(NaNoWriMo cheerleading post for November 3)
I recently re-watched a terrible movie. In one scene a disembodied voice comes out of a restaurant drive-through speaker after the driver orders. The voice says “And then? And then? Andthenandthenandthen?” That’s all it says. I can’t unhear it.
What do you do when you’re writing and you hear that voice? As my friend Ruth Ann says, “You know what comes next and that something needs to happen first, but you’re not sure what?”
Even if you have a detailed outline, all too often you come to a spot where you have to get yourself from one scene to the next and you have no idea how to get there.
Hang a rope bridge
Here’s my suggestion: Most of the connective tissue between important events in good stories is like a rope bridge. It is there to get you from one tree (or island, or cliff-edge) to another, and no more. Use the fewest materials possible.
Another way of thinking about it is with a lens: You need to zoom in on the important events, and zoom out on the transitions. Or slo-mo: Slow down to describe the scene that matters, and speed up to get through the boring parts. Elmore Leonard’s Rule 10 is essential here: “Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip.”
When I was teaching English, my students wrote stories that suffered from two different diseases: Bed-to-bed sickness, and andthenitis.
Bed-to-bed sickness is when your story (or your chapter) begins, “I woke up. Today was the day. My mom called to me to have breakfast. I had breakfast. We got in the car.” If they were writing longhand, I put a box around everything that happened before the inciting incident and drew a line through it. If they were writing on a computer, I highlighted the text and said, “Take it out.”
It scared them, but they always announced to me with great surprise and pride that their stories were much better.
Andthenitis (a related disease) is the need to narrate every event in order, no matter how trivial. Any sentence that begins “And then” needs to be scrutinized to see if it actually advances the story.
Yet this is NaNoWriMo. It’s about word count. If you can’t figure out how to get from one scene to the next, get out your “Andthen” hat and put in ALL THE DETAILS. More words! All good! Keep writing! Two thousand words today, all unimportant! Who cares? (Your editor, that’s who, but you fired your editor)
And then? When you are finished and you have submitted 50,000 words and celebrated? Put a box around your unnecessary descriptions and draw a line through the box.
And then . . .keep writing.
Next up: Shame, shame.