One of the great things about being back in a writing program is the one-on-one I get with my advisor - a fabulous writer and teacher. Every three weeks I send him work and he writes all over it and sends it back with a letter about everything he thinks I did really well, and what I still should tweak in the chapters to make them more powerful.
Although I have a tremendous critique group, fresh eyes from a professional in the business of both writing and teaching writing has had a huge impact on my writing.
In the last packet I sent, he pointed out I have a tendency towards long scenes. It's absolutely true that I do: my scenes tend to run 10-12 pages, sometimes even longer. I've looked at how other authors combat scenes in which much must happen, and I've found this: if you write in third person and can follow several story lines, you can flip between them back and forth, even cutting scenes off in the middle to shift focus for a page or two, and then return to the other scene - much like TV does.
The problem for me has been that, in my first book, I wrote in first person present tense so that the story followed just one person's point of view. The story unfolded as she experienced it. There was no option to switch scenes in the middle of another.
The novel I'm revising now is in third person POV, but it still follows just one person closely, and so the problem is the same as before.
When my advisor read through my latest submission - a lengthy but critical scene in which an entire past and relationship unfold - he advised me to find a way to chop it up.
This is how:
1. You can cut. Brutally. Anything that isn't absolutely necessary for the scene, any stray words or superfluous actions - cut. Anything you can put somewhere else in the story, cut.
This didn't work well for me, because everything in this scene was critical. It is really the foundation for the conflict and resolution in the rest of the book. I was able to cut some, but not enough.
2. You can sum up parts of the dialog in narrative.
I did a lot of this, although it took a while to figure out how to do that, because the point of the dialog was to reveal things from one character to another. I had to look at each line and ask myself: "Is this said because the other character needed to hear it, or because the reader did?" If it was mainly for the reader, I either summed it up in narrative, or cut it to put elsewhere in the book.
3. You can break the scene by moving the characters somewhere else, or interrupting it.
This is what I ended up doing that helped the most. In this scene, the mother and daughter are in a conversation in which secrets about their past come out. It's important for this scene to all take place now, because in a few hours, the mother is dead and that opportunity is gone.
So in the middle of the conversation, I had the daughter receive a phone call that takes her out of the scene. That phone call created a whole new conflict that I was trying to figure out how to work in anyway, and then the fact that the daughter left allowed more tension between her and her mother. Instead of rejoining the mom, the daughter walks away. She ends up in another place altogether where the narrative is able to divert the scene for a few paragraphs. The mother has to then find her, and the discussion can then continue.
Interestingly, the scene is still 12 pages, but it's broken into smaller segments - places at which I can make section or chapter breaks to keep the reader engaged.
I think my inability to write short scenes is something I need to work on. I like reading books in which the scenes are short - it keeps me reading, turning pages. I always have too much to say, though, which is pretty indicative of me as a person, too. I don't have short conversations, I'm unable to figure out anything worthwhile to tweet in 140 characters or less. I can't write short blog posts, although I desperately want to. Even my comments on other people's blog posts run long. I wonder how anyone manages to write such short, pithy comments when mine practically run novel-length.
Anyhow, so this is what I'm working on now. Are long scenes ever a problem for you, or am I the only one?