When to restart a scene from scratch

Yup, blank.

SOMETIMES YOU CAN’T GET THERE FROM HERE

I gather a lot of pre-written material when I start a scene.

I also have a lot of lists of prompts I fill out which remind me to think of various aspects of a scene, from the internal twist to the various beats to the emotions I wish to invoke in Readers, so I’ve created a lot of new material now that I’m about to write this scene.

And I have one bugaboo, what I call the Old Text (OT), the original polished-but-primitive draft that I wrote when I had the three books in the trilogy plotted out, and wanted to see that I could make it logically from the first line to the last.

The Old Text can be missing, a few paragraphs, a scene in the wrong point of view (pov), or even, in the worst case, a

PERFECT FINISHED COMPLETE SCENE IN THE CORRECT CHARACTER’S POINT OF VIEW.

Except it’s not right.

And every attempt to take what you have and rework it, rearrange it, change it, edit it, tweak it

doesn’t work.

It’s still wrong.

Worse, it’s throwing you off and keeping you from getting into the character’s pov so you can fix things.

For those times you have a secret weapon:

You can choose not to keep ANY of what you wrote before.

Or only a couple of tiny new pieces you just wrote that you know are in the right pov.

Or an image or two, reworded of course.

Or the time/day/date.

Or even the idea of the scene.

But you don’t have to because there is no Scene Police Division

down at writing headquarters.

No one who can make you, encourage you, or even try to persuade you.

Just because you wrote it gives it no rights.

Just because it was finished, complete, polished, and has impeccable grammar and spelling, punctuation, and capitalization, and you worked for days on it way back when you wrote that particular version, it has no integrity or separate solidity: it is just as friable as your grocery list.

With me, it means I am really stuck.

All the journaling in the world can’t fix something that needs to be plowed under and redesigned from the bottom up.

I just redid a scene like this – from a blank page. After getting fairly close to…something.

I had so much new stuff to put into the scene, and such a solid Old Text version, I thought it might be one of the few things that survived from that draft.

Nuh uh.

Maybe if I had published the scene as a story fifteen or twenty years ago when I wrote this particular little gem, and spent days or weeks getting it to be the best I could do back then. It might have been a book I removed from my backlist after getting much better with the newer books.

I’m glad I didn’t publish that older draft.

Even I had the sense to realize it needed a lot of work.

The new version is so much better.

But I hadn’t realized that the OT had so much power.

I didn’t want to start from scratch. I didn’t want to dump everything.

I wasn’t sure I could write something better, or come up with an entirely different version of the original idea.

That’s just the FEAR talking. Trying to protect me from wasted effort (old and new).

So I labeled the old contents ‘draft version’, and left it where I could get to it easily if I needed to swipe something from it.

And I started a blank file with the words: ‘just putting this here so the page isn’t blank’

And I started all over again, paying special attention to how that character operated, felt, saw, listened and wrote it again from the top.

Then I deleted ‘just putting this here so the page isn’t blank’, proceeded with my other steps to get a scene into final usable state, and didn’t insist it contain any of that old but good stuff, and …

It’s finished. It came out far better. I wrote the new version in a day or two, edited and polished it, and it doesn’t look at all like the OT.

I still can’t imagine any amount of tweaking that would have turned the previous grammatically-correct-but-completely-wrong and progress-blocking scene into what I signed off on today.

It hurt. A lot. All that nice clean text!

But sometimes you have no choice but to start from scratch.

**********

8 thoughts on “When to restart a scene from scratch

  1. Chris

    Discarding something is definitely hard. The trick to make it hurt less is to try to salvage as much text as possible – it’s usually (some) descriptions that can be saved, perhaps (some) dialogues.

    I very rarely have to discard scenes or chapters, because of my style/mode of writing that favors rawness and unfiltered emotions and has little emphasis on plot (which I think of in advance). But in the past, when I was less experienced, I did abandon entire manuscripts that didn’t work (and I realized they didn’t work only after writing 20k words or so). Ah, the joys of discovering…

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    1. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt Post author

      In this case, trying to salvage was the problem. I had too many ‘darlings.’

      I ended up using bits I had written recently (because they are written to my current style and book), and discarding all but a line or two of that ‘perfect’ ancient draft. Trying to keep anything but the idea of the Old Text was keeping me from re-visioning the scene. And that idea was a one-line description.

      The old version had to go completely to make way for the right version.

      Not something I relish doing.

      As an extreme plotter, this doesn’t happen frequently. So it hurt and was raw and kept me chasing for a way to keep more far longer than I should have allowed it to – lesson to myself (that’s where most of my writing posts come from).

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  2. acflory

    -hugs- oh… I know exactly how painful this must have been, and yes, sometimes there is no other way than to start from scratch. I have dozens? probably hundreds of outtake files now. They’re the scenes that I loved once and couldn’t bear to kill off entirely. No idea what I can or should do with them, but…you know?
    So glad you’re finally on your way again. 🙂

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    1. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt Post author

      Thanks – my fellow writers understand.

      The next one should be easier – we’ll see – but we can’t leave the broken ones in the final product. Even if they would pass flawlessly through certain editing programs I won’t use or even name.

      Liked by 1 person

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