If you write any kind of story, you’ve probably had the experience of getting halfway through a scene, everything cruising along just fine, and then– WHAM! hitting a wall.
What the heck?
I had this exact experience recently and banged my head against that particular wall for more writing days than I care to think about. I tried to power through it. I meditated on it. I slept on it. I went off and wrote something else, then came back. Still no joy.
But all the while, a suspicion crept up on me: Was the scene actually needed? Or was I trying to write something that wasn’t of any use to the story at all?
That got me thinking about how and why we get stuck in a scene. See if any of these reasons resonate in your Writer’s Brain™:
When I got stuck halfway through a conversation between two beloved characters, I started looking at what was actually being conveyed — and realized that while all sorts of deep emotional truths were coming forth, that’s not actually what needed to be happening at that moment. So I’ve saved the problem bits and will see if they actually fit better at a later point.
Sometimes we pick the wrong secondary character for our protagonist to interact with. In my case, I had planned a couple of scenes of Evelyn where Evie had a chance for some serious character growth, only to discover while writing them that they fell flat. The issue was that those scenes were with a guy who I’d originally pegged as her love interest, but whom I found out later was just a good buddy. So of course there was little tension in those scenes. But the moment I rewrote them with her love interest instead, they took off.
Figure out which character has the most at stake in the scene. If that character isn’t your POV character for that particular scene, try writing it from their POV and see if that unsticks you. If the scene is written from the point of view of the character with the most at stake, or if you’re writing a single-POV story, move on to…
Sometimes a scene appears to be working because it’s dealing with one of the protagonist’s issues, but not the primary issue. In my case, poor Evie has more than one iron in the fire — she’s faced with an ethical issue but also fretting about her marital status (set in the 1950’s, folks, so please hold onto your torches and pitchforks) — and it’s easy to veer off what the story is actually about, which is an ethical question playing up against the mores and expectations of the time. The romance is nice, but it takes a back seat in this novella.
Charming but aimless drivel is what I end up writing if there’s nothing to be lost or gained in a scene. The scene doesn’t have to have high drama or life-and-death stakes, but it should have enough umph for the reader to sense the story is moving forward. And if your critique partners can’t figure out why you wrote the scene or how it advances the plot, chances are you don’t know, either.
These are just some places to start diagnosing the block. Sometimes, just backing off the scene for a while, taking a walk, or having a writing partner read it aloud to you can generate an Aha! moment that helps you identify what might be off-track.
What’s one of your head-banging moments? And how did you break through?
(And, Happy July 4th to all our American friends!)
Sandra K. Moore has been writing one thing or another since she could scribble on a Big Chief tablet. A former Silhouette Bombshell author, Sandra has given up (temporarily) the kickass heroine and is now writing from her softer side for the self-published Promise House series. This novella quartet explores the journeys of four young women finding their way — and remaining true to themselves — through the social expectations and turmoil of 1950’s Houston.