Tag: Writing.

The Crucial Importance of “Candy Bar” Scenes in Your Writing

By Mike Wells

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.

Finish What You Start!

3 Big ‘Don’ts’ to ensure you DO finish your book!

(This post is one for my writer friends…)

Athletics_tracks_finish_line

1) Don’t spend your writing time reading your own work.

I played the piano when I was in middle school.  I never could get the hang of reading sheet music.  I compensated for my shortcoming by pecking my way through a note at a time—memorizing as I went—until I could play an entire song.  When I didn’t want to put myself through the grueling task of deciphering and memorizing a new song, I played one I already knew.  I once played “Für Elise” and “The Rose” every day for a solid week during my one hour allotted practice time. 

I don’t play the piano anymore.

I mention this because I got stuck in a rut a few years ago when I wasn’t quite sure how to end BLOOD TOY.  I didn’t exactly have writers block.  I just had a frayed mess of loose ends and no clue how to tie them up in neat bow by the end of the book.  To alleviate my frustration, I decided to read what I had written to see if inspiration struck.  When none did, I read it again.  And again. 

I told myself I was ‘editing.’  Nope.  I spent more time admiring what I had written than changing it.  I was in ‘reader’ mode.  Not ‘writer’ and certainly not ‘editor’ mode. 

Thankfully, I eventually got sick of reading my own book and starting scouring Amazon for one to help me get back to actually writing one.  That’s when I found 2k to 10k: Writing Faster, Writing Better, and Writing More of What You Love, by Rachel Aaron. This is a terrific book.  I cannot recommend it enough for improving efficiency. 

My mistake all along was waiting for inspiration to strike me in the first place, when what I needed to do instead was to figure out how I was actually going to end the book, scene by scene, then put pen to paper.  I needed an outline.  A plan.  Sounds simple enough, right?  So why did it take me two years to figure it out? 

2) Don’t wait until your manuscript is perfect to let someone else read it.

While there are plenty of novice authors who have no problem baring their virgin manuscripts on wattpad.com and waiting for the praise (and maybe even those big six deals) to come in, there are many of us that fear letting a single typo out into the world.  So we hoard our story, rewriting, revising and tweaking until, if we are wise, we eventually let it find its way to beta readers, editors and fans.

There are two big risks in this practice.  The first is the very real possibility of spending so much time with your work before letting it go that you can no longer find fault in anything.  This will inevitably lead to heartache when your editor advises you to cut that favorite sentence or chapter.  Don’t even think it won’t happen to you.  When it comes to editing, nothing is sacred. I once had an editor mark out an entire chapter—one red line through the center of ten pages—with only this criticism for explanation: Well, Bippity Boppity Boo!

On the other hand, you just might, like me, fine tune your work to the point that you despise every single word of it, scrap it entirely, and start over.  I did that three times with BLOOD TOY.

3) Don’t put off writing any scene for later.

The first time I wrote BLOOD TOY, I immediately wrote the next three installments in the series, hoping to get them all finished before I started college.  I set a deadline for each book, and I meant to stick to the schedule.  When I got behind on the third, I skipped ahead to the fourth, meaning to make up some time and come back to it later. I was writing eighteen hours a day that summer, living off of Maxwell House and Jelly Bellies.  It wasn’t until I came to the missing chapters during self-edit (I had allowed myself a meager 5 days per book) that I realized I had not actually finished Book 3 at all. 

While you will probably never find yourself putting off—and then forgetting—entire chapters, procrastination on any scale is a bad idea.  Why you are procrastinating is probably the most important thing you can ask yourself.  In 2K to 10K., the author asserts that if you don’t want to write something, chances are your audience will not want to read it.  That concept was no less than an epiphany to me. 

I was once again putting off my last three chapters, this time not to satisfy some arbitrary timeline, but because 1) I did not have an outline to guide me through them—and there were frankly too many loose ends to tie up by the seat of my pants—and 2) the ending I was thinking of writing bored the crap out of me.  The solution was really very simple:  Stop putting off writing something I didn’t want to write, and start actually writing something I did. 

What came out of that resolution not only changed the ending to BLOOD TOY completely, but improved my whole novel from start to finish.  In order to make the new ending plausible, I had to revise Diane’s character arc throughout, creating a much stronger protagonist. 

Chances are if you are putting off writing something, you need to ask yourself a few tough questions before you write it anyway.

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