Sunday, November 23, 2008

What to do, what to do...

I have been staring at my computer for hours, making very little headway, because I am trying to decide what to do about a scene.  Should I cut it entirely, revise it significantly, or let it stand?

The scene in the SFD involves Alec and Elspeth on their way home from Kilchurn.  Alec has just rescued Elspeth from Ormelie, who kidnapped her.  On their way back to Glenstrae, they pass a croft in which a mother and young child have contracted the measles, and are dying of it.  The child is actually already dead, and once the mother knows this, she gives up and lets herself die as well.


The purpose of this scene was to show Elspeth's reaction to an (unfortunately) common condition in that time period, and set up the absolute certainty that she would not take her own young child back to this dangerous time.  Therefore Alec, who comes forward with the intent to find Elspeth and take her back with him, realizes she will not come once he knows she has a child.  And he must decide whether or not to stay with her if that means up giving up everything he's ever known - time, family, etc.


In my rewrite notes, I also intended to use this scene to play up Elspeth's backstory, and reveal how she feels both her parents abandoned her - her mother by dying unexpectedly of breast cancer, and her father by running out on the family shortly after her mother's diagnosis.  This on top of her fiance's abandonment just months before their wedding.  And her realization that Alec alone has not abandoned her, in fact he has made a habit of coming back for her.  This is the turning point in her attraction to him, and henceforward her internal conflict comes from the (supposedly) unrequited love instead of her angst over these abandonments and her difficulty trusting because of it.

But THIS POST on the Smart Bitches blog, along with nagging doubts about the scene, got me thinking.  Do I really need it?

The current state of revisions has already trickled out quite a bit of Elspeth's backstory.  And in fact, the chapter prior to this one has Elspeth's realization about Alec, though to a lesser degree than I planned for the measles scene.  I don't think I'm using the child's death as a cheap dramatic trick; more like trying to be true to my period and acknowledge the nitty gritty reality of living in the seventeenth century, while at the same time achieving the plot purposes above.

OTOH, this IS a romance novel, and while Diana's readers (myself included) appreciate her hard-bitten reality and absolute allegiance to the history, Diana does not write romance.  Romance readers (myself included) often are looking for lighter, happier reads.  Which is not to say we don't appreaciate a story with depth and tragedy.  I love love loved The Time Traveler's Wife.  But a lot of romances, espcially the escapist types with fantastical elements, tend to gloss over some of the darker aspects of the story world.  And let's face it - most of the Scottish time travels in print right now are pretty glossy.

Which is also not to say I'm trying to "dumb down" my book to appeal to the masses.  I'm just trying to take a critical look at a scene and decide if I really need it or can accomplish my goals without it, if it fits in with the overall tone of the rest of the book, and if I was secretly trying to "push the envelope" with the scene, but may in fact end up alienating - or at least disengaging - a large segment of potential readers by leaving it in.  I don't think readers who wouldn't've minded the scene will notice its absence, while readers who hate scenes like this will most certainly notice its inclusion.

That said, I think I've talked myself into cutting it.  For now.  I never throw any scenes away, so if betas or an agent or an editor clambor for it, I can dust it off and slip it right back in.

Well, then.  Back to the drawing (writing) board.  I'm working in chapters 14 and 15 right now.  Elspeth has just been rescued by Alec, as I said.  New stuff is coming up in that Alec will be taken to task by his father for jeopardizing himself and the clan for a strange coigreach lass, and Alec's betrothal to Janet Cameron will be brought forward into more prominence as a result.  Alec's father's way of making him get his priorities straight.

As for me, I've been holed up in my "writing office" (read: guest room) since last evening, and it's starting to look like it.  From this afternoon alone, I cound 3 empty Diet Mt. Dew cans and one dirty coffee mug, plus a handful of candy wrappers littering my desktop.  And yet I've actually been losing weight.  Must be the stress...  I know I blame the book for the sudden profusion of gray hairs on my head.

My other dilemma is completely materialistic.  I have become quite the Coach purse junkie, and there are two particular styles I have wanted for some time - one since this time last year, and one since this summer.  I am already getting one of them for Christmas, and now I am trying to justify the other one, too, to round out my collection.  How to pay for it?  Or should I just wait?  *think, think*

1 comment:

Deniz Bevan said...

Hi Jenny,
Speaking as one who bought two purses last week for no reason, I can't offer advice on that front!

OTOH, about the measles scene, I do have some random thoughts:
I never once thought it was out of place; one of my own notes to myself, writing about ancient Rome, was "there should be lots more disease and deformities about" - I simply think that that sort of thing is historically accurate. I mean, Alec coming forward into the future would probably comment on the fact that everyone he sees has some sort of electronic gizmo in his hand, constantly twiddling his thumbs on stuff. We tend to overlook that cos we understand what they're doing and we're probably doing it ourselves.
In the same way, I thought that Austin (or Elspeth) going from the 20th - er, 21st - Century to a much earlier time, would notice all the hacking and coughing (TB, consumption, etc.), the measles outbreaks, the small pox scars, polio, etc. Speaking of Diana, I remember even she mentioned at some point on the forum that some reader had asked her why so many of her characters were missing limbs, and she replied that for various medical, nature-of-warfare, etc. reasons, that was just a lot more common before antibiotics/modern warfare/invention of plastic and use in prosthetics. So I don't think one cabin full of measles sufferers in the middle of nowhere is as gratuitous as all that.

Someone mentions in the comments on the Smart Bitches post that Marilynne Robinson (I think they're talking about her, but I'm not sure since they spelled her name wrong) in the Writer's Workshop (I assume they mean the Iowa one, where she works) supposedly said that hurting or killing animals within a story or novel is a cheap means of getting a visceral reation from readers. Well, that's how Austin meets Kedi! Okay, mine's YA not Romance, but it's kinda like what Jen ( - how do I do hyperlinks in comments?) was talking about recently, about not sugarcoating things for kids.
I guess it boils down to being able to tell whether a scene/event is tacked on, or whether it grows naturally from the story...

Grey hairs! I'll send you some virtual chocolate :-) That'll cure anything!