Go, Rodriguez, go!” At first she thinks he’s speaking to his own manhood, but she when opens her eyes she sees that he’s watching a basketball game on TV.
By the time I had visualized these few scenes I couldn’t wait to get in front of the computer and write them out. They were funny and engaging to me. I was clearly in Candy Bar Mode. The three paragraphs were expanded to three pages. It was a solid day’s work, but well worth the effort. One of the most frequent comments I receive about that book on the social networks is “Go, Rodriguez, go!” with a smiley face tagged on the end.
So, if you want to write a great book, don’t let yourself get away with any non-candy bar scenes. Be merciless with yourself. If you’re not fully enthused about any part of your story—and I mean any part—go back and cut it or rework it until you are.
Now I think I’ll go have a Snickers.