Anatomy of a Scene

Today I typed the scene which I had scribbled on some sheets of paper yesterday, into the computer. Normally, while I thus copy passages or whole scenes, I tend to revise them yet again. And this is what I did today, too:

Once the floodgate had been opened, there was no escape from the memories that rose to the surface of her mind as giant sea monsters rose from the depths of the oceans to swallow up the unwary seafarer.

Being surrounded by all the dead birds did not help. They seemed to swirl around her in a grotesque roundelay, intertwining her past and present. There was the white face of a barn owl, its smooth outlines destroyed by moths, the eyes two jetblack, lifeless dull marbles. Yet in front of Georgina’s inner eye, it spread its wings and flew away, far away over wide, open fields, a noiseless ghost in the soft, grey light of dusk. How often had she stood and watched it its brethren fly across the gently rolling hills before she had walked back towards the golden lights of the ancient sprawling mansion at the edge of the lake where water lilies bloomed, white and pure.

Hmm. I’m still not quite happy with this passage, especially with the first sentences of the second paragraph. I see my books as films (and, I suspect, animated films on top of that!) and sometimes it can be difficult to catch those images on paper.

Take the beginning of this whole birds-and-rising-memories passage: what I wrote yesterday reads:

Only the discovery of a lifeless puffin among the birds had sent a chill down Georgina’s back as she had been transported back to the windy cliffs of Cornwall, where she had once stood to watch puffins play. She could almost taste the salty air again, feel the soft, thin layer of grass under her feet while overhead the seagulls cried, alarmed at the sight of the two human intruders. Yet all that was eclipsed by the feeling of the hard male hand engulfing hers, skin to skin, his thumb drawing lazy circles over her wrist. And the joy, the giddy joy which had filled her and had mixed with the languid stirring of desire. She remembered how she had surprised him by slipping a hand around his neck and drawing his head down for a kiss which had quickly turned wild and hot.

What I want to achieve here is a blending of past and present, or rather the superimposing of the memories on the present, which is triggered by the sight of the stuffed puffin. And I want to keep it all a bit vague in order to convey Georgina’s surreal feeling of being in two places at the same time (if that makes sense). But when I typed this paragraph this morning, it occurred to me there was too much telling at the beginning of the passage. It didn’t manage to capture that sense of being bombarded out of the blue by memories. Therefore the paragraph was transformed into:

Only the discovery of a lifeless puffin among the birds had sent a chill down Georgina’s back It was the discovery of a lifeless puffin among the other birds that sent a chill down Georgina’s spine. The call of the seagulls echoed in her head as she was transported back to the windy cliffs of Cornwall, where she had once stood and watched puffins play. She could almost taste the salty air again, feel the soft, thin layer of grass under her feet while overhead the seagulls cried, alarmed at the sight of the two human intruders. Yet all that was eclipsed by Her hand tingled from the feeling of the hard male hand fingers engulfing hers, skin to skin, his thumb drawing lazy circles over her wrist. And With bittersweet pain she remembered the joy, the giddy joy which had filled her and had mixed mingled with the languid stirring of renewed desire. She remembered How she had surprised him by slipping a hand around his neck and drawing to draw his head down for a kiss which had quickly turned wild and hot and quite indecent.

When I just read through this again, it struck me that the beginning was still not immediate enough. And so I’ve changed it into:

The sight of the lifeless puffin caught Georgina by surprise. A sliver of ice slithered down her spine while the call of the seagulls echoed in her head. All at once she stood again on the windy cliffs of Cornwall, where she had watched the puffins play so long ago.

Hmm. Of course, I now have the problem that the sentence before this passage also contains the word “sight”. Duh.

3 thoughts on “Anatomy of a Scene

  1. Camille Alexa

    I love the process of writing. I think it’s mighty brave of those of you who share it so publicly. I’d be far more shy about that than swimming at a topless beach.

  2. Carrie Lofty

    Awesome post. I can see how your brain works! It’s right there! I wonder what mine would look like if I ever kept track of the changes consciously. I go into a meta state when revising that’s very much like typing. Kind of in a trance. Conscious of what I’m doing, but not able to articulate why.

  3. Sandra Schwab

    Camille, I always hope it might be interesting for readers when I rattle on about my writing process. When I switched languages seven years ago, I was part of an online writers group, and we all posted our excerpts on a message board so the others could comment on them. Perhaps that’s why I’m not shy about talking about my writing process on the blog. 🙂

    Carrie, thanks! Isn’t it marvellous what we can do with our one, lonely neuron? *ggg*

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