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Magical Cookies, or Don't Write the Boring Parts
Originally shared with M&D readers in 2018
Note: I wrote this post in 2018 as part of a Misfits & Daydreamers newsletter! You can read that original post here, or scroll down to read it all below!
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I first wrote about what I call “magical cookies” in 2013. So, if you do the math on that…Well, we’re looking at a post that’s five years old. A post, mind you, that is one of my most popular—if not the most popular.
I realized after an event I did on Monday, that it might be a good time to revisit that topic. You see, I was explaining the concept to some of the audience, and it occurred to me that I've had lots of new revelations since 2013. Not to mention, more concrete examples that I can share.
So what prompted this discussion at the event? Somebody in the audience asked, "I have this idea I'm writing and I love it, but how do I make myself write all the boring parts?"
My response? "Don't write the boring parts."
Yeah, thanks a lot, right? What kind of non-answer is that, Sooz?
Well, here's the thing, if you're bored while you're writing something, then I can guarantee your readers will be bored while they're reading it. However, if you're passionate about the story, then that passion will transcend the page.
Readers feel what you feel! I promise! So they will only enjoy interacting with your scene as much as you enjoy creating it.
This is where magical cookies come in.
1. What are Magical Cookies?
Magical cookies are what I call those scenes that you are most excited to write. You know the ones I mean. Maybe they were the first spark of inspiration for the entire novel, or maybe they're just the epic highlights you can't wait to get to. Either way, they're the "fun parts" and not the "boring parts."
So for example, when I first started brainstorming Truthwitch back in 2013, there was this one scene idea that I just could not WAIT to write. It was a scene that involved Iseult (although I didn’t know her name yet! All I knew was that she was a Threadwitch) and Aeduan (same thing: did not know his name, much less that he would become a POV character).
Without spoiling anything still to come in the series, these characters meet up at an Origin Well, and… Wellllllll, let's just say the events that unfold after are Super Epic.
I've been excited about this scene for 5 years! Literally, I had the inspiration for it 5 years ago, and It might just be the biggest magical cookie in the entire series. Yet I am only just now reaching the point of actually getting to write it.
(And yes, you will get to read that Super Epic cookie scene when Bloodwitch comes out!)
I am so excited to write this scene. I am so excited for you all to read this scene. And that, my friends, is what makes it a magical cookie.
Of course, this epic scene is not the only magical cookie in the Witchlands series. In fact, when I first sat down to write Truthwitch, I was determined to make every single scene one that I was excited to write. There would be no “boring parts.” But of course, I did not have an entire book's worth of magical cookies mapped out. I only had a few!
WARNING: Spoilers about to follow! If you haven’t read the series, beware!
These were the magical cookies I first had in mind before I sat down to actually draft Truthwitch:
a heist gone wrong
a Tidewitch cleaving
an epic escape on horseback to a submerged lighthouse
a sea fox battle
a whole bunch of people cleaving at once
a chase scene between my Threadwitch and my Bloodwitch
romantic tension everywhere I could cram it!!!
witty banter between my leading ladies
As you can see, there are a whole lot of gaps here. After all, these were just scene nuggets -- or, in the case of "romantic tension", they were just a general feeling I wanted to evoke.
So the question became, How do I connect all these cookies? And then, How do I make sure that all that connection isn’t just boring connective tissue, but is instead filled with heaps of magical cookies?
There were essentially two ways I solved this problem -- and two ways I continue to solve this problem when I encounter it today. I either:
jump from one cookie to the next without worrying about the "boring" sinew in between,
or I come up with new magical cookies to fill in the holes.
2. Skipping the Boring Parts
The simplest solution (“simplest” in terms of efficient writing, but hardest in terms of work) is the one I rely on most often -- and that is realizing that you don't need as much between your magical cookies as you think you do.
Yeah, believe it or not, you can often jump write from Point A to Point G without all the letters in between. You just have to figure out how.
Let me give you a thorough example. I first formulated my “magical cookie” idea while drafting A Darkness Strange and Lovely. I was trying to solve a particular story problem, when I realized, “Oh snap! If I don't want to write this, then I just shouldn't write it!”
The problem was essentially this: My heroine, Eleanor Fit, and reached her “black moment” in the story, and I needed to jump into the climax as quickly as possible in order to maintain strong story momentum. However, there were all these little plot steps that needed to happen between Eleanor's black moments (let’s call it Point A) and then her entry into the Parisian catacombs where the climax occured (point G).
I needed her to come out of a spell cast on her by a demon; I needed her to reunite with the Spirit-Hunters; I needed her to reunite with her demon buddy, Oliver; I needed to build in some romantic resolution with Daniel Sheridan; I needed the Spirit-Hunters to get their supplies from their lab…
On and on! Lots of little steps that I thought had to happen in order for the story to progress. Unfortunately, I didn’t want to write any of that crap. It felt boring and slow, right after I had written some Super Epic tension.
Well, as you all know, I like my books to be as tight as possible. I mean, why kill two birds with one stone (or accomplish two plot points with one scene) when you could kill/accomplish six?
You all also know how much I love to think. Ruminating on a story problem and giving my brain time to simmer = my main solution for all problems.
So I stepped away from ADS&L and asked myself, How do I get from point A to point G? How do I get from this cookie, where she is at her lowest point, to her next cookie, battling the evil demon in the catacombs?
Well, as I'm sure you can guess -- or already know, if you've read the book -- I found a tidy little solution after a great deal of thinking. (Seriously: so much thinking). I combined all the little steps into 3 epic scenes.
WARNING: Spoilers about the follow! If you haven’t read the series, beware!
First, I had Eleanor attend a ball honoring the Spirit-Hunters, and it was held at the Palais Garnier, where legend has it the basement connects directly to the Parisian Catacombs. BAM! From there, I:
wrote a reunion on the dance floor (Spirit-Hunters reunion? Check! Daniel romantic resolution? Check!)
revealed Daniel had some of his equipment with him (supplies acquired? Check!)
had Eleanor follow a ghost into the basement where she almost drowned in the Palais’s underground lake (Spell removed? Check! Access to catacombs? Check! Excitement and cookies? Check!)
wrote Daniel saving Eleanor from drowning (more romantic resolution!)
and in the same scene, wrote Oliver sensing Eleanor’s near-death experience over their demon bond and racing to her rescue (Oliver reunion? Check!)
After that, the gang goes into the catacombs and the climax kicks off.
On the surface this solution likely seems SO obvious. But you know what? When you're the writer, and you’re knee-deep in all the plot stuff you need to accomplish, you don’t see the obvious solutions. All you see are the individual steps that you still need to deal with.
Finding a way to tie all those steps together and kill all those birds with one stone is not easy. (More on this below, but a trusted writer/reader friend can be a great help!)
3. Baking New Magical Cookies
Of the two solutions, “baking” new magical cookies is the easier -- but it can also potentially lead to a loss in momentum. I only use this solution if I’m not worried about pacing OR if there is a plot point I absolutely cannot eliminate/combine into another scene.
Basically, you are adding magical cookies to scenes that would otherwise not have them. You’re turning that “boring part” into something Super Epic.
My best example of this is from Truthwitch -- and I know I have shared this story before, but I think it's a good one. I basically turned a dull scene I had no interest in writing (but that was key to the plot) into what is now one of the most popular scenes in the Witchlands series.
For plot reasons that I don't want to spoil, I needed to get Safi at this fancy ball so nefarious things could happen between her and an “evil” Emperor. I had one of my original cookies prior to this scene (fighting a Cleaved Tidewitch) and another cookie was one right after (escaping on horseback to a lighthouse). But UGH, I did not want to write the in-between stuff!
So what did I do? YOU GUESSED IT. I stepped away and I thought. In fact, I vividly remember this day. It was a cold March Saturday in 2013. My husband and I had just moved into our new fixer-upper home, and we were on our way to Home Depot for some supplies. I played Two Steps from Hell on the ride there, and asked myself over and over again, What would make me want to write this ball scene?
Then, after a while of hard thinking, the obvious answer came: use one of my other cookies to liven up the scene! Add romantic tension!
Except...wait, I had written it so she was alone at the ball...Okay, then don't make her alone! Add Merik Nihar to the party! DUH. Sure, it would require me to rework a few things in earlier scenes, but it was still 100% doable.
And oh boy, once Merik was at the ball, how the sparks flew! How the whole scene erupted with cookies, which in turn set off a whole new slew of cookie dominoes that got me all the way to the lighthouse escape scene -- and surprised me by introducing Aeduan as a POV character.
4. Putting It All Together
And that my friends, are how magical cookies turn your "boring parts" into "SUPER EPIC." That is how you make sure you're always excited to write, always keeping the reader entertained.
You'll notice that thinking and simmering are key to both magical cookie creation techniques. Partly because thinking allows your brain to work through every possible story solution until the right one comes along.
But what if you're in a time crunch? What if you're like I am right now -- trying to finish a book months faster than you'd planned? Turn to your trusted friends!! Be they writers or readers, ask them to help you work through sticky boring parts. Often they will see solutions that you cannot, because they have the benefit of objectivity and distance. They aren't bogged down by all the moving parts that you have to keep balanced in your head.
I'll admit that I have relied on my #1 critique buddy Rachel WAY more than usual lately because I don't have any time to spare. When I get stuck on boring parts or all the little steps that I think I need to write, I turn to Rachel. She is great at asking me the simple question of, Why?
Why does have to be this way? Why can't it be another? The simplicity of that is often all it takes for me to find the magical cookies that were missing. Then it's back to the races, and I'm enjoying my words as they come.
You tell me: do you have your own way of finding magical cookies? I'd love to know! I'm always looking for new recipes. 😉
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