Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Joss Has a Theory: When It Doesn't Work

Thanks so much Bea Sempere and WilyBCool for the Versatile Blogger award!

Okay. I've said it before, and I'll say it again. Joss Whedon is a genius. I learned a great deal from him by listening to his commentaries. Especially because he commentates the episodes HE writes, and the episodes he writes are always fabulous.

Anyway, I learned a theory from him that BLEW ME AWAY.

Aren't they freaking adorable?
It happened on an episode of Angel. The girl in this picture is Amy Acker, and she plays Fred. When Joss caught wind that in real life, Amy had trained as a professional ballet dancer for twelve years, he decided to write an episode around that, where she could actually do ballet. So in the episode, they all went to the ballet, and of course there was an evil curse involved, because this is a show about paranormal stuff, after all. Wesley here, who was secretly in love with Fred, fell asleep mid-ballet and had his own ballet dream. With him and Fred, of course.

Well.... The awesome scene with Fred being an amazing ballet dancer and Wesley wearing tights and being completely awkward never aired.

Why? Because of Joss' theory. Actually, I think he credited a mentor of his, but in my mind, it was ALL JOSS. He said that things were just off. Something wasn't right. The pacing was wrong, the story didn't flow, something didn't jive. He tried and tried to fix it, but no matter what he did, it just wasn't fixing. Then he remembered something his mentor said. His theory, if you will.

If a particular scene (or your book in general) isn't working,
REMOVE YOUR FAVORITE PART.

Years ago when I watched this, I wasn't a writer yet, and I still felt the stab of pain in my heart when he said that. It's the one piece of writing advice that has stuck with me the strongest. Probably because it's one of the most painful pieces of writing advice I've ever received! Removing your FAVORITE part?! Ouch.

Yet at the same time, I knew he was completely right. I knew it from a million other things I had done, most of which had nothing to do with writing. It makes sense. If you have ONE PART that you won't touch, everything else has to bend for it. It can't go in the direction it's supposed to go, because it is all being pulled to that one part that you're clinging to. And if everything is all bent and warped, then more than likely things are not going to turn out well.

So by removing your favorite part, everything is free to go the direction it needs to go. It isn't being held back.

What do you think? Is he right? Have you ever tested this theory yourself? If you did, how big of a band-aid did you need to cover the gaping hole it left?


44 comments:

Sharon K. Mayhew said...

YIKES! Cut my favorite part...you made me gasp for air.

i'm erin. said...

Um, yeah. I hate to admit it but I think it's true.

Kelley said...

I've definitely removed parts that were up there on the favorite list. Never fun. But I just tell myself that perhaps I'll be able to use that idea in a future work. Basically it's not the right time for 'favorite idea' yet. But someday maybe :)

Heidi Windmiller said...

That is a really interesting idea.

And since it came from Joss, I have to try it.

Kristine said...

I was actually thinking about this just the other day. I remember when you told me this (remember back to me saying I don't watch with commentaries -but that you'll tell me the cool stuff anyway? Well, this was one of those.) and I felt that same way. WHAT?! But then, the more I thought about it, YES! That makes so much sense.

Angela Cothran said...

This is so true. One of the problems with favorite pieces, is that we can't see them objectively. But the nice thing about technology is we can save it. I have a file where I save stuff that I cut but still love.

JeffO said...

I haven't had to do it (yet), and I hope I don't have to, but I have killed off a few of my darlings, just not this extreme.

When you think about it, it makes perfect sense. If it never works, and you've changed everything but that one bit, then what else could be wrong with it? Very sensible, but not necessarily easy to do.

Cynthia said...

Heart breaking, what if it's the whole book though? That's were I think I went wrong on my 1st work. Start over?

Krista said...

Wow. So this post just totally helped me smooth out the wrinkles in the plot of my WIP. Had to let go of my favorite part. Thanks!

Angela Brown said...

This makes me think of the process of elimination. When we've exhausted everything but the one thing we don't want to let go, then it makes perfect sense to cut the umbilical cord to that favorite scene...even though it will hurt. Eek. But for the sake of making the story better, sometimes, there must be a sacrifice to the wordsmith gods.

Abby Fowers said...

Dang him and his writing advice. True. Painfully true.

LindaK said...

Sounds like good advice. Cut and paste it into a new document for future use! By the way, there's an award for you on my blog - sorry if it's one you've received before! Linda

Michael Offutt said...

I also am a fan of Joss Whedon's but more for Firefly than anything else.

Patti said...

It gets easier to remove your favorite part with time. I'm not sure I could do it right away.

S.P. Bowers said...

It's true. Painful but true. The good thing is, if you can really let go of that part and let everything go where it is supposed to you end up with something better. It's just so hard to let go of something good now for the hope of something better.

S. L. Hennessy said...

If Joss says it, I believe it. He's my writing hero.

Jessie Humphries said...

Yess, I made this mistake with my first novel. I wanted things to be a certain way so bad that it took months of revisions to fit it in. And it was wrong. Live and learn!

Christine Rains said...

Interesting advice. I adore Joss, so I have to say he is likely right about it.

Carrie Butler said...

Oh, Joss...

Why do you have to be so cool and right all the time? *Sigh*

Great post! :)

Jenny S. Morris said...

WOW! This took me a minute to digest. He is right though, if it isn't working that's probably the answer.

Stephanie said...

Ah, how I love Joss Whedon. Very interesting. I know that I'm guilty of trying to force a situation, just so that a character can say a particular line, and the result is awkward and off. I'm new to your blog, and am looking forward to reading more!

Taffy said...

Awesome and painful advice but very enlightening! Thanks, Peggy. I needed your post today.

Mark Noce said...

Lol, quirky post:) Major props to givind praise to Joss Whedon!

Elisabeth Hirsch said...

I did this with my MG fantasy, and I think it worked. So crazy, but true.

Awesome post--as always :)

E.R. King said...

I have removed some of my favorite parts of a scene, and it hurts every time. Yet the end result is a scene that makes more sense, and it is, dare I say, better off having "died in a fire." Some of my best scenes rose up out of the ashes left.

Iain said...

The nearest I've come to this is at the start of my current WIP.
It started too early. In the first edit, I cut out three quarters of the first chapter, and only had to add a few lines to fill in the gaps.
Having said that, I think it probably still starts too early, and I'm going to have to do it again in the next edit during NaNoReviMo.

Donna K. Weaver said...

This is seriously profound.

"And if everything is all bent and warped, then more than likely things are not going to turn out well."

So, I hope he put in on YouTube. =D

Michelle Fayard said...

It's an amazing but true theory, as I learned as a news journalist. And it holds true for fiction writing, I've learned the hard way ...

Jolene Perry said...

Sooooo true.

I feel like I end up removing one of my favorite parts from EVERYTHING I write. It's SO hard to do.

Laura Pauling said...

I just had to do that! I cut my opening scene which I loved and felt was my biggest hook and I cut scenes through out I loved. I'm now rewriting but I really think it was for the best b/c it allowed better ideas to come.

Sara Bulla said...

Brilliant! Wow, I've never heard this before, but even now I'm reviewing problem spots in my MS and I know that's the reason. Thank you. I am new to your blog and appreciated your comments on my post, at Live to Write. Thanks for your support and congrats on your writing accomplishments!

Lan said...

As horrible as cutting out your favourite scene sounds, it's probably the best advice I've heard in a long time. I get so caught up thinking that a certain scene is so good that I'll try and work it in no matter how improbably or illogical. Joss really is a genius. I remember this episode. Gunn was so funny when he cried.

Barbara Kloss said...

OH MY GOSH, yes. And it feels like someone is carving my heart out WITH A FORK!

Oh, well. At least afterwards, when I'm lying on the ground, bleeding to death, everything starts making sense :D

Gosh. Sorry to be so morbid. I think I've been playing too many video games...

J. A. Bennett said...

It's one of those good hurts. :)

Amie Kaufman said...

I've tested this theory, and I was heartbroken when it turned out to be right! Keeping your favourite part means you're doing things you shouldn't to keep it -- take it out, and the story can go exactly where it should. It also works on a smaller scale -- sometimes I just have to take out a joke I love, and in doing so, I cut out all the laborious lead up to it.

Lindi said...

Have heard of this but never practiced it. I"m in such a stuck-mode with my current work I should look at this piece of advice.
Because this post says it all--sometimes it just doesn't work.

Heather Kelly said...

Love this advice. We must be self-aware enough to know what doesn't work, and go to extremes to make it work. We have to let go of our ego--ourselves, and sacrifice for the piece. Awesome advice!

Susanna Leonard Hill said...

You know, I never thought of this, but I think you're on to something. If you cling, the rest has to bend. But oh! the pain of cutting your favorites :( !

Christina Lee said...

Well, you had me at Joss (LOVE)! It's kind of like the kill your darlings theory and I definitely think there's a life's lesson in there somewhere too. BRILLIANT!

Peggy Eddleman said...

*tears running down my cheeks*

All the Joss love here warms my heart. :)

And I am impressed! So many of you have made SO MANY PAINFUL CHANGES in your manuscripts! You deserve a big pat on the back. Really. That's incredible. Good on you!

Paul Tobin said...

Yes, I know this one and it works. When writing poems I can get stuck and I now know that its either because there is too much background setting or I am trying to shoe horn something in that will not fit, usually because I am enamoured with the idea. Took me years to realise this.

Lynn(e) Schmidt said...

Though it sucks, this does seem like sound advice. It is hard though, especially when you have some stellar sentences in that. At PNWA last year, they told us, to REMOVE parts, but not delete them. Have a file that's all "this is crap" and hunt and scavenge. Most of the time you can find another place to put sentences, if not whole scenes that actually work (whether it's with this story, or another)

Christine Tyler said...

This is excellent advice. "Killing your darlings" is one thing. It's still a little vague. But killing your favorite part? Well, we all know what that means, and that is terrifying. I love it.

JTCamlyn said...

I adore Joss and I completely agree. My own weird method is to cut my favorite parts (in smaller amounts) while I'm writing the first 'straight-through' draft of a chapter. It usually helps me avoid anything larger cropping up that starts to dominate the story in a bad way.