by Bethany Maines
In the movie His Girl Friday (Cary Grant & Rosalind Russell), a light hearted screwball comedy that centers around a newspaper editor and his ex-wife/top reporter as they attempt to get the big story and he attempts to prevent her from marrying someone else. Under the froth, romance, laughs and lightning fast dialogue the plot also deals with a poor schlub who shot a cop and is getting the death penalty mostly due to politics and in spite of the fact that he’s not really dealing with a full deck. In the movie, Rosalind Russell interviews the schlub and asks him what crack-pots he was listening to in the park while he was whiling away his unemployed time. The soapbox ranter he listened to the most, the one the made the most sense was a man who talked about “production for use.”
That phrase crops up for me time and time again as a philosophical touchpoint. When I’m writing I will periodically ask myself, what use is this scene? What has it been produced for? Is the way in which I have presented the scene—from POV, to word choice, to start and finish points—the best, most useful way, to achieve the goal? If the action of the characters is correct, then are the emotions within the scene hitting the right notes? Often times as writers will get bogged down in telling who went where when and we forget to also incorporate the emotion, the driving force that pushes the character into action. The same can also be true in reverse. I have spent whole pages blithering on about a character’s feelings (Reminder to self: No one gives a crap. It’s boring. Stop doing that.) and forgotten to advance the plot at all. And then, even if the emotions and the actions are right, is everything told in the right words—is the style of the telling the best way to tell it?
This level of thinking is difficult because it forces me to objectively look at the story and check in on the individual elements of style, tone, and content. And generally, for me, that can only be done after I have completed a draft and I’m working in the editorial phase. If that all sounds like a lot of work, then you’re correct, but I like to think my readers appreciate it. After all I put a lot of work into producing a book for the use of readers to enjoy.
Bethany Maines is the author of the Carrie Mae Mysteries, Wild Waters, Tales from the City of Destiny and An Unseen Current. You can also view the Carrie Mae youtube video or catch up with her on Twitter and Facebook.