How To Troubleshoot and Repair Any Scene

8 Ways to Troubleshoot a Scene–and 5 Ways Make It Fabulous

How To Troubleshoot and Repair Any SceneSo there I was: sitting at my desk, notebook in front of me—and absolutely no words staring back at me. The problem? I knew what needed to happen in this scene, but now that the time had come to write it, it seemed flat as a roadkill raccoon. It was clearly time to troubleshoot a scene and give it a fixer-upper. But where to start?

The single greatest challenge when trying to troubleshoot a scene is that the problem could be one (or more) of any dozens of issues. Sometimes, of course, you’ll sit down to write a scene without really knowing what it’s about, and you’ll end up rambling around, clearing your throat, and writing filler just to figure out what to write.

That’s a problem unto itself. Today, what I want to talk about is how to spice up scenes in which you know what events need to happen, but which you’re having trouble executing in an engaging way.

Do you have a scene in front of you that’s feeling:

  • Rote?
  • Boring?
  • Repetitious?
  • On-the-nose?
  • One-dimensional?
  • All of the above?

With a few simple brainstorming tricks, you can figure out how to troubleshoot a scene that’s giving you problems and turn it into one of the highlights of your entire manuscript.

How to Know When You Need to Troubleshoot a Scene

First off, let’s talk about how you can know when you need to troubleshoot a scene.

Most of the time, this is easy: the scene is driving you nuts.

It’s not working and you know it’s not working. You’ve played with it so much, you can’t stand the sight of it anymore, but you keep tweaking and fiddling without actually getting to the root of the issue.

Other times, a scene may feel like it’s working on almost every level but one. It works fine to power the plot forward and to accomplish the necessary effect you’re going for… and yet, something is off in one area or another.

For me, the single greatest litmus test for whether or not a scene is working is: Am I having fun writing this? If not, that’s almost always a sure sign I need to have a serious facedown with the blank page and figure out what important ingredient is missing.

Usually, it’s one of the following.

8 Common Problems When Trying to Troubleshoot a Scene

Here are eight of the most common problems I encounter when figuring out how to troubleshoot a scene. Inevitably, one or more of these is at the root of the issue. Once you identify it, you’re halfway to fixing it.

1. The Scene Is One-Dimensional

The troublesome scene I talked about in the opening paragraph was fundamentally problematic because it started out as a very one-dimensional scene. It was a scene late in the book, full of revelations about things I’d been hinting at for most of the plot. But now that the time had come to reveal them, I found myself staring at a chapter full of talking heads. There was no life, no zest, no movement, and no visual interest. Just three character sitting around gasping and going, “Uhhhhh, I understand everything now!!!” Riveting.

You can run into this problem in many different types of scene. Whether your scene is all talking, all sword-fighting, all to-being-or-not-to-being, or all kissing, chances are you’ve got a one-dimensional scene on your hands.

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If the only thing happening in your scene is characters talking, consider adding another dimension.

2. The Scene Lacks Forward Momentum

Whenever I find myself stuck on a scene that’s going nowhere, the first thing I do is stop and ask myself, “What does the character want?The POV character’s goal is the foundation of good scene structure. It’s what drives the plot forward, keeps things literally moving, and sets up the rest of the necessary structural interplay.

That was another problem I faced in my troublesome scene: what did the characters want here? What did they want other than to just sit around while the pieces clicked together for them? As soon as I engineered a goal, I instantly had a sense of forward momentum with the characters moving toward something, rather than just sitting around waiting for the revelations to hit.

3. The Scene Proceeds Unimpeded

After you’ve realized your character’s scene goal, the next step is to make sure his path to that goal isn’t unimpeded. Conflict—in the shape of an obstacle to that goal—spices up any scene. The character needs to go talk to someone else? Too simple. Stick in an obstacle. Perhaps someone else wants to talk to Character #2 too—and the protagonist doesn’t want Character #3 around to hear all these important revelations he was about to unload on Character #2.

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Elements such as the need for secrecy can easily add new layers of conflict to any scene.

4. The Scene Lacks a Resolution

To truly move the plot, every scene must be cohesive unit unto itself. It must have a beginning, and it must have an end. If the characters don’t end the scene in a different space—mentally, if not physically—from the one in which they began the scene, then you can deduce one of two things about your scene:

Either:

1. The scene is completely nonessential to the plot and can be pulled.

Or:

2. The scene hasn’t ended yet.

The character’s relationship to her scene goal must change in some respect from the beginning of the scene. Either she conquers the obstacle and gets what she wants, or fails and is worse off than ever. Most often, she will encounter a “yes, but… disaster,” in which she may gain the scene goal only to encounter new complications that must be dealt with in the next scene.

5. The Scene Is Too Busy

As you’re concentrating on all this admirable work of spicing up your dull scene, you might find yourself slipping into the overcompensation of adding too much to your scene. One of legendary director John Ford’s guiding principles was that each scene should only try to accomplish one thing.

In other words, your scene should be about your character trying to discover that important missing clue—not about your character trying to discover that important missing clue while also playing matchmaker to his two hapless friends, while also learning he got a scholarship to Yale, while also learning his dad is mad at him for not gassing up the car the previous night.

This does not mean the scene needs to be simple. Even an extremely complex scene with many thematic layers and intersecting character goals should still have a clear and cohesive focus.

Tom Doniphon John Wayne James Stewart John Ford Man Who Shot Liberty Valance

Director John Ford was a master of creating complex scenes with a clear focus, such as this one from The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance.

6. The Scene Lacks Complexity

And that brings us to complexity itself. Just as a scene may suffer from being one-dimensional in focusing too stringently on one aspect—such as dialogue or action—it can also suffer from being too straightforward in its intent.

But didn’t you (and, more importantly, John Ford) just say to focus a scene on one thing?

One subject, yes—one goal for your POV character. But that doesn’t mean you should avoid complexity in your presentation of plot, theme, and character.

Even as your scene is a straight arrow toward its resolution, you want the entire rest of your story to be breathing and pulsing beneath the surface. The Apostle Paul wrote in Romans that:

For none of us liveth to himself, and no man dieth to himself.

In short, we’re all connected. The lives, actions, and goals of all of your characters should affect all the rest of your characters. In your focus on getting your protagonist to his goal, don’t lose sight of the fierce passion and concentration with which all the rest of the characters in the scene are also living out their lives within the story. You can mine this for all kinds of complexity in your subtext and subplots.

7. The Scene Is Too On the Nose

One of the dangers of learning and following proper scene structure is that you may find yourself creating paint-by-number scenes that have no life beyond the structural formula of Goal > Conflict > Disaster > Reaction > Dilemma > Decision. Whenever I run into this problem in my own plotting, I always hear Mike Wazowski’s voice in the back of my head:

See the stick? Go get the stick!

Too often, that’s how a scene can end up looking. The character has a goal. He goes to get the goal. Yawn. Move onto the next goal.

Be wary of letting your character’s progression to his goal be too straight or too easy. Try to spice up every scene with the unexpected or ironic.

8. The Scene Is Too Familiar

You will have many similar scenes within your story: action scenes, dialogue scenes, love scenes. Nothing wrong with that. But your challenge is to make sure each of these necessary scenes is “the same, but different.”

Another of the challenges I faced in doctoring my own scene was that the characters had already had several conversations about the mystery in question, in this same setting, with these same characters. By this point in the book, it was all starting to feel very familiar—even though the plot revelations themselves were entirely new and necessary. In realizing I was retreading old ground to some extent, I immediately had the opportunity to look for something new to spice up the scene in question even more.

After You Troubleshoot a Scene: 5 Ways to Spice It Up

Once you understand the reasons your scene isn’t working, you’re halfway to fixing it. But here are five important angles to consider in adding a little more pep to any troublesome scene.

1. Can You Change the Setting?

Believe it or not, this is always one of the first questions I ask myself when I’m struggling with a stubborn scene. A new and interesting setting can create the opportunity for all kinds of interesting scene angles you may not have previously considered.

Mom and daughter having a fight in the daughter’s bedroom? Boring. What if their car broke down during a flash flood in a bad part of town?

Even better, a strong setting will lend your story a vivid visual backdrop that will help bring the entire moment to life in readers’ imaginations.

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Looking spiffy there! But how boring is the setting? Troubleshoot a scene by looking for the most engaging setting possible.

2. Can You Add Any Characters?

Characters mean conflict. If your scene is cruising along toward its resolution with nary a bump, consider throwing some human complications into the mix.

This was my main move in my problem scene. Instead of having my two main characters progress unimpeded to a conversation with the third character, I added two more characters—one who was an emissary of bad news from an antagonist and another who was an ally but who did not at all appreciate the direction in which the main characters were headed.

Just remember to keep all the added characters and incumbent conflict in line with the scene’s main focus. As per John Ford, you don’t want to be throwing in disparate elements just for the sake of having something happen.

3. What Are the Other Characters’ Goals?

This is a juicy one. It’s not enough just to add some extra characters to the scene. Those characters need to have their own agendas.

When your protagonist meets Character #2, that character better not just be sitting around, twiddling her thumbs, and waiting for the protagonist. She better be in motion, in the midst of her own “scene,” which is then interrupted by the protagonist. Even more importantly, she better have her own goal.

What do you minor characters want in your scene? Even better, what can they want that will prove an obstacle to what your protagonist wants?

Here Are Five Great Ways to Pace Your Story

Think of your characters as “competitors” within a scene. How are they each endangering the other’s goal?

4. What Is Your Character’s Emotional Arc in This Scene?

Remember, plot and character are never isolated from one another. The outer conflict in any scene affects your character’s inner progression—and vice versa. That means you can’t create them in isolation.

As you’re figuring out the progression of the conflict in any given scene, take a moment to consider your protagonist’s emotional arc. How does he feel entering this scene after the events of the previous scene? How will he feel after this scene ends? How do you need him to feel in order to get him into the right frame of mind to advance his next scene’s goal?

In your haste to properly plot your scene, you may find it all too easy to neglect your character’s emotional arc. The result is often a flat, cold scene that is surprisingly boring simply because it fails to provide emotional context for the exciting outer events.

5. What Happens Next?

Often when I find I don’t really know what should be happening in a scene, it’s because I don’t know what’s going to happen in the next scene. In order to get the protagonist from Point A to Point B in this scene, I first have to know what Point B is.

Sometimes you may find you need to skip ahead in your scene planning and figure out what happens in the next scene or even several future scenes. Sometimes I even end up plotting my way backwards all the way from a major structural moment (such as, say, the Midpoint), so I know exactly where this particular sequence of scenes should be headed.

If you don’t know where you’re going, it’s much harder to get there.

One of the best ways to troubleshoot a scene is to first figure out what happens in the next scene.

***

Don’t look upon the effort of figuring out how to troubleshoot a scene as a bad thing. Indeed, it’s the stuff of all storytelling! Approaching plot challenges and learning how to add richness and depth to every scene is one of the most exciting and rewarding parts of brainstorming and creating a story. By learning to identify the problems that cause weak scenes and then using these five important entry points to solve them, you can write a manuscript that is a solid chain of one stellar scene after another.

Wordplayers, tell me your opinion! What is your biggest challenge in figuring out how to troubleshoot a scene? Tell me in the comments!

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About K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland

K.M. Weiland lives in make-believe worlds, talks to imaginary friends, and survives primarily on chocolate truffles and espresso. She is the IPPY and NIEA Award-winning and internationally published author of the Amazon bestsellers Outlining Your Novel and Structuring Your Novel. She writes historical and speculative fiction from her home in western Nebraska and mentors authors on her award-winning website.

Comments

  1. Wow! That’s a hearty breakfast — a lot to digest! Thanks so much for all those power-packed ingredients to a great scene.
    I’m sure I’ll be returning to this checklist many times to make sure all my scenes are holding their own and fulfilling their role in my story to their utmost ability.

  2. This is terrific! I have some pretty flat scenes in my WIP that really need to be fixed- my tendency is to do lots of dialogue and internal monologue without adding other interesting elements to the scene. I’ll be revisiting this post as I try to repair them.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      The great thing is that once you understand how to troubleshoot flat scenes, they all become awesome opportunities to create something really exciting and fun.

  3. Thanks for the awesome post! I like my characters to all be at cross-purposes even if they are pretending to be on the same side. That makes for a little extra spice!

    I’ve been editing a few flat scenes recently. There’s a lot of ‘finding out stuff’ in the First Act of my WIP. I tried to vary the setting as much as possible, and found that helped a lot. I like to have action if every scene but some just don’t seem to lend themselves to that. That’s where I struggle. With the all-dialogue scenes. I’ve been experimenting with someone being tired, sick, or irritable!

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      Yes! Characters at cross-purposes is one of my faves. It always ups the stakes in the conflict and makes sure every character is dimensional instead of just a sounding board for the protagonist.

  4. J.M Barlow says:

    I was thumbnailing (basically outlining scenes with extremely rough drawings.) for my graphic novel last night and came across a scene that needed to put in quite a lot of heavy lifting, and it was really suffering for it. It’s not like I can just make the scene longer, either, because space is at an absolute premium in this thing. What I ended up needing to do was push some of the information out – one important piece goes into the previous scene, and one into the following.

    The end result is making the previous and the following scenes deeper and more complex without really changing them all that much. Really, it makes more sense this way. The information in the following scene doesn’t need to be told until then anyways, and the information in the previous scene is better off being told earlier.

    This allows the trouble scene to really focus on what it is about. But not only that. It made me realize a few other problems (not scene-related, more plot-related) later in the story. So I worked those problems out, and I feel that the story is all the better.

    So it is true that a problem scene is likely an opportunity to really improve on your story in several ways.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      It’s always a little crazy to me how the answers to tough story problems are often super simple–and usually staring us right in the face!

      • J.M Barlow says:

        I like to find these small issues and iron them out. Every step of the outlining process does this, over and over until it is well – refined.

        • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

          That’s my approach too. It’s like the proverb about getting the big rocks in the jar first, so you then have room for the little ones.

  5. Thank you for the article. I like writing scenes so the readers can see it in their minds. I will use this check list also. When I write I just do not want to add to many chapters then the story goes no where. Today I am going to do some more writing on another mermaid story in first person Leilani-Lotus’s mom telling/showing the story. Do you write or have a narrator who tells the story or not?

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      Every story technically has a narrator, but in a deep POV (which I prefer), the narrator in each scene is the POV character, as readers are in his or her head.

      • Ms. Albina says:

        Thank you. Can there be mutli Pov or not? As in Leilani, Zane, their children and also Delphino who Lotus will marry. Do you keep track of how many words you write?

        • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

          Yes, a book can technically contain as many POVs as you want, although fewer are usually better. I recommend 1-3.

          And, yes, I keep track of the word count of each finished chapter.

          • Ms. Albina says:

            Thank you. I will have three first person-Leilani, Lotus-her daughter and Delphino. Lotus eventaully marries him. Do your characters get married in your fantasy books?

          • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

            Not so far.

          • Ms. Albina says:

            Thank you. Do any of your characters have a second name?

            Leilani has Pearl
            Zane has Merrick
            So Leilani married goes by Leilani Pearl Merrick or would you I mean for me say LPM so she goes by her inticals.
            Do your characters go by another name?

          • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

            Occasionally, when appropriate for the story.

          • Ms. Albina says:

            Thank you. I am going to do more writing today. I just need to make my merfolk descriptions simple for the readers.

            Do you also write the weather in your books fantasy?

            Lets say if it was sunny, or rainy or had a storm coming. Do you write about that also?

          • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

            Yes, weather is usually an important factor in my stories.

  6. onewordtest (@oneword_test) says:

    Same characters, same setting, lots of talking. That’s my problem. The whole story hinges on two characters agreeing to meet up at the same location on a regular basis and involves, mostly, the two of them just talking. So unfortunately I find those scenes, that are supposed to be the highlights of the story, the hardest and least exciting to write.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      What’s the point of their conversations? What’s it all leading to? Also, what’s the goal/conflict? Those questions might help you brainstorm in the right direction.

  7. Thanks again for the useful tips.

  8. This is exactly the article I was looking for! I have saved it and might pin it to my wall while I finish my draft. 🙂

  9. Oh wow! I could have used this a week ago 🙂 I kept hearing Emeril Lagasse’s voice in my head, taunting me: “You really need to kick this up a notch!” I wasn’t having much fun.

    I had partly followed the “change the setting” advice, but I also needed to change the character’s *actions*. My characters were watching the sunset while speculating on where a bad guy might be hidden, but it was too talking-head for me. I ended up having them inspecting and maintaining their weapons while they were talking. I hadn’t ever shown them doing that before.

    The breakthrough was in “going back to the beginning”: earlier in the book it’s clear that one heroine has always been governed by her fear of loss. It’s her ghost. It made her a little overprotective, if not controlling, and in the troublesome chapter it seems her worst fear is coming true. What then, would she do when the person she wants to protect the most comes under attack? In the earlier drafts I hadn’t engaged the ghost at all, but that was the very element I needed to drive the emotional arc of the chapter.

    Another problem was that I was putting a lot of pressure on myself, and I found that John Cleese’s advice on taking time to ponder when brainstorming was helpful. It gave me permission to let the matter percolate in my head while deciding what to do.

    I also went “back to basics,” studying your posts here about scene/sequel structure. I tackled each element (conflict, disaster, new goal, etc.) with one part of Cleese’s advice in my head: I didn’t go with the first idea. Or even the second or third; I only settled on an idea for each scene element when it accomplished at least two dimensions regarding the plot, characters, or theme.

    I do all my writing on my computer, but I found for this chapter I had to step away and write longhand. I don’t know why, but it helped to not just change my character’s setting but also my own physical setting.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      Good for you! And you raise another good point that I didn’t talk about in the article, which is that: If a scene just isn’t working no matter what you do, it might be because a previous scene(s) is causing problems further up the line.

  10. Joseph Hayden says:

    Again you deliver what I need when I need the advice. Wow man, you must be like psychic or something. OK, I’m dating myself but thank you for this. It will be printed and stapled to my forehead.

  11. Kate Johnston says:

    I find that #1 is a toughie for me during the Resolution. Just as you describe! I’m tying the loose ends so that all the characters understand what they’ve just been through, but I worry I’m too boring because some of the stuff the *reader* already knew or maybe could have figured out along the way, but the characters didn’t have the information. That’s when I feel like I’m boring and that the characters are just rehashing events for clarity’s sake.

    I hadn’t considered #4 before, and now I wonder if I’ve created many unresolved scenes. I try to end as many scenes as I can with a “Hook” in an effort to tighten tension and keep the reader turning pages. Usually, there is no definitive resolution at the end, but in some cases the beginning of the next scene/chapter picks up the hook and resolves it–unless it’s meant to be a cliffhanger, in which case they have to wait for it to be discovered during Resolution. How much of a problem does that cause?

  12. Catherine H. says:

    Sometimes my problem is I’m too busy worrying about how I’m going to do something in a future chapter that I can’t focus on the chapter I’m writing in the present. That’s when I write out everything that’s worrying me and cross off every worry and write a solution or reason not to worry instead. Then I have no more excuses to worry and not write.
    But these are very good things to think about when you’re truly stuck on a scene. Thanks for the great post!

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      As a matter of fact, one of my favorite tricks is jumping ahead in an outline to figure out what’s going to happen one or two or several scenes down the road. Once I understand that, I have a framework for building the current scene.

  13. Andrewiswriting says:

    Yeah, I’m right up against this at the moment, with the end of chapter three of my WIP.

    I don’t know whether you’ve read Abraham Frost The Cup of Jamshid yet, but this follows on, beginning at the end of the Xmas School Holidays, as all the kids return to the school for the 2013 school year.

    I have a similar event, disoriented people from the Fae realm of Arcadia turning up at Stonehenge – first a male Satyr, then a female Troll, finally a group of kids.

    Each time, it’s a new event on TV in slightly different settings, while other things are going on around the TV.

    The third event, which will spark an argument among the faculty around what to do, a schism in the group (Jack and Agamede will leave the school to start ‘The Arcadian Railway’ to help these people, and the Seelie Court will get involved as well.

    I’ve gotten to the end of the third chapter, and it just feels a bit… meh. And this is supposed to be where Jack gets fired up about these kids who are lost and helpless and descended upon by the mundane authorities.

    I guess I’ll push on (first draft, y’know) and see where those unplanned bits and pieces lead me, and then sharpen it in the second pass, once all the surprises have leapt out at me and I can tie them together with some foreshadowing.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      Just by reading your description, it strikes that perhaps one of the problems you’re struggling with is that the action in these scenes seems very distant from the protagonist. He’s only an observer. How do these revelations tie in with his forward progress in his own life?

      • Andrewiswriting says:

        Yes… strokes beard… you make a good point. And perhaps I’m being too chronological, when as you say, I should probably pull it back to things that affect Abe more.
        So instead of being present when his father sees the third group arrive, he could turn up to Jack’s place to see him packing his bags… now that’s intriguing…

        Thanks!

  14. It is critically important to keep asking yourself “Why?” as you build your scenes. If you can’t answer the question, you’ve got a problem.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      Totally agree. I believe in the importance of asking questions, rather than stating problems. “Why” is an open invitation to brainstorming, in contrast to “there’s a problem.”

  15. Fabulous suggestions indeed to fix our scenes, Katie!
    Perhaps the two more (most) crucial ones, being:
    1. Conflict, conflict, conflict.
    2. Know what happens next.

    Thanks!

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      And also understanding the true nature of conflict. I think it opens up a lot of new doors for writers when they first understand that conflict is just about placing an obstacle between the character and his scene goal.

  16. My current scene is currently on hold due to real life, but I did have one of these moments when I started it. Fortunately I was able to visualize, where I let the characters show me what they wanted to do, and I figured out some new meanings for the scene.

    The protagonist is based on me during my college years. There was once when my friend and I were invited to go party out at a strip mine. We were two single guys traveling together for some beer, but the rest were mostly couples. After a while one of the guys suggests skinny dipping. I froze in anxiety – part of me really wanted to, the other part was terrified.

    I decided to borrow that premise, but this time allowing “me” and my sidekick to have our girlfriends with us. I intended that the love interest very much did not want to have anyone undress, but limited her protests to facial expressions. Besides being anxious, our hero isn’t yet experienced enough to read the female mind – providing conflict.

    But it wasn’t enough – so I pictured everyone doing their thing. Her mom had warned several times about alcohol and maybe it was time to use that gun. I’d have her come home drunk. Maybe a little weed too, as one of the themes of the story is her slide down caused in part by hanging out with older kids. Then she has to face mom alone as he’s not there. That can be a foreshadow!

    I don’t like to tell, limiting it to what the first person narrator senses in real time (not memories.) I wanted to set the scene and described what it looked like. Then I went back and showed it. Give me a body of water and some rocks and I will started throwing them – and my wife will start yelling at me. That works better to describe the physical locale. The banter also gets her laughing and out of her funk from the earlier two scenes. That then leads into her getting comfortable hanging out with the others who are from her own school (where she’s only been for three weeks), goofing off with her brother’;s girlfriend and generally doing some things that don’t have to involve him (like when she sends him off to the cooler to fetch her another beer and she’s interacting with others.)

    So much more – like Katie says here, all the characters in a crowd pursuing their own interests, rather than just that one thing that I remember from the real life event.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      When all the characters come to life in their own right, that’s when the story really takes off. It goes from being a mechanical construct in the author’s head to something that legitimately mirrors real life.

  17. Great post about scenes and how to structure them! 😀 I usually plan out the climax or midpoint first before knowing how the rest of the scenes of a story will follow. It just helps make it easier for me to know the ka-boom! sort of speak but the match is lit. Lol.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      Same here. I often need to work backwards from the next major structural point, to make sure each scene is properly setting up a logical chain of cause and effect.

  18. So much of this resonates with me. I’ll hit that boring scene that I feel “needs” to be there to connect other more interesting scenes, when it’s really just filler. I never thought about scenes like that as one dimensional, but that’s exactly what they are.

    What works for me is too cut the entire thing, leave a quick summary of the parts that actually do need to be present in the story, and then try to figure out a better way to include them.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      I always get a restless feeling when writing scenes like this. They bore me, and I can just tell something is wrong. That always means I need to put the thinking cap on!

  19. Coincidentally, I just finished the chapter on options for goals in a scene, from Structuring Your Novel. 🙂

    It’s a tough balance getting a scene to have one main goal while also pulling off all that depth and subtlety that makes it a good one. Currently, the three big questions I ask myself are: what do the characters want, how does it move the plot, and what changes by the end. I feel like if I’ve addressed all three of those, I’ve at least done the basics.

  20. Heather S. says:

    Katie,

    You have managed to not only educate me, but motivate me. Each time I run into a question or problem with my WIP all I have to do is come to your website or open one of your books to find the answer. You have been incredibly helpful and dedicated to helping other writers and I for one cannot thank you enough!

  21. Heather S. says:

    Katie,

    You have managed to not only educate me, but motivate me. Each time I run into a question or problem with my WIP all I have to do is come to your website or open one of your books to find the answer. You have been incredibly helpful and dedicated to helping other writers and I for one, cannot thank you enough!

  22. I love the first suggestion of changing WHERE the scene takes place. It’s such a simple solution and you’re right, it opens up a world of possibilities. Thanks for a great post!

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      That’s one of my favorite tricks. I don’t know how many scenes I’ve notched up just by reconsidering the setting.

  23. There is one scene in my story that I’ve been unable to write beyond the surface level of characters go here and this happens. I’ve been unable to make this scene what I wanted for months. . . maybe longer. I knew the scene should contain a characteristic moment (also picked that up here) for my protagonist but I couldn’t nail down how to make it happen. This scene has turned into the shadow that I stare at when I can’t fall asleep and yet still I had nothing. This post was just what I needed. I’m going take another crack at this scene right now.

    Thank you Katie!

  24. Great advice and examples. Thanks!

  25. Thank you, K.M. Your advice is spot-on, practical, actionable…

  26. Julian Cox says:

    First of all I would like to thank you for all of the time and effort that you put into educating aspiring writers such as myself. It is much appreciated.

    I try my best when it comes to learning about writing from people like yourself, to focus on adapting the concept as I take what is taught and make it my own. While there is nothing new under the sun I do my best to not get to caught up at mirroring the teacher.

    One thing that helps me at least get a scene started regardless of plot and the other mechanics is to just begin with action or reaction. It has been said that about 90 percent of writing is reaction and I tend to agree with that, at least when it comes to fiction.

    So whether the character or characters are heavily winded because they just made it home int time for dinner or are slamming a foot down in defiance because they are prepping to unload a whole lot of words boiling over in their mind on someone, i like to begin things in the middle of an event and then unfold the scene for the reader as the scene plays out.

    Until I picked up your outlining book I found myself stuck on a particular scene after I had got it going and the funny thing is, since I have stopped writing and focused on outlining I have been working about three or four scenes ahead of this pint just to figure out how the rest of this scene will play out.

    I’m currently working on my first fiction novel which I adapted from an 11 page short story I wrote in high school. It is a very exciting work in progress.

    I do currently have one non-fiction book published Air Purifiers Exposed but do to my wonderful wife nudging me to, I’m fully focused on introducing the world to my fiction writing that I had put on the back burner for far too long.

    If you couldn’t tell already, I’m southern by birth hence my loquacious nature. Thanks for enduring and have a wonderful day.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      Excellent tips, all of them. And I totally agree with the importance of taking other people’s advice and observations and making them your own. It’s the only way to truly utilize them. Glad you’re enjoying the site!

      • Thank you for your response.

        Another thing I find helpful and maybe others as well is to have somewhat of a rebellious mindset when trying to write out a scene. What I mean is sometimes you can get so stuck on following the rules and structures that it kills your creativity.

        I believe it is good to just get a little antagonistic and just let things fly as they come and if you only get a little bit in that setting that is fine, you can always come back later and try to restructure things to fit as they should at a later date.

        I try to create my scenes from more of a panoramic viewpoint at times which done wrong would just be a lot of jumping from one point to another and ending in a big mess but done right things will flow from one perspective to the other seamlessly.

        One example I have the MC in my sci-fi I’m working on observing activity from a roof top and after shifting to some brief back story, she becomes the POV character and then I shift to an aerial view narrating a mild description of her before she melts into the atmosphere because of her optical camouflage while I transition briefly to the few events going on along the highway as she passes by on her hover boots and then I shift the POV to a guard across the street at the ware house she was observing trying to figure out what the vapor looking substance he sees in the air is until he realizes it is not just some gaseous column floating several feet in the air moving in a specific direction but it is really a silhouette.

        While I’m not saying proper structure is not necessary in writing, I look at writing as cooking, it is more of an art than science and we all know that some art though bizarre has its own particular appeal.

        I’m just sharing this because I believe there is someone else like me out there that struggles due to trying to play by the rules vs. just letting things fly as they may and remembering that once it’s out you can always go back and put things how they should be if it is necessary at all.

  27. My favorite piece of advice was to remember that the character must have an emotional arc in every scene.

    Great post. Thanks a lot.

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