Sometimes we get so stuck in the middle of writing our precious manuscripts, and so enamoured of our words, that we can't find our way out of a hole in the ground if we try. Right smack in the middle of my latest middle-grade novel, which is told in alternating chapters of two different voices - a boy and a girl - I had dug myself a big hole and couldn't seem to climb out.
Each chapter in the manuscript moved the plot forward in a linear fashion. One particular incident would occur, and then the next thing happened. It became a bit of a puzzle, however, when the two different characters met and their storylines intertwined. But I was doing fine, except for one point in the story where I ended up backtracking a bit, making the same stuff happen twice from two different viewpoints.
My critique group caught me on it. (Not much slips past them - LOL) "Slowed down the story. Got me confused. Didn't like this at all" - were the comments I got. Darn. I soon realized that the reason I had trouble fixing this was because I had written a scene (about a girl learning to ride a horse) that I loved too much.
Writers often hear the old adage to "kill your darlings," meaning deleting unneeded words or scenes that we become attached to. I mean, hey, we wrote them so they must be good, right? My critique group was not so sentimental, however. "Just skip that whole part," they unanimously agreed, "and start up again here," they pointed out - taking the proverbial red pen to three pages of a favorite scene.
Arghh. They were right, of course. As soon as it was pointed out, I realized they had pulled me out of my hole, there was no more backtracking in the story, everything once again moved forward and made perfect sense. Thank you, critique group. I love you guys!
So here, if you care to read on, is the scene that tripped me up, that I was so hung up on, and that is now Gone from My Manuscript forever. Bye-bye, Darlings . . .
Swede brings an old saddle over from his house along with a saddle pad. He tightens the cinch on old Paintball and I’m suddenly nervous. And it is still raining. But suddenly the clouds part and a brilliant blue sky appears.
“Put your left foot in the stirrup,” he instructs. “Then grab the saddle horn and hoist yourself up there.”
I feel like an IDIOT trying to climb up on the horse. It always looks so easy when you see cowboys do it, but I feel like a total klutz. Swede helps push me up and finally I’m mounted on Paintball’s back. He adjusts the stirrups and starts leading us around.
“Don’t let go of him,” I say.
“I won’t.” Swede holds onto the horse’s lead rope. “I believe this old horse is gentle as a kitten. He didn’t even flinch when we saddled him.”
Maybe, but that doesn’t make me feel any better. It’s fun, though, to be up so high. I can see a long ways. Out across the corrals and the back pasture, and all the way past the clear-cut behind Aunt Trudy’s five acres. I’m holding onto the reins, but Swede is actually the one controlling Paintball. “Look at the rainbow,” I say. “Wow. It’s a double one.”
“It’s always a lucky day,” says Swede, “when you see one of those.”
We start down the driveway toward the main road. This is only the second time I’ve ever been on a horse, so it’s not like I actually know how to ride. It’s exciting but scary at the same time, and I feel jittery every time Paintball takes another step.
“Swede,” Aunt Trudy hollers from behind us. “Don’t take her too far. You don’t know what that old horse might do.”
“Just relax, Trudy. We are not going to do anything except walk.” Swede looks up at me and winks. “Your aunt’s a worry-wart, isn’t she?” he whispers.
“I heard that,” calls Aunt Trudy. “And darned tootin’ I’m a worry wart. This girl is my responsibility, and I don’t want anything to happen to her.”
“Trudy, this horse is so old and pathetic he probably couldn’t spook if he tried. If he moves too fast he might fall down.”
FALL DOWN? Great. Paintball lifts his head up and stares at something moving up the road. I grab the horn of the saddle for safety, but he doesn’t spook or skitter sideways. He just keeps on walking calmly.
As the figure in the road gets closer, I can see it’s someone running. It almost looks like that boy I met in the driveway a few weeks ago. DAVID.
My face turns pink when I think about him. I barely knew him, but I remember telling him practically everything about myself. About Pendleton, and about how I got my name. He probably thinks I’m a total DORK. I almost wish Swede would just turn the horse around and head back to the barn, before the boy gets here.
As he jogs closer, I can see David’s t-shirt is soppy and wet. He must have been running right through the rain. It would be awesome if I was riding Paintball all by myself, but instead I’m sitting up here like a little baby being led up and down the driveway. I sort of automatically lift my hand to wave, and then immediately wish I hadn’t.
Maybe he’ll just jog right on by, but David slows to a walk and turns in the gravel driveway. Why did I WAVE at him? I suddenly wish I could just crawl under a bush and HIDE.
“Hey, I didn’t know you knew how to ride,” he says, walking close.