Sometimes it’s easy to write a scene, and occasionally is difficult. Then there are those scenes in books that are a real bear to write, that authors agonize over and rewrite again and again. thus the question for this week is:
What Was Your Hardest Scene To Write?
Here are their unedited responses.
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I’ve written several books under pseudonyms, mostly on topics that are controversial or not part of my main brand. One of these books is about an entertainer, a woman. The novel is based on real life experiences from about a dozen people that I interviewed. I wove these stories together as a single narrative about a single character – the protagonist – even though in real life these events happened to different people.
In the book, the protagonist has fallen in love an audience member. At first that relationship goes well and they both get what they want from it, but he gets more and more clingy and acts strangely and demanding towards her. One day she decides to cut him off because he has just gotten too bizarre for her to handle. He asks for one more performance and she agrees. During that performance, he tells her that she must love him and agree to marry him or he will kill himself. She doesn’t believe him and tells him the relationship is over. While she watches, he commits suicide.
This was easily the most difficult scene that I’ve ever had to write so far. it was difficult to write, in a believable way, about how the man was attempting to manipulate her and control her. I had to get across that she knew that if she agreed to marry him under those conditions, her life would never be the same and he would be able to control her from that point forward.
One of the things that made this scene difficult for me to write was that a couple of people in my life in the past tried the same type of manipulation. I made the same choice as my protagonist – I refused to give in – and fortunately the people involved were bluffing and didn’t carry through on their threat. Because of my own experiences, I understood the position of my protagonist and knew exactly why she had to refuse to give in.
At the beginning, Storytellers – my upcoming debut – featured a graphic rape scene. Not long after I wrote it, I read something that shook me to the core. On Twitter, a female writer complained that she is looking forward to the day when male writers stop using rape as a plot device to entertain certain type of audience. I realised that I, too, hated this type of writing – so why was I doing it myself? Yet the actual fact that the rape happened was important, because it finally established the reality of the relationship between the husband and wife. It was something that no amount of pretty words and gifts could change. Yet the more I thought about the scene, the more uncomfortable I was making myself.
I went through 19 drafts of the novel and this was the scene that got reworked every single time. I kept on making it less graphic, less literal, removing details, removing more details, shortening it. In drafts 17 and 18 it was merely mentioned. In draft 19 it’s gone. It is now very gently hinted at. Blink and you’ll miss it. Instead of a graphic and drastic description you now get one single sentence that makes you feel uncomfortable, but you don’t really know why.
So after 19 attempts to write that scene it transpired that the best way to do it was to not write it at all!
In my first book Is It Still Murder Even If She Was A Bitch? I wrote a scene featuring a remodeling contractor from a small town in Nebraska. I wanted to change his pattern of speech from the arguably more urban patterns of the characters residing in Omaha. I wanted there to be a distinction.
I wasn’t trying to make this character sound distinctly back woods, rural because that’s not really a thing in Nebraska, so finding a distinction was challenging. He wasn’t uneducated, so giving him bad grammar was not the solution, and we tend to be accent neutral in Nebraska so I didn’t have much with which to work.
I wanted this character to be sweet and just a tad naïve. How does that sound? As I wrote, I found myself slipping into the cadence of a southern twang – NO! edit, edit, edit.
After finishing the book it officially went into editing. On the fourth round, my editor commented “you have this contractor who starts out talking like a hick and almost immediately evolves into having the elocution of a Harvard grad. Fix it.” Wow, how I not see that?
So, I was back at the drawing board. That short scene was the hardest I’ve ever written or rewritten – before or since. I labored over every word he spoke. In the end, I had to invent some speech patterns based on imagination and fleeting experience with folks in rural areas either through road trips across the state, or films about the Midwest. I think it works – but even now I’m not positive. In fact I can feel myself starting to perspire as I write the response to this question.
For me, it wasn’t any one scene, but rather, it was any scene that involved Tango Primary Five and the Angel of Death, my two main characters, having any quirky moment of intimacy – at least whatever level of intimacy they could obtain given their unique forms of mental illnesses and the Angel of Death’s no-touching policy. What made this difficult was two-prong: their relationship is completely out-of-the-box outside what most people would define as a ‘relationship’ and the simple fact that I don’t have a whole lot of experience when it comes to relationships. This begs the question: how can I write what I don’t know? Simply, it was a lot of time at the drawing board, a lot of editing and playing the scene out in my head a million times, and finally having a good lady-friend of mine go over it and give me her perspective on it. Eventually, we got it right. Honestly, I liked the idea of forcing myself outside of my comfort zone on this one – it’s certainly made my future intimate scenes a hell of a lot easier to draft.
Thomas James Eyre
The hardest scene I had to write deals with the abduction and rape of a minor. It had to be done in such a way that it didn’t sound like I was writing a pornographic scene, but it had to let readers know and understand it actually happened and that it was the catalyst that sent my Royal Marine MC off the rails and into a vigilante mission against the Russian Mafia.
Because the abductee was a minor the scene also had to satisfy the Amazonian police department and my own on board sense of decency, that it didn’t infringe any rules for dealing with minors and sex-related topics. The very last thing I wanted was for perverts with fantasies for having sex with children to be buying the books I write as pornography that feeds into their warped minds.
I can tell you now that however I wrote the scene it made me very uncomfortable. I tried increasing the abductee’s age, but that didn’t work either because it always read like pornography and that is not something I wanted my books to reflect. After several rewrites, I simply ended up with it all taking place behind closed doors and using the power suggestion to indicate what happened.
I think one of the hardest scenes I have written actually fell out onto the page with scary ease. It was a male rape scene in the voice of my antagonist. He views his victim with a cool contempt and plain speaking tone that upset me for days. I know I wrote it, but it wasn’t me that spilled out of my pen!
This is a very difficult one. When writing a historical fantasy series, the trickiest scenes can range from mind-bending high fantasy (attempting to write legendary and supernatural phenomena without resorting to clichés, tropes, and other devices that have been used countless times before) to grounded historical reality. Given that it’s a genre which is so far removed from contemporary readers’ lives in many ways, one of the most challenging aspects of the writing is keeping the characters relatable, and able to elicit empathy and understanding from a modern readership.
With this in mind, the hardest scene to write in many respects was a scene in which the POV protagonist, a young child, has to confront the death of an older child she knew and loved. It was a scene for which I had to examine, analyse, and draw on my own experiences and memories of childhood loss, requiring a difficult balance of emotion and detachment, as well as a necessary filtering out of what my reactions to such an event would be as an adult. It was essential to convey purely what and how a young child would feel. The confusion, the incomprehension, the sense of questions left unasked; things you didn’t know about that person and wouldn’t be able ask them anymore – inconsequential things like what was their favourite colour. Feeling grief-stricken and guilty that you didn’t know those things about them, the impossibility of the notion that you would never see them again, wondering where they had gone to and were they happy. In the end, the scene in the book is as authentic as I could make it, but it was a long, hard road to get there.
All scenes offer their own particular challenges but I have found that the opening scene is the most difficult to get right. With Forsaking All Other, a historical novel set in 16th century England centred on two fictional characters, Bess Stoughton and Edmund Wyard, I wrote at least three opening scenes that were ultimately discarded. Initially I started with a scene of the young women in the household where Bess works enjoying a dancing lesson. This gave me the opportunity to show something of the young women’s personalities and also to include the swirl of colour and music. A later draft started with Bess’s employer, Lady Allingbourne, informing Bess that her father wants her to return home. Then I decided I needed to introduce Edmund earlier in the story and opened the novel with a scene where he is preparing to leave Ireland. Criticisms from too many beta readers to ignore made me realize that these scenes led too slowly into the main story and that, really, ‘nothing’ happened in them. It took me a while to accept as all scenes were polished until they gleamed. I finally settled on a scene a little later in the story where a resentful Bess is on her way to her father’s house. The discarded scenes were not totally lost as I used elements of them at other points in the novel.
Developing a main character for a short story was by far the most difficult “scene” I wrote. At this stage of writing, I’d been drawing from a similar experience so at times, revisiting relevant memories was difficult. My normal writing anxieties range from grammar technicalities, to plot development, etc., but writing this character truly scared me. I needed to write her just right, and I worried I wasn’t a good enough writer to pull it off. It was imperative for me to give her a voice and I wanted to make sure I gave it justice. I worked on developing her character from various sources, and that process took much longer than developing any other character I’d ever written about. However, I think feeling a certain amount of fear is essential because it means we are getting closer to writing a truth.
Some of my most difficult scenes to write transpired in my first published novel, Southside Hustle. There is a lot of me in that story so reliving emotionally trying times from my past was cathartic but at times heart-wrenching. The most difficult scene of them all was killing off a main character.
This is really hard for me to figure out. I’ve written over thirty books and each one has it’s own struggles and I hope growth in my writing. But I’d have to say, the book I’m writing now, book two in a new series, has stretched me the most and the beginning/prologue was hard. I’m still tweaking it. It is a 10-year-old-girl discovering her parent’s after they’ve been shot on a camping trip in the mountains. The mother is still alive and begs the girl to go for help. Of course the girl wants to stay with her mother, and while struggling with obeying and staying, her mother dies. I’ve known death, but not from violence and it’s been a while since I’ve been 10. Once I think I have it nailed, I’m going to ask help from my 10 year-old-granddaughter to see what I need to do to put it more in the child’s point of view.