Monday, August 19, 2013

Dealing with Boring Chapters

I don't say this often, but I'm glad the weekend is over. This particular weekend was plagued with family drama, but the important thing is that Derek and I talked and talked and talked some more and we handled the issues like a team. I am endlessly coming up with reasons why I'm happy I married that man. And here's another: This weekend he got the flooring in our closet almost completely installed. It was tough work, given that we've never dealt with flooring before, but it's coming out beautifully. It's a cork floor, which we chose because it's soft, warm, and unique:

I also finished a major house project on Friday: stenciling a giant panel of birch trees in our living room. See, one wall on our living room spans the entire depth of our townhouse without a clear divider between the living room and dining room. We've tried to create dividers ourselves - a rug in the living room, big art in the dining room, bookcases marking the border. But the distinction wasn't clear enough, and what's more, it was driving us crazy that the space around our TV was so empty. We love filling walls with art, but we couldn't put art anywhere near the TV without creating a scene that felt busy. Enter the stencil! It was subtle enough not to be busy but wild enough to to make that wall anything but boring, plus we now have a greater distinction between our two rooms that are really just one room but we'll keep that between us.

Here's the finished product with a few in-progress shots along the way (don't mind the pug):

In the end, Derek loves it and everyone who's seen it loves it, but my feelings are mixed. I love the idea of the stencil, especially the birch trees, and I thought the empty wall with them looked great. But when we put our furniture back, all of a sudden the space felt very...*shudder*...70s. I've pinpointed what I think are the reasons why: the yellowish fabric on the lamp, the fake wood-grain covering on the speakers, and the fact that we use an antenna. The antenna needs to stay because we don't have or want cable but I do like to watch things like Parks & Rec and The Big Bang Theory on the basic channels. I'm going to work on fixing these suspected problem areas and see if the wall clicks better for me.

Despite the odds (the family drama, the housework, oh and the fact that Plants vs. Zombies 2 came out and I beat it in two days) I did revise two chapters this weekend. I'm still not thrilled with one of them, but they are both a lot better than they were before. The problem with the first chapter (the one that doesn't thrill me) is that it's sort of plot filler. My characters arrived in a new place where they're going to stay for a while, and in upcoming chapters, they demonstrate great familiarity with this setting. But how did they get to that point? You don't move to a new town, make friends, learn everything about your house, and establish a list of local businesses to patronize in a day, do you? To imply that my characters did that felt like cheating.

I can't tell if this chapter will feel boring to the reader or if it's just boring to me. See, I know about the exciting things that happen later, so it pains me to spend time on this little stuff now. But at this point in the book, the reader won't know what's coming, and they may enjoy learning about how people live at this new - and very unique - setting. J.K. Rowling could have spent FIVE chapters writing about Hogwarts and I wouldn't have made a peep. I do not have the hubris to say that my setting is comparable to Hogwarts, but like I said, it is unique, so I revised the chapters and am letting them be to see what my betas have to say about them later.

Here are a few techniques I used to make a potentially boring chapter move along:
  1. I infused otherwise boring exposition with banter or tender talk between characters so the emotions between them would shine through and those relationships could stand as motivation for characters' actions later in the book.
  2. I was careful not to expose everything. As my characters talked amongst themselves, I thought it would be realistic (and hey, maybe a little suspense-building) for them to reference a person or event with a pronoun instead of identifying it by name, especially if that person/place/thing clearly had significance or posed a potential threat. It's like with eavesdropping: you may hear everything that's said but not understand it all. (Not that I have any experience eavesdropping *cough cough*.)
  3. I condensed my "view into life in the new place" chapter from several scenes that spanned multiple days to two vignettes that each spanned one day. I was able to spend more time on the scenes that way and to me, the chapter felt less rushed and less like a cheap montage.
  4. While my characters were talking (or my narrator was thinking) I tried to make them always busy, and not just with a mundane task (okay, one time they drank coffee) but with something the reader might like to learn about, like spear-fishing.
Today's goal is to revise two more chapters, and I'll have a fresh one to write tomorrow. Onward!

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