Writing What Matters

I’ve been beta-reading some manuscripts on my down time between writing and studying, and I’ve found myself giving the same pieces of advice to these writers regarding their stories. One of the things that I’ve found myself commenting on a lot involve scenes, and the writing of scenes in particular; from what I’ve seen in the early drafts that have been given to me, these writers seem to have written scenes that seem to be nice in theory, until they are taken within the context of the greater narrative where they turn out to be disjointed and clunky.

One piece of advice that I seem to have given repeatedly comes from Rachel Aaron’s 2k to 10k: Writing Faster, Writing Better, and Writing More of What You Love, in which plotting scenes are part of making the writing process more productive and less painful. Basically, Rachel states that her scenes need to do three things in order for them to be included in her novels:

  • Advance the story
  • Reveal new information
  • Pull the reader forward
While I didn’t employ this during the writing process for my second book (coming soon!), I found myself thinking about this a lot during the editing process, when the phrase “kill your darlings” applies to most writers. I drew up a list of scenes that I had just written for the book, then I looked at those scenes and thought closely about the purpose that each scene served in the story. My beta readers (and later, my editor) agreed that, while I was good at writing subplots involving work and family, the main point of the story–the romance itself–suffered from a lot of weak spots. In order for me to diagnose these problems, I put the romance first and foremost in my mind, and went about the business of embedding the romance even in the most mundane parts of the story. (Needless to say, a lot of intimate touching made its way into the story.) And as I was doing this, I thought about how I could’ve saved myself the trouble of doing this if I’d intercepted this earlier while I was writing, or even during the pre-beta editing. So I’ve decided that I’m going to start writing my romances this way.
Another thing that has helped me move forward with my writing was to write my scenes out of order. This is easy for me to do now that I have Scrivener, but even when I didn’t have it I found myself writing my out-of-order scenes on paper with a note reminding me to insert the scene later.  I found myself doing this recently for the manuscript of my third book, when I decided to write some of the most emotional scenes just to get them out of the way before I filled in the rest of the blanks with the narrative. 
The most important piece of advice that I gave for these writers was to go back and examine their priorities in writing their stories. Like I mentioned earlier, this is especially important for romance writers, especially when working with contemporary fiction. We want our romances to be down to earth, but ultimately we want our romances to be romances–and if the romance is the main point of the story, then it stands that the romance should be front and center. This could mean anything from more scenes between the main character and love interest, or making those scenes even more intimate and emotional without being heavy or overt. It took me years of trial and error to come to this point, but once I made it through the hoops I found myself enjoying my writing a little more than usual.
Of course, your mileage may vary when it comes to this advice, but I just wanted to share with you what works for me, and what has resonated with me throughout this writing journey. I hope that this has been helpful for you too.  

Love, Stella

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Stella Torres

is the author of the adult contemporary romances Save the Cake, Crushingly Close, and Nine Years Away, as well as the short story “Be Creative” in the anthology Kids These Days: Stories from Luna East Vol. 1.

In her previous life, she has worked in public relations, taught English as a second language, and even attended graduate school (twice!). She has lived in Indonesia, Honolulu, and Quezon City before moving back to her hometown of Los Banos, a few hours’ drive (with traffic) from the heart of Manila.

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