Books are built on scenes, those lovely little snapshots that move the plot forward, give the traits of your characters time to shine, and provide the backbone of your story. They’re important to the book, which is why it’s important to get them right.
But even on the best writing days, when the words are flowing and your muse is working overtime, sometimes those scenes just don’t work. There are writing rules that state if a scene isn’t working then you should cut it. That might work if losing the scene isn’t pivotal, but if it is, then you’ll have to take that pace-slowing piece and make some changes. If you’re not sure where to start, here are four tips to try when a scene isn’t working…
Change the POV
Obviously this tip is for books written from multiple points of view. If the scene isn’t coming off on the page as you’d hoped, trying switching the POV to another character. Just writing from a different perspective could give the scene what it needs to work.
Change the Setting
Say your book involves characters discussing a murder. They could be having such a conversation huddled in a car parked on the street in broad daylight, trying to look casual, just two people chatting away while the sun shines down and the noise of daily life drowns out the darkness of their conversation. Now imagine that same conversation on a dark, moonless night where they’ve met to discuss the crime at an abandoned building. It’s cliché, but the different setting immediately transforms the scene into something more befitting of the characters’ conversation. If you find your scene isn’t working, see if the setting can be changed to give the scene more weight.
While you don’t want a scene overflowing with characters, sometimes introducing another may be just what your scene needs. Adding another character to a stilted scene can lead to a different dynamic, change the course of your characters’ actions, give more insight to a detailed conversation, or take your scene in a different direction. I’ve written several scenes where just putting in another character has led to a plot twist I hadn’t planned, which really helped to move the story along nicely.
Take Characters Away
On the flip side, taking away excess characters can give you a tighter scene. If you go back to our murder discussion example, imagine if there were three people that night, all involved in what happened. It would make sense for them to meet up to discuss the event, huddled together under that dark sky, with the abandoned building creaking when the wind blows. The three could be fighting over what they’ve done—or you could write one character out of the scene. Suddenly the two left are plotting instead of fighting, working out a way to put the blame on the now removed third character. It makes for a much more interesting scene, and you’ve got yourself a new plot twist too!
As you can see, just trying a new approach to a problem scene can give your book what it’s been missing, or get you out of a writing funk that may have stopped your progress. Give these tips a try the next time you’re stuck, and be sure to add any bad-scene-busting tips of your own to the comments—I’d love to hear them!
— K.M. Allan