Who of us can forget the scenes that made us fall in love with literature? Those timeworn passages with the perfect balance of romance, horror, or tragedy that has our fingers groping to turn the page. Romeo’s love-lorn declarations from the orchard as Juliet appear on the balcony:
“But, soft! what light through yonder window breaks?
It is the east, and Juliet is the sun.”
Or Scarlett O’Hara, singed, starved, and trembling with exhaustion as she makes her famous speech in the shadow of the blackened husk of the great plantation, Twelve Oaks:
“’As God is my witness, the Yankees aren’t going to lick me! I’m going to live through this, and when it’s over I’m never going to be hungry again!’”
What makes these scenes iconic? The writing certainly. Well paced dialog, strong characters, a plot that makes it hang all together.
Let’s leave the realm of books for a moment to consider film.
Casablanca is one of my favorite movies. Right up there with The Godfather for most memorable movie quotes, we can all spout off the classic, “Play it again, Sam.”
And who can forget Humphrey Bogart clasping Ingrid Bergman to him, reminding her “We’ll always have Paris,” as they stand in the mist on the tarmac, the shadowy shape of the waiting plane just visible in the background.
But what if they hadn’t been there? What if the screenwriter had set the scene in a swamp, ankle deep in mud, clutching at each other for balance? On a frozen mountain top? In the basement of a haunted hotel?
The mist, the runway, the plane—it all lends itself to a sense of mystery, urgency, the forbidden. You change the setting and that element of the scene goes away.
Of my last two writing projects, the third and forth books in my Grimm Tales series, I feel like I just flew through book three. For the most part, everything fit together seamlessly the first time.
Then I started book four.
I’d write, read it over, and promptly put myself to sleep. Honestly, my writing and a dose of melatonin and we’d cure the world’s insomnia problem. What was my difficulty? It was one of those points in the story where a lot of information was coming at the reader all at once. Background information, set up for plot reveals, things necessary to the narrative, but not your fast paced action scenes. It finally occurred to me to pluck my characters out of the snoozefest that surrounded them, and put them somewhere… a little more unconventional. The dialog didn’t change all that dramatically, but I invented a tradition, a holiday of sorts. Candlelight processions, midnight feasts in the graveyard, fantastical apple trees—and my humdrum scene shook itself out of its stupor, straightened up, and became my favorite moment in the manuscript so far.
There are a lot of low points, roadblocks, and frustrations during the writing process. The solution isn’t always as simple as taking Dorothy off the farm and plunking her down the merry old land of Oz, but give it a try. It might be just what your story needs.
Janna is a Colorado based YA author who loves a good fairy tale. She’s married to her own real life Prince Charming, and will usually admit to being mom of three, including her incorrigible middle child, Benny. Besides wrangling her kids she can be found doing some therapeutic baking, dreaming of the ocean, and of course, curling up with a good book. She is the author of the Grimm series and other titles.