Fixing A Stuck Scene

As writers, we’ve all been there. Enthusiastic to start a project one minute, doing everything to avoid working on it the next.

While you could claim distractions, work, responsibilities, and life are impeding your writing progress, sometimes, the reason you can’t get any words down is that you’ve got a stuck scene.

Fixing A Stuck Scene

A stuck scene happens when you have a much-needed scene for your story, but you can’t write it at all or pen it in a way that works. It’s a frustrating problem to have.

Writing your way through hasn’t helped and has only left you with a half-finished draft, a totally boring complete scene, or an ending that isn’t doing what it’s supposed to.

If that sounds like a scene you’re working on, these tips might help fix it…

Brainstorm/What If?

While an initial idea kicked off the scene, it hasn’t translated to the page, so it’s time to brainstorm some solutions.

To get things moving, go with the craziest outcome you can think of.

The point of this brainstorm/what if session is to flip the scene on its head. It may lead to solutions you won’t use, but the point is they’re different from what you currently have, which, if you’re reading this blog, is the option that isn’t working.

Write down every conceivable and inconceivable event that could stem from your current scene. You don’t have to write any paragraphs. Just work through the ideas in your head or in a notebook.

This will get things flowing and hopefully give you something to move the scene along. If you’re lucky, it might even spark a totally new and better option.

Switch Things Up

When you’re stuck because things aren’t clicking, look at what you can switch around.

Would the scene be better in a different location/setting? How much more interesting could it get if the POV is from a different character? What would happen if you added or took away a character or event?

Would any of these switches change the dynamics enough to make the scene more interesting or you more invested in improving it? Switch things up and see if it does!

Show The Mentioned

This happened to me recently. I had a scene that worked okay, but it wasn’t the strongest. A beta reader mentioned in their feedback of wanting to see an event that was mentioned in passing by a character.

Instead of continuing to improve the scene that was stuck at a not-great stage, I rewrote it and showed the mentioned event instead. It ended up being the scene the story needed.

If you find yourself toiling over a scene and getting nowhere, mine it for any mentions that will make it work better and see if that gets the scene going in the right direction.

Fill In The Basics

Sometimes a scene has the right characters and circumstances, but you know as you read through it that there’s something odd about the flow.

It might race through things too quickly, be dialogue-heavy, or lack the depth that roots the reader in the settings.

If any of those issues sound like yours, fill in the basics.

Check that you’ve got a setting that feels real and that you’ve actually mentioned where your characters are, which is an easy basic to overlook.

Add in the five senses and give sights, smells, taste, and sound to your scene.

Does the reader know what the MC of your scene is thinking? Internal thoughts are an essential ingredient for your readers getting to know and care about your characters and for also giving them insights in regards to what’s happening.

For example, your MC suddenly abandoning side character #2 makes more sense when you’re privy to his internal rationale and the MC’s reasoning behind such an act. Without that internalization, the reader might wonder why your MC is acting the way they are.

Any number of these basics missing could be the reason your scene is stuck, so check that you have them covered and adjust accordingly if you don’t.

Make A Mini-Outline

On the other hand, if you have all your basics covered and it’s still not right, it’s time to get an overview.

Create a mini-outline that lists the where, when, who, and the what of your scene.

By looking at the nitty-gritty, that missing something may shake loose or you could spark the idea for that last puzzle piece. Outline to know where you’re at, and then work out where you’re going.

Work On Something Else

Sometimes the stuck just won’t shift, no matter how many solutions you throw at it or hours you spend at your writing desk.

When that happens, you have permission to retreat. Step away from the scene and work on another one or a totally different WIP.

You could also read a book, binge a TV show, or head outside for the day—anything to put distance between yourself and your words.

Combine this break with your what ifs, switch ups, showing the mentioned, filling in the basics, and your mini-outline tactics and let them merge into a tornado of creativity. One that will hopefully be strong enough to break free any stuck scene.

— K.M. Allan

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27 thoughts on “Fixing A Stuck Scene

  1. It’s like you read my mind 🤣 My characters grabbed the story and took me for a joy ride and then they threw in an explosion. I’ve been stuck in avoiding mode since. Yesterday I brain stormed and made mud maps to get me back in the head space. Writing is not for the faint hearted! Thank you for the timely tips.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Grant at Tame Your Book!

    Excellent advice—thank for the reminders. Before a rewrite (or start over), I keep numbered or dated copies so I can go back and cherry pick the good parts. Sometimes I find my original was better than my rewrites, and it was just one of those days.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for reading, Grant! That’s a great tip about keeping your copies to reuse the good bits. I use the notes section in Scrivener to keep anything I cut. I agree with you, sometimes what you trim is better and it always pays to hang onto it in case you decide to add it back in. That habit has saved me on more than one occasion.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. As someone who’s struggling through the editing process now, I find myself stuck through all my scenes, and I already use a mini outline, but I think I’ll have to shake things up, try the other suggestion here. Thanks for this!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. No problem, Stuart. I hope they help. I’m right there with you (hence this blog post). I only have 5 new scenes to add to my current WIP, but I’ve been stuck on them for months.


  4. I often get tripped up because I forget to look at the scene as a reader would – without the benefit of knowing what the writer is thinking and didn’t say. It’s easy to assume that the reader will “get” it, simply because it makes sense to me. Great post, Kate!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes! That’s one of my biggest issues. I always know what I meant to write and don’t realize sometimes that it’s not coming across on the page for the reader. That’s why I love my betas so much. They really help me see that stuff.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes! I often get stuck with my first idea. The trouble I’ve been having with my latest MS has all been because I thought the story had to stay the way I’d initially written it. When two rounds of beta feedback kept highlighting the same problems, I started changing things and realized that was what the story needed.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. vishalbheeroo

    I’ve been stuck with that so much I abandoned the novel and it’s been three years. This post comes at the right time since the characters are in a destination I can only imagine and go through research. Of course, I was contemplating on a change in scenery and now will bookmark your post Keith when I choose to resurrect it will go through. Thanks ton.

    Liked by 1 person

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