Sometimes writing goes slowly

Why some chapters are a lot harder to write than others.

So I, or rather my characters, had reached the ball – the one the fairy princess didn’t have the right shoes for. And suddenly, my writing turned to treacle. It wasn’t writer’s block – I knew perfectly well what would happen next, what all the participants felt, thought, did, and so on. I could see the scene vividly in my mind. Translating that into something that would make sense to readers was what was giving me a headache.

I realised, rather belatedly, that it had a lot in common with the other things I find hard to write, and for exactly the same reasons. Sexual encounters and battle scenes. What on earth, you may well ask, have these got in common with each other and then with dancing?

Think about it. They all involve quite detailed choreography. With dancing that’s fairly obvious. Battle scenes and individual fights have to be carefully constructed so that the required outcome is reached. The correct ‘side’ has to win. Some characters really mustn’t lose their heads or their limbs. Serious injury has to be avoided by anyone whose story is unfinished, and yet there usually have to be some deaths. So it’s all a bit like arranging a fight for stage or film. (Some people make an entire career out of that.) The sex scenes, too, have to have all the limbs in the right place at the right time. I find the sex, the duels and the individual dances slightly easier; I can always fall back on the feelings of one of the protagonists though in some way’s it’s a coward’s way out. But the crowd scenes defeat me every time.

They really shouldn’t, should they? I mean, most of us have been to dances, had some kind of sexual encounter, wanted or otherwise, and probably indulged in at least play fighting as children. We’ve also witnessed crowds dancing, and sex and fighting on the screen. So I know what goes on, what should go on, what my characters need to do, etc. It’s not at all like using my imagination to create something like magic or aliens or a landscape.

Well, that’s part of the trouble. I can visualise the scenes so well. I can even feel the physical contact, smell the gunpowder, and so on. But when I experience them that way I’m caught up in the speed of what happens and that’s definitely at odds with the speed of describing them for readers. I’ve tried using dolls and those posable wooden artist’s models but dolls don’t move rapidly whereas people do. A doll can show me what positions in sex, dance or a fight are impossible, but can’t show movement in slow motion which is what I need if I’m to describe the encounter in a meaningful way.

If I’m describing a long journey, readers don’t expect a minute by minute account. An overview is fine. But for some reason close personal stuff, loving or hostile, needs detailed description. I believe some publishers demand detail, and certainly my beta readers tell me to expand those scenes.

There’s a further problem. When I read explicit sex or battle scenes my mind usually switches off. I skim till I reach the end when the characters start talking to each other again or till I know who has won. This doesn’t apply to dancing but dancing other than ballet tends to be boring to me as a mere observer. Since I don’t often read the details I find them even harder to write.

And yet the fairy princess had to go to the ball, with the right shoes, and meet her fairy prince, if the novel was to progress in the right direction, and somehow, merely saying there was a ball and starting the next chapter with: And the next day… wasn’t quite going to work.

I sorted it, but slowly. As I say, some chapters are a lot harder to write than others.

As for the picture, yes, we really did find a nail that shape, so I photographed it. I now use it (from a different angle) as an avatar.

4 thoughts on “Sometimes writing goes slowly

  1. For me if I’m there in a scene I can only visualise it from one viewpoint (mine), whereas a battle, or a ball, needs more of an overall viewpoint, preferably from above (not much point describing it from boot level (although that would no doubt encapsulate the chaos). And if Character A’s actions are of importance then I follow them, but then I need to see what Character B’s doing, so Meanwhile… And Character E (the designated red shirt) has to die (assuming it’s a battle, not a ball, although if Hercule Poirot/Miss Marple/Mrs Barnaby is present that is entirely possible). So much easier to sum up afterwards. Nope, that doesn’t help at all!

  2. Well quite… Maybe it’s the switch of viewpoint that throws me? I just know that writing those scenes is hard. I can cope with recounting them later from one character’s viewpoint, but of course a lot of recounting is not what the average novel needs. Perhaps Mouselet’s viewpoint (boot level) would help!! I ended up giving one character a balcony above the dancers to view things from. Then another got invited to dance and I concentrated on their reactions. I’m still not totally satisfied but I got a whole chapter written so I’ll tweak later – for now I can carry on with the story. And in case you’re wondering, the princess had beautiful new shoes and snared her prince.

  3. I have a similar problem with scenes that require detailed explanation/description, especially where there’s more than 2-3 characters. I get bogged down in all the fine detail and the pacing of my writing goes to pot!

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