For Writers

Trouble Writing a Scene? Bring it Back to Character

A quick post for you this Monday, Happy Writers! NaNoWriMo is imminent, and I’m about to launch into an all-day flurry of schoolwork to try to get everything done so I have some nice, lengthy, juicy writing days later in the week. (If you would like to follow my noveling progress, follow me on!)

Today, I want to talk about scenework. Novels are broken up into distinct chunks — among these, acts, chapters, scenes, paragraphs, and sentences.  Scenes are some of the most important elements of a novel — if your individual scenes aren’t engaging, a reader is never going to appreciate the bigger picture. You want scenes that reveal your characters and move the story forward — scenes that build like bricks to construct the big, beautiful mansion (or townhouse, or skyscraper, or complicated subway system) your book will eventually be. 

So, what do you do when you can tell a scene isn’t working? 

In the immortal words of Michael Scott: Keep It Simple, Stupid.

When you’re having trouble writing a scene, bring it back to the characters.

Try to forget that you’re writing a big, scary novel. Instead, remember that you’re writing about characters. These characters, and this small moment in time.

Ask yourself:

  • What does my character want in this scene?
  • How do they get it? (Or don’t they?)
  • How does my character feel about what’s happening?

Bring it back to character and the small, human, universal experiences they might go through. Show how the locations and events of your story affect your protagonist. Use your character’s emotional graph as a map to route your scene. 

Do this for every character in the scene. Even side characters. Every character thinks they’re the protagonist of their story. Make sure, going into the scene, that everyone there has a reason to be there. 

Another tip: Try to find three beats for every character in the scene. A beginning establishing beat, a middle moment (a turn or twist, perhaps), and something conclusive. If you know what every character wants (and if those motivations contradict, contrast, or conflict with each other), your scene will be way more dynamic. 

I hope this advice helps someone out there in the big, scary, writer-y world!  If you liked this post, you might check out one of these, too:

Happy Writing, and I’ll see you in November! 

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Christina is an aspiring novelist, who wanted to create a safe, fun place to share advice, inspiration, and motivation with other writers!

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