I’m going to tell you a secret.
I have never had a scene or a chapter in my many books come out exactly the way I planned it in my head.
Isn’t that strange?
Even after seven years of writing, eight books, and nearly two million words, I still can’t capture exactly what it is that’s going on in my brain. I can get pretty close, but it will always end up just a little different than I thought it would. When I first started writing, that would frustrate me to no end, and I would edit and rewrite obsessively trying to get closer to the vision that I had for a particular scene.
Now I’m not so worried about it. I’ve come to peace with the limitations that writers face, and I’m happy with how my scenes turn out.
Okay, not all the time. Sometimes I rewrite obsessively and occasionally scream at my computer when I can’t match what’s in my head with what’s on the page.
Because it’s definitely my computer’s fault.
Seriously though, I think every writer struggles with getting their thoughts onto the page in a way that is completely satisfying. Unfortunately, this can lead to a lot of disillusionment for writers, which I talked about in my last post.
So how does a writer get from the vision in their head to a fully-fledged scene that doesn’t cause that kind of disappointment?
I have a few ideas.
1) Start fresh.
Let go of the pages you’ve already written, if any. Start fresh with a new, blank page and get rid of the words you’re trying to edit into the right shape. Let the scene breathe again, without the restriction of the wrong words and the sentences that aren’t quite right for what you want.
2) Outline the scene.
Take a notebook and a pen. Sit down somewhere comfortable, with a cup of tea and some music—if that’s your thing—and write down everything that belongs in the scene. Sights, sounds. Smell, taste, touch. Forget good sentences, forget grammar, forget even sounding half-way intelligible. No one is going to read this but you. Take the scene in your mind and give it life, without worrying about the progression of the story or readability.
You don’t have to use everything you jot down—in fact, you probably shouldn’t—but it will help you get the feel for your scene and bring you one step closer to living it for yourself.
3) Don’t set too much store on what’s in your head.
I have had scenes slip away from me.
It happens all the time, actually. A character will say something unexpected, or a line will leap off the page and twist the direction of the story, adding another layer to the magic, and suddenly I’m far from where I expected to be.
And yet—sometimes that’s the best thing that can happen to a story. Sometimes the ‘happy accidents’ are really just your writer’s intuition coming into play. After years of writing, I’ve come to realize that my intuition really does know what it’s doing.
Most of the time.
4) Leave some things to the reader.
I know you want to explain everything and give every detail its proper place. It’s so hard to imagine something as vividly as you do and yet not be able to explain ALL of it!
But do you remember what it was like reading your favorite book?
Your breathing slowed down. The world paused. Your room—or the library, or wherever you were sitting—vanished. Suddenly, you, the reader, where there in the book. You didn’t need pages and pages of description to immerse yourself in the story.
You only needed a few words. The smallest detail. The catch in your favorite character’s breath, or the creak of the trees in the wind. Then you were there too, watching everything play out around you.
Your readers have imagination too, and they can supply a good deal of the gaps in whatever you’re writing. You just need to give them a hint, a taste of where they are. The rest, they can provide for themselves.
5) Have grace for yourself.
Unfortunately, that vision in your head is always going to be a little out of reach, especially for those of us who are completely visual and see it play out in our minds in full color with all the sound effects, emotions, and scents perfectly intact.
We were there, dearest writer. And we’re going to do our best to bring the readers there as well. But, as wonderful and enchanting and downright magical as words can be, they are still a little clumsy compared to the real thing. That’s where a reader’s imagination comes in.
Our job is not to work all the magic that will happen in their minds when they read what we’ve written. It’s only to spark something in them, then to lead the way while their half of the spell does its job.
So have grace for yourself. It may not be as perfect as you want it to be, but if you’ve done your best and given the words all the magic you’ve got, then you’ve done enough.
Good luck, dearest writer! May your tea be hot and your dreams wild.