3 Questions to Make Sure You Aren’t Missing Out on Important Scenes

Note: I’m taking a break this week, so am posting this shortie instead of the usual post and podcast. Enjoy!

For one reason or another, it can sometimes be tempting to avoid writing certain important scenes. Issues that are difficult emotionally or that we have to expend extra effort to research properly may be issues we’d just as soon write our way around. But doing so is usually a fast and easy way to frustrate readers.

Here’s an example:

In a historical novel I once read, one of the three main characters suffered a serious wound to his leg in a battle. The eventual amputation of his leg left him struggling to re-adapt to life while his two best friends were overwhelmed with guilt over his injury. This is a huge turning point in the story, and yet the author chose not to dramatize the scene in which the character is wounded. The author led readers right up to the battle, then skipped over the crucial moment of injury. The story then resumed with one of the main character’s buddies waiting outside the hospital tent to discover if his friend would live through this wound that readers never witnessed.

Readers never got to see what exactly happened to this character, nor did they get to experience why his two best friends were so remorseful. The author explains their reasoning, but quick summaries just don’t pack the same punch or bear the same weight as a dramatized scene. As a result, this particularly story was drained of much of its potential power and resonance.

Whenever you find yourself wanting to skip a scene, stop for a second and examine your reasons.

If your further contemplation suggests this scene is important to the story and contains enough action and conflict to interest readers, don’t let yourself get away with skipping it or summarizing it. Readers want to see the important moments in your characters’ lives, even the painful ones. Otherwise, you won’t be able to effectively portray your characters’ development and the catalytic events and choices that drive them.

Sign Up Today

hwba sidebar pic

Sign up to receive K.M. Weiland’s e-letter and receive her free e-book Crafting Unforgettable Characters: A Hands-On Introduction to Bringing Your Characters to Life.

About K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland

K.M. Weiland is the award-winning and internationally-published author of the acclaimed writing guides Outlining Your Novel, Structuring Your Novel, and Creating Character Arcs. A native of western Nebraska, she writes historical and fantasy novels and mentors authors on her award-winning website Helping Writers Become Authors.

Comments

  1. Thanks. This week’s post might be short but it’s an important one. I’ve l just finished reading an otherwise good book where for some unknown reason the author skimped on a critical scene, one I’d been anticipating and looking forward too and as a reader I felt terribly cheated. It made me go back and look at my own writing to see if I was guilty of the same crime and I found I was! I’ve now rewritten the offending scene.

  2. Lafayette says

    I don’t know if I ever done this or not and this is not to imply that I’m that good. I struggle too much to make that boast.

    Speaking of struggling, recently an internet friend gave me hints of story line to write. I like the ideas, but I feel that someone like Stephen R. Donaldson should be writing this. I don’t think I’m mature enough to write this, however I don’t want to disappoint my friend.

    Do you or anyone else have any suggestions?

    • Only write something you feel passionate about yourself. Writing a novel is a long journey and you need that passion to keep you going. if you don’t feel passionate about this friend’s idea – ‘like’ is a lukewarm response – just tell them it’s a great idea but it’s not your type of writing/genre etc. However if you do feel excited by any idea don’t be put off by not being ‘mature enough’. You will maturity by trying and failing and trying again but better (or whatever the Samuel Beckett quote is). All published writers serve an apprenticeship. Good luck.

    • If you love the idea, write your story. Stephen Donaldson can’t write your story. If it’s beyond your skill level, that’s good. It forces you to stretch and learn. When you run into difficulties, get honest feedback, figure out what didn’t work, then rewrite the section. Lather, rinse, and repeat until your story sings.

    • Lafayette.
      I agree with Bill. I’m attempting a more difficult mystery story and it is stretching my ability. I’m not giving up on the story. I’ll just have others read it to make sure I’m keeping the reader engaged.
      KM gives great suggestions to improve your writing. I will suggest you get her workbook. It has helped me a lot. free promotion 🙂

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      You have to resonate with a story to do it justice. If you love it, go for it–but make it your own. If you don’t love it or don’t really want to write it for whatever reason, then you might be better off shelving it for the time. I wouldn’t worry too much about not being “mature enough.” We rise to the stories we write.

  3. Gillian D'achada says

    So useful…just like all your content. You have truly made a difference to my writing.

  4. Paul Gausman says

    Thanks for this great insight! I have a version of this aversion going on in my (first) book, which is really bogging me down. Mainly, I fear getting into my characters (sort of important element, no?). I’m a retired technical writer who seldom needed to get into a character’s intimate details. I stare at some scene synopses and go blank. My rough draft is Swiss cheese. I must push onward!

  5. I am at my fourteenth edit and after reading this and having a brief conversation with my partner who is also a writer (not too much conflict there lol), I realise there’s a gap in a couple of important scene’s which fill out my character. So thank you very much not just for this but for many of your posts particularly the ‘character arcs..

  6. So true. I wrote out the whole novel but skipped a particular critical scene. It was just too hard. It’s not that I intended to skip it altogether but even now am postponing it till the last moment! While writing my second draft, I cannot postpone it any longer. It is going to be emotionally draining but has to be done.

  7. Karen Edwards Pierotti says

    Thanks for this post. Short but important. I know you’re aware of this but I thought I’d comment anyway. Sometimes certain scenes are left out depending the genre you’re reading. For example, a light Regency romance may have an injured character but the author may not include a battle scene in which the protagonist is wounded. So knowing your perceived audience’s taste, you may leave out a violent scene or an explicit sex scene depending on the “heat” of your novel. I know I couldn’t write those kinds of scenes so I’ve chosen a genre I am comfortable writing. It’s not to say that I can’t or shouldn’t stretch myself and write a difficult scene. As a beginning writer, it’s important to have critique partners and beta readers for the genre you’re writing because they know the audience. However, some of the best suggestions I’ve had have been from critique partners who write other genres.

  8. Grace Dvorachek says

    The part about not writing a scene because of fear or a lack of discipline really drove home with me. Typically, I will recognize that the scene needs to be written, but I will put it off for the longest time. I started several short stories in the past few months while trying to overcome a bit of writer’s block. I stopped pretty much all of them because I came to a necessary scene that I didn’t want to write. I’ve known for a while now that I need to just sit down and write, but I think this post gave me enough of a nudge to finally do it. Next time I have a spare window of time, I hope to sit down and finally plow through those dreaded scenes. Thank you, and enjoy your break!

    • You might pull a George R.R. Martin here and write the other chapters first, then circle back to the ones that are too “charged” in whatever way. As I understand it, the Red Wedding chapter in the ASOIAF series was too emotional for him, so he saved it for last. He wrote the other characters’ chapters and the aftermath chapters, then came back to the Red Wedding.

      If you use Scrivener this may be even easier for you, because you can re-order chapters and scenes as you need to. You could even set up a folder of “unplaced scenes” for the scenes you might have written that don’t yet fit into the story.

      There are just some scenes you just have to let marinate in your mind, until you feel you can do them justice. It happens 🙂

      Good luck!

  9. Enjoy your break! I know that avoidance feeling. Perhaps a mini-dreamzoning when it comes up: letting one’s logic-free mind play over it first might break the discomfort, even compel you to try to capture it, or lead to something uncovered about the characters.
    I worked through a draft knowing an abuse scene (from real life) was unavoidable to be authentic to the story. It had to be rendered so people could judge the impact on the character in the build-up of the context. Liberating at the very least.

  10. Anne LaRiviere says

    Thanks so very much for the reminder. As usual, very helpful.

  11. Oh yes, I know the pain of feeling like I don’t have the skills (or something else) to write a scene, but knowing the story needs it.

  12. So much writing happens in my head that it’s easy to forget the readers aren’t there, too. I don’t have trouble with emotional scenes, but I tend to overlook information that seems obvious to me, but is necessary for the reader. Potentially boring details offer a wonderful creative challenge to a writer!

  13. Been there. Done that. Planning to do it a few more times to get the T-shirt.

    Particularly, I avoided drafting a scene because the logical POV character had voices in his head. This is fantasy, and the voices were real, but I felt it would be too chaotic, and frankly, I wasn’t sure I had the chops to write it. My chops continue to need cooking, but once I wrote the scene it told me things about my story and added a new dimension.

    I hope you are feeling well and this is an enjoyable break.

  14. theotherworldsnet says

    I’ve been having lots of trouble with a particular project that I’ve promised for a long time to my readers. I hadn’t given any thought to the idea that what’s blocking me might be that I’m avoiding something painful. I have a lot in common with the MC and it’s a pretty terrible part of his life. I need to give this some thought and even rethink some of the previous chapters I’ve written to see if I might be holding back on some of them too. Thanks, as always, for such a timely post.
    My best wishes for your break.

  15. Eric Troyer says

    Good, concise post. Enjoy your break!

  16. I really needed to hear this. This is an excellent point and a wake-up call for me. Thank you.

  17. Tristan P. says

    This is fascinating to think about, considering I usually say too much and need to trim the fat. The question the becomes: how do we know if the scene we aren’t writing is truly needed, or if we’re just convincing ourselves it is so we have an excuse to add more? 🙂

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.