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What It's Like To Write A Scene

It takes a fair amount of time to write a scene, and that's not just because I have children that frequently interrupt me. I begin by gathering together my strands of information just as I would if I were braiding someone's hair, but these strands are details. There are dozens and dozens of them. I take hold of them in my mind being sure not to give one more attention than appropriate.

My protagonist is wearing commoner clothes. She is happy to be leaving this foreign town, but she feels that something is unfinished. She feels guilty for the destruction she's caused, but she thinks she's done all she can to make amends. Her broken wrist is healed, but it is crooked. She still has bruises from her cave river episode. She is thinking about what was written in that letter she found. Her relationship with that woman has suddenly altered. She is grateful to that leader for taking action. etc. etc.

Every character—his or her physical appearance, clothes, attitudes and relationships—must be gathered together before I can sketch out the action. I have a general idea of what I'd like to happen, but I must put my characters into it and see how they do.

Then I leave my computer. I put the scene down, do the dishes, and while I do, I rerun the scene in my mind. I see the characters moving and saying what I've given them to do and say. If I have put words in their mouths, I hear the hollowness of it. If I have forced them to act, I see them as puppets. I see the problems and make a mental note so that I can work out those problems another day.

When I take up the scene again, I gather up my strands and corrections, and rewrite. I work the scene many times over, like dough, to be sure my characters are acting naturally. When I'm confident of that, I then ensure that something new has been revealed. Each scene must draw the reader deeper in or higher up. This is not merely a repeating of what I've already mentioned; this is a time to work in new strands. After all, real people are never the same. They change moment by moment. If I am to make a replica of reality in writing, then my characters must live and change and grow as well.

I ask myself: does that letter compel her to remember scenes from her past that I've not yet mentioned? Does she view these scenes differently now after her cave river episode? Does she hope that her family has changed back home while she's been away? Does she recognize the change in herself?

Only after I've worked through all those bits, do I fill the scene with color. I insert the smell of horses and the taste of flat cakes. I paint the mountain-tops pink in the morning light and sound the town bell as they ride out.

A scene is created. 

Then I gather up my strands for the next. Sometimes, I realize one of my strands won't work and then I have to go back and change that bit from the beginning.

Perhaps now, you'll see why I love that Paul calls Jesus the author and perfecter of our faith. Jesus has written each moment. He has woven all the details together. There is a masterful arranging in every scene in his story. Every little detail pulls the characters further in and further up. And there are no mistakes in his writing. He doesn't have to go back and change something. He knows where every little incident will lead. There are no insignificant scenes or events. It is all adding to the color and sound and sights of the story. There is a building up of events. The story is gaining momentum. New aspects of each character are coming out. Every moment is holy. Every moment is sacred.

"Your eyes have seen my unformed substance;
And in your book were all written
The days that were ordained for me
When as of yet there was not one of them." Psalm 139:16 NASB

"You have taken account of my wanderings;
Put my tears in your bottle.
Are they not in your book?" Psalm 56:8 NASB

"Then I said, 'Behold I come;
In the scroll of the book it is written of me.
I delight to do Your will, O my God;
Your Law is within my heart.'" Psalm 40:7-8 NASB


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