by Meg Dowell
Last week, I wrote a scene that both surprised and amazed me. NOT because I’m the best writer ever or because it’s the greatest piece of prose a human has ever written (nope and, uh, NOPE), but because I never planned on writing it at all.
In fact, the moment the idea wedged its way into my head, I immediately tried to reject it.
Without any spoilers (because I guess you never know), my favorite character does something bad. Really bad. She knows it’s wrong, but she does it anyway. I already know that, if I ever get to the revisions stage of this book, I’m going to have to make this scene even less sympathetic toward this beloved character than it already is. Which breaks my heart. A good sign, but still.
I did not want to write this scene. I did not think it really had a place in this story, originally. Yet somehow, the moment I started writing it, I knew it was a keeper. The basic framework of it, anyway.
This happens a lot – a writer composing part of a book or script they hardly recognize as being theirs. But very rarely do we notice that it’s these unexpected, initially rejected ideas – and having the courage to give them a chance – that turn an okay story into a really good one.
The reason you don’t believe you can pull it off, or don’t think it’s a good idea, is because you’re used to holding yourself back. I’ve had this problem since the day I started writing, so don’t think it’s something bad. We don’t even realize we’re telling ourselves, “You could never get away with that.” Oh, yes you can. You’re a writer. You can get away with murder (FIGURATIVELY), and so, so much more.
I have found over the years that it’s the scenes I don’t want to write, that I’m afraid to write, that I don’t think my family/friends will approve of or my future readers would like, that end up becoming the most important passages in every story I have ever written.
We try to hard to write “good” things. It’s not good because it meets a certain set of criteria. It’s good because it comes from somewhere deep within our souls, only accessible through the words we write even when we aren’t sure they’re the right ones.
This is why I always advocate for, even though I struggle with, thinking about what you would expect to happen in a story and then flipping it around so the opposite happens. Not EVERY story works like this – I just read one of those holiday romances that was predictable, but I was still glad it turned out the way I secretly wanted to. But twists and surprises and those “wait hold on what just happened” moments are what keep pages turning – for your reader AND you.
Let it happen. It could go wrong and you’ll never end up using it in later drafts. It could also go very right, and create a story you (and perhaps a future agent) will be proud of.
Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a freelance writer and an eight-time NaNoWriMo winner with work published in Teen Ink, Success Story, Lifehack and USA TODAY College. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.