|Not this kind of Oasis scene|
Sometimes writing a novel can feel a bit like trekking across a desert. All the scenes waiting to be written turn into an overwhelming, impossible mass, the words start swaying in front of your eyes, and you think of all hundreds and thousands and millions of steps you have to take through the sand and all the scorpions you have to dodge before you’re done.
But some scenes are exceptions. You know them because they’re the glowing ones. Often they’re the earliest scenes you think of when you first come up with an idea, the ones that define the whole project, the ones that have you staring slack-jawed into space, daydreaming about every wondrous detail. They’re full of drama and romance and magic. They’re the ones that make you keep writing, even when the heat in the desert is unbearable, because if you keep writing, you get to write them, and the thought of writing them is like the promise of the best treasure in the world.
But here’s the thing: not all of these glorious scenes are meant to be part of your novel. Don’t get me wrong, some of them definitely are. I like to think of them as oasis scenes. (Don't worry. They don't contain the Gallagher brothers. At least, mine don't.) Oasis scenes are usually a joy to write, and they remind you of that happy glow that radiated from everything when you first got the idea, of why you’re writing this project in the first place, of why you write in the first place.
But sometimes an oasis scene turns out to be a mirage. Mirage scenes seem like the best scenes in the whole novel (and possibly the whole universe) before you try to write them, just like oasis scenes do. But then you finally, finally reach the right place in the story (or if you’re me, you lose your patience and jump ahead to the right place in the story) only to realise that for one reason or another, things just aren’t working, no matter how many times you try. Maybe the chain of events suddenly seems to turn nonsensical, or something crucial about the setting doesn’t work, or you find yourself trying to force a character to do things that they would never do. And this is the most telling sign that your oasis is, in fact, nothing but a mirage: when you realise that the logic which has held the story together so far seems to fail whenever you try to write this scene. Sure, it might have made perfect sense when you first had the idea, but at that stage you didn’t know the story or the characters anywhere near as well as you do now. And it’s easy to end up fighting with it, because dammit, this scene was meant to be an oasis! You’ve wanted nothing more than to write this moment for weeks, dammit! How could it be wrong? It can’t be wrong! You wouldn’t even be writing this novel if it weren’t for this scene!
But sometimes, the scenes that don’t make it are just as important as the ones that do. After a fight with a mirage scene recently, I came to the conclusion that some scenes are beacons. They’re not meant to be part of the finished product; they’ll never fit well enough for that. They exist to provide you with that shining promise to move towards on the horizon, but once you get there, you no longer need them. And the beauty of them is that by this stage, you usually know the story well enough to easily work out what should be in their place.
Is that oasis proving to be a struggle? Let go. The beauty is all through the desert. You don’t need to chase every promise of water.
Photo by freschwill