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Dianne Salerni : Writer of Teen and Middle Grade Fiction | Eating an Elephant

Eating an Elephant

Thanks for all the kind words of encouragement last week when I was bemoaning my slow progress with this WIP. I love the support in this community!

I’m still creeping into the climax of my WIP. When it comes to action scenes, I tend to choreograph everything down to the last detail (including what people who aren’t even in the scene are doing off-stage). I write bloated, over-long descriptions, extraneous dialogue, describe every motion, gesture, and expression of each character.

Then I go back and start slashing things out. Each successive draft will pare the excess words away until I have a taut, fast-paced scene.

(Then later on, my editor will point out that it’s not as taut or fast-paced as I think it is, and I’ll find scores of other words that didn’t need to be there!)

I confessed at The Practice Room recently that I was worried about writing an upcoming battle scene — a larger battle involving more people and more physical geography than I’ve ever attempted before. Maria Mainero suggested I read G.R.R. Martin’s A Game of Thrones.

“Oh,” I said. “I actually read that over Christmas break!”

“And …” she prompted.

“Um, I skipped over all the battle scenes.”

So there you have it. Personally, I don’t want to read about sweeping, epic battles between armies. I only care what the main characters are doing during the action.

How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.

So, how should I write my battle scene? Centered around my main characters, what they do, what they see, what they feel. I’ll take it one bite at a time and fight my instinct to choreograph every action of the ensemble cast and shove those things into the narrative. If’ it’s something I would skip over as a reader, then it probably shouldn’t be in there!

That’s the plan, anyway. How do you tackle scenes that seem TOO BIG to write?

14 Responses to Eating an Elephant

  1. Sounds like a plan, Stan! I don’t like reading or writing heavy action scenes either. Which is probably why I had no idea what was happening at the end of the Hunger Games. Watiching the movies helped:)

  2. I embarrassingly have to admit I scrolled straight down to the comments section since I saw pictures of Game of Thrones – I thought there might be a spoiler here since I’m only in season two lol

  3. SA Larsenッ says:

    You had me with that first image. Yum!

    Gosh, I do the same thing – choreograph my scenes down to every stinking detail. I had a CP the other day tell my that ‘this’ scene is so good, but trust your reader more. I used to sigh when a CP told me that. But now, I now that’s just how I write. I write too much and then have to cut. I think that’s just the way my brain works. I’ve tried paring down, while I write. That just makes my process even slower than it already is.

  4. Tiana Smith says:

    I don’t like reading battle scenes either. I tend to skim. So yes, I definitely mostly care only about the main characters!

  5. Robin says:

    I skipped over those.

    I laughed out loud.

    You must admit it is rather funny. You are trying to write something that YOU skip over.

    However, that realization is going to make you write your epic battle scene in such a way that YOU would want to read it… and all of those other folks who skip over them (as a general rule). Good information to know before you start a project, I’d say. So, well done!

    BTW, I just finished your arc of The Eighth Day. It was wonderful. I read it one sitting. Now I can’t remember what the instructions were regarding this fantastic read. Review it on my blog? Goodreads? Amazon? It’s been too long and a whole bunch of useless information has taken residence where THAT information used to live.

  6. Sounds like a great plan. And if you start with a draft, you can build on it. That’s how I have to write setting, which I hate writing.

  7. Angela Brown says:

    LOL! I loved Martin’s battle scenes. But then, I’m also a weirdo who has had a hard time reading the rest of the series of novels because I’ve been in mourning for the loss of my book husband, Ned. I was head over heels for him and he just went…headless. Tsk!

  8. mshatch says:

    I haven’t had to write an epic battle scene – yet. When I do I’ll know just who to go to for advice 🙂

  9. Robin says:

    I’ve never written epic battles. The only ones I really enjoy reading are Robin McKinley’s Damar books. She does epic so well (and it isn’t boring) Please not I’m the person that fell asleep during a battle scene in Braveheart. I’m just not into that stuff. One piece at a time sounds just right. You’ll get it–and you’ll know what to cut for readers like you:)

  10. J E Oneil says:

    I think that’s a great way to write battle scenes. I’ve never had to do an “epic” battle, but the small ones I’ve written can still be complex. I’ll have to remember to make the details sparse but evocative.

  11. Steven says:

    I layer. In fact, with my WIP I am layering quite a bit since there’s a lot of action, but I don’t want the plot to drown and write just a bunch of strung-together action sequences. It’s a slower and more methodical process, like eating an elephant!

  12. That’s a good plan! Action is good, but as a reader, I want to know what’s going on with what the characters are thinking than doing.

  13. Yes, battle scenes are tough. If you need another good one, the climax in HP7 Rowlings Deathly Hallows is an excellent scene, featuring many of the beloved characters and how the combat with the death eaters.

    Good luck on the scene. I know you’ll work it out!

  14. Hi Dianne .. I probably wouldn’t read battle scenes either, especially fully detailed ones, but I guess this is where you use all the emotions succinctly building the layers towards the denouement …

    Great thoughts from some of your commenters … cheers Hilary