(NB: This article originally appeared in July 2011 when I was writing urban fantasy).
Are you struggling with a book which could work, but just isn't? Are the characters layered, yet somehow that depth isn't making it onto the page?
Me too. Or at least, I was. Until the last few days when a big, ol' epiphany smacked me between the eyes and smiled a toothy grin.
I've been struggling through revisions on the opening chapters of Book II in my little trilogy for some time. The book is in first (read: crappy) draft form - completed in NaNoWriMo last year. The plot is in place, but reading through the material I've got, it was clear the character development and story arc weren't receiving justice.
I wrote scenes. Rewrote scenes. Tried a different inciting incident. Went back to the original... on and on and on.
In frustration earlier this week, I put the book aside and started writing the opening to Book III (the final, since this is a trilogy). Maybe I needed to figure out something crucial there that would open my eyes on book II?
Meanwhile, I was reading Maggie Stiefvater's Shiver, and really enjoying it. I stayed up late one night and read a scene that really engaged all my senses. I woke up still thinking about it.
What had she done there? Why in a scene that, from a plotting point of view, is pretty much 'stock' in YA, did she get my heart racing and my emotions engaged?
Then I realized: She'd written a fairly standard scene from the point of view of the male character. And in doing so, she'd revealed a level of tension and emotion that wouldn't have been evident from the heroine's point of view.
It got me thinking...
I write my books in multiple POV's. In my current series, scenes written from the POV of the female protagonist are in first person, scenes written from anyone else are in third.
I did this intentionally to draw the reader one step closer to the protagonist than the other characters. But here's the thing: At the beginning of book II, the protagonist is under a lot of stress, but otherwise doing pretty good. It's her boyfriend who's embroiled in heightened emotions and whose immediate stakes are higher.
When I wrote the opening from the heroine's POV, the boyfriend looks like a jerk (because he's acting like one). But when I took certain scenes from his POV, suddenly it opens up to the reader the battle he's waging.
His petulant actions no longer appear juvenile, instead they're more sympathetic. Sure, he's acting like a jerk, but look at what he's dealing with!
I literally took a scene I'd already written from the heroine's POV and rewrote it without plotting change through his eyes.
One word: YOWZA.
So here's my new rule (which only applies to books in which you write from more than one POV):
Whatever is happening, wherever you are in the story, write from the POV of the character who's experiencing the greatest emotional turmoil. Let the reader walk in the shoes of the person with the most to lose at that point - even if their overall stakes aren't as high as the hero / heroine's.
The reader experience is all about emotion, so follow the feelings. Your readers will love you for it.
That is all.
Your Turn: What do you do when you know your scene isn't working? Do you have any tips on how to better engage the reader ?