Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Avoiding Bunny Trails and Tangents in Writing

I recently returned to writing my second book in the FLASHFALL series and discovered some . . . less than awesome scenes. I’m pretty sure they seemed like a good idea at the time--several months ago, when I wrote them in a flurry of drafting. Now, viewed objectively, I see them for what they really are.

Tangents. Or, as I like to call them: bunny trails.

Sometimes we meander in our stories and take a little bunny trail up Plot Mountain. Bunny trails (as well-written as they might be) do not make for good reading. They almost always slow the pacing. They’re sneaky--sometimes disguising themselves as clever little moments, when really, they’re unecessary, and anything not essential to your plot will usually bore your reader. 

How to know if you’ve written a tangent:
1.    Does the scene reveal character and move the plot forward? If not, CUT IT.
2.    Is it backstory? If so, beware of info-dump and passive voice. Backstory turns into tangents really fast. Always use a light touch and try to weave it into action or dialogue.

Even after multiple rounds of edits, I wrote a tangent into FLASHFALL. To be fair, the excess I wrote was in response to my editor asking for more backstory in previous edit notes. I developed new characters and revealing action, but in the end it muddied the other main points of the book. And though there was some good content there, we ended up cutting it all. 

At the drafting stage, I give myself more leeway with this. Sometimes it’s part of the process of figuring out characters and plot points. But once I begin revising, I’m really on the lookout for these momentum-stealers. Tangents are a pitfall of writing that can be avoided if you know what you’re looking for.

Before I head back to my writing cave, I leave you with some of my tried and true writing reminders that help me whenever I’m in doubt about a scene. Let me know if this helps, or if you have your own methods for keeping your writing on course.

Happy writing!

Jenny Moyer is the author of YA sci-fi/fantasy FLASHFALL (Macmillan/Holt, 11-15-16) She studied writing at Seattle Pacific University, and currently lives in Iowa with her filmmaker husband and three boys. She's currently at work on the sequel to FLASHFALL.

Where to find Jenny: Website, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube

Where to find FLASHFALL: Goodreads

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