For once, Deb Erika can’t take the heat!

Bartender! Pour me a scene, on the rocks.

Now I can’t confirm this (darn you, Google!) but I have a very clear memory of reading somewhere (Danse Macabre, maybe?) that Stephen King felt the bathtub scene in The Shining was the hardest scene for him to write, that he freaked himself out so much he repeatedly had to get up and walk away from the page.

Would you believe I had to do the exact same thing to get through a certain scene in Little Gale Gumbo?

(Well, only without the, you know, terrifying hallucination of someone being seduced by a decomposing body thing.)

Now the truth is that there are a lot of reasons why a scene may be hard to write. Like Mr. King’s experience, the scene can feel be a bit too real. Or maybe it goes on too long because you simply can’t contain it.

In my case, the hardest scene I think I’ve ever had to write was the scene where Jack and Dahlia first meet in Little Gale Gumbo. Now when I say hard, I mean it was hard when I started the novel, hard when I went through subsequent drafts, and hard in the eleventh hour when I was allowed one more pass before handing it over FOR GOOD to production. And even then, I was still fighting my way through that darn scene!

Why? It wasn’t as if I didn’t love these characters (I did!) and it wasn’t as if I didn’t want them to fall deeply in love (Ditto!), so why was it like pulling teeth to get ten lines of their dialog onto one bloody page?

Er, I think I just answered my own question.

For those of you who have read Little Gale Gumbo, you know that we first meet Jack and Dahlia twenty years after they were high school sweethearts. We spend a good deal of the start of the book aware that there is a passion between them that has never quite been extinguished, a passion that has held strong for twenty years, and through a number of other relationships, including Jack’s previous marriage. So when the story takes us back to witness the first time they meet, we know we can expect fire.

No pressure, right????

Now we all know introductions are hard. They’re hard in life, they’re hard in literature. They’re awkward, hurried, often times even grossly inaccurate. But let’s face it: they matter. A lot.

What’s more, I knew this one would have to be a quick scene. Jack and Dahlia would intersect at the condiment stand in the high school cafeteria. There wouldn’t be time for introductions. There wouldn’t be time for a languid building of tension.

There’d only be time for Le Smolder.

Well. Eventually, the scene came together.

And for that matter, so did Jack and Dahlia.

So what about you all? Ever had an introduction scene you couldn’t nail for the longest time?


25 Replies to “For once, Deb Erika can’t take the heat!”

  1. It obviously finally came together for you, because you nailed that scene. 🙂

    Isn’t it great that readers don’t know how long we spend on each scene? They are spared all the rough patches, and get to enjoy breezing through the finished product. I think tackling those tough scenes in a book is like rehearsing a difficult role in play — you work and work, and eventually you make it look like there was no work involved at all.

    1. Thank you for saying so, my dear. And you are so right that it is a lot like the rehearsal process in acting. You know when a scene isn’t clicking–when you’re not drawing on the best choice for an emotional response. It doesn’t feel authentic. The same is so true in writing.

      In one of my earliest posts on my blog, I threw out this concept of book “extras” the way they have on DVDs. Instead of deleted movie scenes, you could have deleted scenes from the book–or early iterations of a scene. The responses were interesting but I think overall we agreed that while writers might enjoy the educational aspects of that, what reader wants to have their experience altered by what didn’t work? For that reason, I’m not always sold on seeing deleted scenes or re-worked scenes on DVDs. I almost think: isn’t that part of the magic? That we the viewer/reader NEVER have to know what it took to get us here to this final presentation.

      1. Ha! I’ve thought of books having an “outtakes” section, too. I think it might work with a humorous book, but even then probably not, because it does kind of ruin the “escape” magic of the reading experience, doesn’t it? As that old saying goes, you don’t want to know how your hot dogs are made. 😉

      2. I love the ‘book extras’ idea! Unless you are Stephen King and they let you release all your cut material in a “special, uncut edition” of The Stand.

        I tend to write out of order, so I don’t write a scene until I’m really ready to write it. That said, if I’m stuck, I just write something really terrible and then thank goodness for revisions!

        1. They did such a thing? Oh, Eleanor, where have I been? Googling now…

          You make such a good point that really is the other half of this week’s theme: Okay, so here’s a bear of a scene–now what do I do? I think powering through is the best solution as you’ve suggested–just keep the momentum going. Many times with the scene I mentioned I let it go and moved on in the story. So much can change and come to light during revisions.

          I love that you write out of order–and I love that I get to learn this after reading your work!

          1. Weirdly, I don’t think you can even buy the original, edited version of The Stand anymore.

            Sometimes I look at scenes I powered through and just have to run away and cringe for a while. But then I can come back and whip them into shape.

        2. Eleanor, it’s like the Star Wars trilogy! It blows my mind (breaks my heart) that I can’t watch Jedi without Hayden C. photoshopped in at the end. No offense to the young man, but come on. I mean, really. It’s just not right.

          1. That’s SO interesting – I’d never thought of the analogy. I generally love these additions – the ones that I know are additions, and now that I have a so-called “permanent” product out there, I understand the temptation to meddle. Who said recently that a book isn’t finished, it’s just kind of frozen in time by publication.

            But George, seriously? Han shot first.

  2. I love the thought of an outtake session. That, to me, is the fun of having the privilege of reading an uncorrected proof.

    As for Le Smolder, I’m so old now that the last Le Smolder I recall was from hot flashes.

    1. Gayle, somehow I doubt that! 😉

      As I was saying recently (maybe yesterday’s comments?) that my “outtake” file is ridiculous. I can clean out my closet with heartless abandon, but don’t ask me to cut that paragraph forever. Let me simply paste it into a slush/outtake file. And even after the book is finished and printed, have I deleted the thing? No! What am I waiting for? Seriously.

      1. I get this – I have piles of obsolete files on my hard drive. I think I have about thirty old versions and cut scenes just from SMALL MEDIUM AT LARGE alone. There are YA versions and MG versions and all sorts of associated outtakes. Maybe I keep them to remind myself just how much work went into the book.

  3. You totally nailed that scene, Erika – it was absolutely seamless. I LOVE those scenes where there’s tension (sexual or otherwise) that crackles between the characters. It’s tough to do, but there’s such a payoff when you get it just right.

    1. You’re too kind…

      I love those scenes too–and I even like writing them most of the time. It was a curious exercise going backwards with it–setting u the afterwards and building towards the intro. I know that was part of what made it so challenging.

    1. Greg, don’t worry–we’re just talking about the scenes that were MEMORABLY toil-worthy. Speaking for myself, there are LOTS that put me in the trenches and keep me there. Some days one does feel a bit like: Wait a minute? Come on now! Help me help you, dear novel.

      Or in the wonderful words of Mark Knopfler, “sometimes you’re the windshield, sometimes you’re the bug”

  4. I confess that I didn’t read this entire post, for fear of ruining the story (which I am now reading – and LOVING). But what a great point you make about why that scene was tough: squeezing 10 lines of dialogue into one page, yet making those lines meaningful. Can’t wait to get to that part of the story, Erika!

    1. Oh, thank you, my dear! It is so hard, isn’t it? It’s like we have so many choices. We know where we want a scene to end up, but there are so many paths–how to know which one works best? I can safely say I feel like I tried THEM ALL with this one 😉

  5. Ooh! I can’t wait to get to this scene. I just started LGG! I think I’m on page 25 and I’m already hooked.

    When Reggie gets frustrated because I won’t give him a treat, he backs up and then shakes himself off and then approaches the treat bin again. When I get to a particularly hard scene, especially one that my characters aren’t going to like, I think I do the same thing.

  6. This is so true – I revised every scene to shreds in my novel, but it was so worthwhile. The more they mattered, the harder they were to do. And certain characters just sat there and refused to move until I guessed the right thing for them to do. Great post, Erika – and enjoyable comments too!

  7. I think you are right, because what we do upon meeting someone isn’t that intresting. “Nice to meet you”…”You too.” It sounds so formal and forced when we write it, and so much of an introduction is what ISN’T said.

  8. sometimes i start writing a prticular piece with the opening scene. sometimes i don’t worry about the opening until way later. so far,knock on wood, i’ve never had to ‘force’ one. it eventually just appears.
    a different subject: once i had to ‘kill’ a main character that i liked a lot. it took me several sessions, several days, to be able to do it. to kill the guy. … then, i went outside and cried.

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