The Dreaded Sag

This is a post about writing, I promise.

Since I write fantasy, I know a lot about killing tension. Fantasy and other spec-fic writers have a ton of information and backstory to convey, and more often than not this results in the story coming to a screeching halt. Epic fantasy, in particular, tends toward long, drawn-out ‘saggy bits’ that can try even the most patient reader’s tolerance.

So, as I wrestle over my own cartload of infodumpery, I’ve been trying to figure out the solution.

Recently I rewrote a scene that has been troubling me for longer than I’d like to admit. In it, two longtime friends meet and have dinner together. They gossip about various things, which illustrates the nature of their friendship and a few bits of new plot information. Then they promise to see each other again, get up, and leave.

My crit group received the scene pretty positively. However, most crits added the caveat that the scene was technically good… but it felt a little slow. After re-reading it and considering all the critiques I’d received, I realized they were right. And if I, the author (having a natural inclination toward my own work) can feel the sag, everyone else can, too–only more so.

What I really needed to do was put some tension in the scene. Tension creates forward momentum, that need to keep reading, regardless of content or length. I’ve read that with enough tension, even a scene with two talking heads is interesting. The key ingredient is conflict. And that makes sense to me.

So I scrapped the scene and rewrote it. I started by listing the info I was using that scene as a vehicle for, and tried to find a less passive way to communicate. Now I have the friends meeting in a less sedentary setting than ‘having dinner’, and their conversation devolves into a rather bitter argument (conflict!) The same backstory and new plot information is communicated, but this time they’re shouting it at each other. The scene ends with the status of their 10 year friendship up in the air.

Much better. Not only did the new scene have a great deal more forward momentum, that momentum rolled into all the scenes that followed.

So–something to remember for future writing: figure out what you’re trying to say, and then find a way to communicate it through conflict.

A few other useful things I’ve read on the subject:

Author Toolbox: The Three Hooks
Creating Better Flaming Trees
The Fire in Fiction, by Donald Maass

~ RM

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