Their Rules: Flipping Pages

I guess what I really mean when I say, “Never Listen to Them” is don’t spend your precious writing time adhering to someone else’s rules—follow your own good sense instead. You’ve read a lot of books in your time (of course you have) and you work hard at your writing (of course you do). Do you really need to put somebody else’s wheels on your bike? Trust yourself. Give yourself some credit. Read your work aloud and judge for yourself. If, like me, you’ve spent any real time on the web tracking down blog articles about how to be a good writer, you’ve come up against the rule that I’m addressing...

“If you flip your pages, your readers will flip your pages.”

First of all, this can only be regarded as a possible rule-of-thumb, not a rule. I’m sure it proves to be true some of the time, perhaps even most of the time, but all of the time? Nah. Sometimes, there are good reasons why you feel tempted to flip through one of your scenes.
  • You’ve read it a million times and are tired of it,
  • You’ve reworked it to perfection and there’s nothing else you can add or take away from it,
  • It just works.
The thing is, this is one of the rules that is worth paying attention to because it demands you be honest with yourself.
  • Is it really good?
  • Does it really work?
  • Is the punctuation right-on? Is it tight?
  • If I were a reader would I enjoy this scene
If you find yourself tempted to flip, it’s time to put on your prosecutor’s peruke and ask yourself these questions.

I’m in just such a spot with rewriting the one-volume Special Edition of my trilogy, Beyond The Bridge. I have a scene in which three mid-sized but important resolutions occur, but when I came upon it the other night, I felt the urge to flip past it. True, I’d put in a 12-hour writing day, but I’d felt this urge with the scene before.

I stopped. “What’s the problem here?” I asked myself. It’s an exciting scene. A happy, celebratory scene, but something was off. The following day (after getting some much-needed sleep), I pulled the scene apart bit-by-bit and gave it a cold, clinical examination. There it was. It wasn’t the scene itself—it had all the necessary ingredients—I simply wasn’t excited. I hadn’t invested myself and my emotions in my character’s experience. I’d set myself apart. I told instead of showed. I was, in a word, bored. Sometimes, it’s so easy to simply narrate, to not get involved. I dove in, finding myself enjoying the rewrite as I opened up my imagination, putting myself into the scene. I heard the music, laughter and chatter, smelled the food and drank the wine, and spoke with the people in the room. I interviewed the character.

Instead of saying your readers will flip pages if you do, let’s say your readers will get excited if you are. If you’re not, they’ll know. All this brings us to the only Immutable Rule there is: “Thou shalt buck up, cut the crap and be honest with thyself.”

And that’s the hardest thing to do.