Writing the Scene

I’ve got a character, John St. Cloude, captain of the freezer ship Our Lady of Loreto; a sequence of events, the voyage to S’Mary’s World; I’ve even got a title, always an important point for me, Watchman for Daybreak; yet I can’t seem to get started.

Part of it is simply lack of time: we went away for President’s Day weekend, sharing a rental unit with another family; being present to family and friends is not conducive to writing fiction. Saturday is usually good writing time, but today I’ve got a retreat all day with my Lay Dominican chapter. And then, the week after this I’m going to be on a business trip all week. (I might possibly do some writing on the plane.) And then of course there’s the Blog, which must be Fed.

But whining aside, a lot of it is simply not having a mostly blank page to start with, so that I can let the world develop as it will. I know almost too much. Patricia Wrede gets it; here, she’s talking about systems aimed at new writers that aim to help the writer figure everything out in advance, so that all they have to do is the writing:

There are two major problems with this theory. (Well, three, but that gets into where and why they all fall apart, which I will come to in a minute.) The first and largest problem is that not everyone works the same way, and, in fact, the same author won’t necessarily work exactly the same way from book to book. There are plenty of authors for whom any advance planning at all is the kiss of death to their story. Their process is “sit down in front of a blank page and surprise myself.” I’ve done that twice, and for me it feels like working without a net, but Talking to Dragons and Sorcery and Cecelia are two of my most popular books, so it obviously worked better than I was afraid it would.

Her point is that even if you scope everything out in detail ahead of time, you still have to write the scene; and there are things you simply won’t be able to scope out until you sit down and write the scene. (Writing software is like this, too: it doesn’t matter how good a design you have, you learn things during implementation that make you change it.) Or, as the man said, no battle plan survives first contact with the enemy. In this case, the enemy is the actual scene.

I’m trying something new and ambitious with Watchman for Daybreak, and frankly it’s hard to buckle down and get started. I suppose the best thing to do is pick a scene and follow it where it leads, just so that I have something written down, rather than trying to figure out everything in my head.

It seems odd to ask for prayer for the execution of a short story (which shows signs of wanting to be a novel), but if any of you are so minded, I’d appreciate it. It’ll be motivating to know that people are waiting to find out what happens next.

Leo Marks on Deciphering Mangled Codes
A Few Words About Snopes.com
You Shall Surely Die. Also, Beer.
Harry Belafonte: A Hole in the Bucket
About willduquette
  • Jennifer Fitz

    Will – Just start anywhere. The first thing you write might end up being back story that never sees print. No big deal. Write the thing that interests you, or the thing that seems like a good enough place to start for now. Go go go!

    • Will Duquette

      Yeah, easy to say; it’s just very different than what I’ve done in the past. But thank you for the encouragement!

  • http://acatholicviewoftheworld.wordpress.com/ Roki

    If writing is a vocation, then prayer is utterly appropriate. I will keep you in mine. Please keep me in yours, too!

    • Will Duquette


  • Rebecca Fuentes

    I really love the title. It’s dramatic, hinting at heroic.
    I can commiserate with you about staring at the page and wanting a perfect starting point. I think it is harder in sci-fi and fantasy because you have to convey more than just the character and his immediate problems or needs, you also have to starting weaving this completely created world around them. You have to show the reader this world without just dumping a history on them.
    The good news is that you can change the world you’ve built if you need to for the story.

  • Maria

    Ah, the scene. I’ll offer up my own angst for you. Maybe it will unclog my little blockage :-)

    I’ve lately just given in to writing spewage on the page until the scene emerges. I wish it could be neater than that, but there it is.

    Happy writing!