Each Scene Must Fight Or Die

Each scene in your book must fight for its existence. If you are a writer, you must have no mercy for weak and flabby scenes. Kill them. Now.

Die, boring scenes! Die!

You may think this is cruel. You may feel sorry for those scenes. Don't. What doesn't kill a scene makes it stronger.

Some of those scenes you try to kill will fight back. They will surprise you by proving they are stronger than you ever suspected. They will slam you in the gut with grief. Tickle you with laughter. Send a shiver down your spine.

 If the scene doesn't make you feel something, it shouldn't be there.

Now, I admit that I often put scenes into a book for completely different reasons. I put in scenes because the Plot Requires It.

Plot Requires That the Companions Travel.

Plot Requires That Someone Be Injured.

Plot Requires That Something Bad Happens Here.

But even if a scene sneaks into a novel on such a flimsy pretext, it needs to beef up if it wants to survive to the final cut.

What brought this to mind is a scene in Wing where two characters were falling from the sky to their deaths. It was pretty dull.

You see, Plot Required Characters To Fall From the Sky. So I described characters falling from the sky. But it was mechanical. They might as well have been potatoes falling from the sky.


They are about TO DIE.

Shouldn't I feel something when I read this scene? If I, the author, who love my characters, can't manage to feel something as they plunge tragically to a new existence as human puddles, how can I expect the reader to care?

So I had to re-write the scene.

(There are some writers who don't believe in re-writing. It can get ridiculous. It can be overdone. I may be guilty of both crimes. But sometimes, it's necessary. Sorry. If your draft sucks as badly as mine does, rewriting is required.)

Now, another writer might have approached this differently. My friend, Rayne Hall, who is an expert in scaring the shit out of you, might have gone for evoking Terror. And this was my first thought too, that the scene needed to be more exciting, more frightening.

But that version didn't work either. This time the problem was not that the scene was emotionally flat--it had emotion--it just didn't have the right emotion. I realized that terror was not what this character would actually be feeling. What she would be feeling was something more complicated than that, it would connect her to events earlier in the book, and to characters who weren't even present but who were the most important people in her life.

For me, the scene works better now. It has emotion, the right emotion. Of course, not every reader is going to feel it as I do, but unless I feel something as I write it, I don't believe any readers would be able to connect to the emotion in the scene as they read it.


Sharon Bayliss said…
Great post! I totally agree. I hate boring scenes. I don't know why so many authors feel the need to tell us what their characters eat for breakfast and what they put in their coffee.
Kris said…
I agree wholeheartedly. Way too many authors use what is called "infodumping," which gives an enormous about-and way too much-exposition DURING a scene. I hate it when a new character is introduced that we have to know every single thing about this character, even during childhood. I have put down many, many books that continue to bore with infodumping because its sole design is to try to hold up an otherwise flimsy plot. Less is more.

I remember I had to get rid of a lot of "filler" content, even if I liked it personally. That did not mean that the reader would appreciate it. There is no "i" in reader.
Davin Malasarn said…
This post is very inspirational. It makes me want to revise!
Tara Maya said…
Sharon, I think writers want to tell us about their characters' gastronomic proclivities out of a well-meaning but misdirected desire to provide tactile detail: the smell of the coffee, the taste of the danish. But tactile detail can be boring if it's not infused with emotion. Every detail that is on the page should be a metaphor for the emotional context of the story.

Kris, I love it: "There is no 'i' in reader. LOL.

Davin -- there is also a time to stop re-writing and just let a novel be itself, flaws and all. Instead of trying to make it become your next work, move on to your next work. :)
I'm like Davin - makes me want to revise! I just need to finish this draft, bad scenes and all. :)
Tara Maya said…
Michelle, yes, it's best to get through the draft. If you can. Sometimes revision even mid-draft is necessary, if you need to change direction, especially when you hit that "wall" you mentioned in your blog. I have that too, and sometimes I have to keep rewriting until a new clue comes up in a scene that opens up a path forward.