Monday, October 05, 2015

Elizabeth Hawksley: Writing Tips # 11


Recipe: how to write that scene you’ve been putting off for ages.
Every now and then I come up against what I call the Scene of Doom. It’s a long and complicated scene which, for some reason, I’m simply dreading writing. You’d be amazed how clean and sparkling the house becomes, how the buttons I’ve failed to sew on for months are suddenly done, how tidy my study desk looks.
 
Elizabeth Hawksley
The worst example was in The Belvedere Tower. It was my ninth Elizabeth Hawksley novel and, by that time, I was much more confident about my writing. The Scene of Doom was at the end of my penultimate chapter when the important Poaching strand came to a head – if only I could write it.
 
The Belvedere Tower
This is the poaching strand situation:
My hero, Daniel, a wealthy northern businessman, has bought a run-down estate in Surrey. His gamekeeper, Uzzell, an outwardly respectable man, is secretly in cahoots with a London gang (comprising the vicious Gold Teeth and his side-kick, Moley) and selling the estate’s game on the black market. Uzzell pins the blame for the scarcity of game on the blacksmith Sam Wright, and his two sons, Phineas and Barty. Daniel has discovered the truth but he knows that Uzzell must be caught red-handed if he’s to be charged successfully.
 
A Victorian Poacher: James Hawker’s Journal
The Scene of Doom:
     1.  Place: the charcoal burner’s hut in a wood near the London Road where Uzzell  
          stores the game. Daniel and Sam hide nearby: they will deal with Uzzell. Phineas
          and Barty hide on the other side of the road to await the cart: they’ll disable the cart
          by unharnessing the horse. I hadn’t a clue how to deal with Gold Teeth and Moley.
2.      Gold Teeth and Moley arrive and Barty unhitches the cart. 
3.      Uzzell and Gold Teeth quarrel over money – Uzzell has a gun. The transfer of game
        to the cart goes ahead. Phineas coshes Moley and ties him up.
4.      Nelly, Uzzell’s fragile wife, has premonitions of disaster and sets out towards the hut.
5.      Gold Teeth realizes Moley is missing and that the cart is uncoupled. He yells.
6.      Uzzell flees into the woods and gets out his gun.
7.      Nelly lurches towards the hut.
8.      Daniel and Sam struggle with Uzzell and overpower him. The gun goes off.
9.      Gold Teeth fights Phineas and Barty. He’s captured but Barty is badly hurt.
10.    Nelly has been shot and is dying. Sam drives his sons back to the smithy, plus the
        prisoners – who will go in his cellar. Daniel stays with Mrs Uzzell.
11.    The dying Mrs Uzzell tells of a strongbox underneath the flags in her cottage. She
        dies. Loose ends are tied up.
Facing writing all this felt like climbing Everest. I didn’t even have it in order in my head. All I knew was that Daniel needed to come good and realize, finally, who was to be trusted, and he had to get involved with the fighting – he gets off with cuts and bruises and a cracked rib, but he’s shown his mettle. From now on, the villagers are on his side. For other reasons, I needed Barty to be badly hurt – but to recover.

And I was longing to write the love scene in the final chapter.
 
Horse’s harness from Self-Sufficiency by John and Sally Seymour
In desperation, I decided to write whichever scene looked easiest – which was the Mrs Uzzell leaving her cottage scene, followed by the London gang’s arrival where Barty unhitches the cart (thanks to the above picture). It was a bit like putting together a jigsaw; inevitably, the scenes had to be juggled around. Gradually, everything linked up and Everest shrank to a climbable hill.
In the last chapter, Daniel gets together with my heroine Cassandra, and the other plot strands are sorted satisfactorily. And I was able to send off the completed typescript.
 
The Gamekeeper at Home and The Amateur Poacher by Richard Jefferies
So, my advice boils down to this. Don’t be frightened of writing a scene out of sync. If it helps to unblock you, that’s all that matters. Yes, you may have to do a lot of tweaking and cutting and pasting, but at least you’ll get the scene done.
I hope it works for you.
Photographs:
Elizabeth Hawksley by Sally Greenhill
All other photographs by Elizabeth Hawksley
Elizabeth Hawksley

8 comments:

Melinda Hammond/Sarah Mallory said...

Well timed Elizabeth, I am just writing one of these now....

Melinda Hammond/Sarah Mallory said...

My scene is at the end of the book, too. All the characters have to come together, like a murder mystery denouement. Like you I have listed out all the ingredients and I am now picking off little bits to write, gradually completing a whole picture. Yes, it will need re-writing, but once "the bones" are written the rest is easier.

A very helpful post!

Elizabeth Hawksley said...

Thank you for your comments, Melinda/Sarah. I relieved that I'm not the only person to be faced with Scenes of Doom! Good luck with yours.

Janet Gover said...

I know those scenes only too well Elizabeth. To get it done, I give myself permission to write badly - and just get something down on paper, knowing I can fix it later. And often that is all I need to get past the roadblock... and of course, I make sure I go back and fix the rough bits.

Jane Odiwe said...

Tying it all up at the end, not missing anything important out and getting that Scene of Doom done, I'm sure shortens a writer's life. I know this all too well, having recently struggled with said scenes -so wonderful to hear others go through it too. Thank you, Elizabeth for brilliant words of advice!

Elizabeth Hawksley said...

Thanks, Janet and Jane. One of the nicest things about having written this post, is realizing that I AM NOT ALONE! I think Janet's point about giving oneself permission to write badly is great advice. The first drafts of my early novels often read like a cross between Barbara Cartland and Ethel M Dell!

Melinda Hammond/Sarah Mallory said...

Elizabeth, since they were both hugely successful then your early writing must have been pretty good! It is good to know we all go through these things. Currently I am working through my plot, putting the out of sequence scenes in a different colour font so that I know they need to be re-organised at a later stage.

Back to it...

Elizabeth Hawksley said...

Now that's a brilliant idea, Melinda/Sarah! I've made a note of it.