Monday’s Writerly Quote

Do you ever re-watch particular scenes of movies or re-read certain parts of a book because you loved that moment so much? You probably know what I mean. You can skip through most of a story for that one moment when you really felt something, be it surprise, elation, fear—whatever. But the story creator did it so well, sometimes you have to revisit that moment, to feel it again.

This brings me to today’s quote by Robert Frost:

No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader. No surprise in the writer, no surprise in the reader.

We know what’s coming in our stories, but we can still write it in a way that surprises us, or makes us cry, or gives us that elation. I always think of Back to the Future. I know Marty is going to make it in time for the lightning. I know Doc Brown will plug in that cable in time. And yet I’m still on the edge of my seat even though I’ve seen this movie a bajillion times.

That’s what we should strive for in our writing. Sure, maybe not every scene will have you in the height of emotion—but every scene should at least be building for that moment.

Go back to your work in progress. Are there scenes in there you love? Why do you love them? What about scenes you find boring? Odds are if you think they’re boring, your audience will too. Tension can help. But most important is to make every scene matter. Every scene should either be eliciting a strong emotional connection or working toward building that connection.

Even in the scenes you love, you may have to do some hard editing. We have to be both willing to kill our darlings and create them at the same time.

Viktor Krum?! Why? WHYYYYYYYYY?!

That’s why I’m always pushing for people to read Story and Writing the Breakout Novel, because they’re two books I fully believe can help you take blah scenes to fabulous. You want your readers unable to put your book down, don’t you? You want them to glance at the clock, notice it’s 1AM and promise they’ll quit after one more chapter.

If you’re not crying, they’re not crying. If you’re not surprised, they’re not surprised. Make them cry. Surprise them. Go through the hard edits so it happens.

Do you agree with Mr. Frost? Have you written difficult scenes that got you to tears (or nearly)? Do you read certain parts of your books again and again? Why? What would you add to Mr. Frost’s advice? Let us know in the comments!

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11 thoughts on “Monday’s Writerly Quote

  1. I’ve written scenes that made me cry. When I read over my manuscript, there are parts that make my heart beat faster, even though on another level I’m sick to death of reading the same words over and over. I’m working on bringing everything to that level.

    This reminds me of a discussion on the NaNoWriMo forums about whether people who write erotic literature get turned on when they’re writing. It was very interesting to see the different responses!

      • I wrote a scene once for an older project that gave me the heebie-jeebies for weeks. It was hard to go to sleep at night. That story will probably never see the light of day, but I’m sure I’ll resurrect that scene somewhere in the future.

        I’m not surprised you write stuff that makes you laugh. Your posts usually do that to me. 😀 Love your sense of humor!

  2. I kiled off one of my main characters towards the end of my (debut) novel and as the other main character who had grown to love them wailed and pleaded for them not to die, I cried…every darn time I read that chapter.
    How could I be so cruel?

  3. I have this in several movies. I know that someone’s about to die, and still I hope they will make a different decision THIS time. I want Wash to not get impaled, I want Boromir to get the help he needs, I want Dan Evans to not get shot in the back, etc.
    In books,the same thing, I yearn for Oy to finish the journey with Roland, I want Harold to regain his chance for redemption,
    Great post, great quote, and wonderful thoughts.

  4. Great quote! It’s kind of strange, but writing with a partner I can always tell the lines that Kati was really proud of, or really liked writing, when I read her sections. I can’t even explain how I know, but I can just tell, “oh, Kati was probably totally cracking herself up with this one,” etc. So it makes sense that other readers can tell which lines you loved writing, too, when they read your book.

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