On Moving the Tuna
You wouldn’t have thought it would be so hard. The moderator of our writing group suggested, with that air of modest assurance that so becomes him, that I should separate Scene A (in which a ferret scatters tuna fish all over a carpet, with disproportionate results) from Scene B (in which the ferret compounds its alimentary offense with the eliminatory consequence and precipitates a crisis.) He was right: together, the scenes were almost repetitious; separated, they helped create a steadily mounting tension. Scene A needed to move back in time.
It turned out to be a game of jackstraws. I re-dated the tuna scene. How to fill the now gaping void between it and Scene B? As luck would have it, I had a brief new scene already planned that was going to simplify the presentation of later events. It went into the breach. Out came a lot of now misplaced material, before and after. That demanded more of the new scene, to patch up the ragged bits. It became half a chapter. That suggested another move, to slim down a later scene, newly overloaded.
We’re talking three months, here, people! Three months of jury-rigging and jerry-building and tearing down and putting up again from scratch. I think the most painful part was having to re-insert huge chunks of the original text, when repeated efforts proved that they really had to go somewhere. And of course, no person of sensibility can partially edit a text. Time spiraled down the plughole as I inserted commas and corrected diction.
By the time the tuna had settled down, I had been forced to outline that whole section of the book. To my amazement, three of the four subplots were now perfectly in order. (The last one looked like a dog’s lunch, but three out of four ain’t bad.) If I’d done that outline in the first place, I wouldn’t have had to move the tuna at all.
Then came enlightenment. I have always been a devout pantser (i.e., I write by the seat of my pants.) The Exuberant Brethren of the Holy Pants believe that inspiration dies at the sight of an outline. Only by letting the words flow directly from the Muse through the fingers to the keyboard can creation take place. Do not pass brain, do not collect $200. You can clean up any slight problems later. The Severe Order of the Sanctified Plot make up the whole plot in advance. They write it down. They make diagrams. They balance things. Then, scene by scene, they write the first, and practically final, draft. Or so they say. They clean up any slight problems later.
I won’t say I’m ready to join the Sacred Order. Instead, I’m going to copper my theological bets. Four of us Thursday Night Writers have reserved a virtual cabin at Camp NaNoWriMo, an online writing sprint in which we each promise to complete a “writing project” of our choice in the month of July. I’m going to outline a whole second adventure for my amateur sleuth, just to prove I can do it. Who knows? If I ever manage to sell this turkey, I may need a sequel.