One of my least favorite writing snags is a scene that isn’t working and I don’t know why. I’d rather not have a clue what to write than know there’s a problem I can’t figure out how to fix. But I may have found a wacky way to look at a troublesome scene in a whole new light.
Turn it into a script.
Sounds weird, right? But I recently took a scene from Blue Fire and turned it into script format so a few local students could act it out at a Darkfall event. I’d never done a script before, and I learned some interesting things that will actually be quite helpful next time I’m stuck.
1. Useless characters stick out
This scene has five people in it. Nya, Neeme, Iesta, a boy and a girl who are never named. I never noticed before than the girl doesn’t do much. She gets knocked down and runs off, but that’s about it. The boy does a little more (he has lines) but I actually added a little to the script because he needed a bit more to do.
Does this useless girl ruin the scene? I don’t think so, but she’s certainly not necessary either. I wonder what I might have done differently had I realized this while I was writing the book. Maybe I would have given her more to do, maybe cut her, maybe added more of the street pack and upped the tension further. But writing the script shined a huge light on a girl who didn’t do squat for the scene.
2. You have to focus on the action
A script needs to be able to give concise descriptions of the action. Concise is the key word here. If you find yourself writing long descriptions, it might hint that you need more dialog or internalization, or just less description of the action. It forces you to focus on the key steps only.
Nya rolls out from the fountain and gets to her feet. The pack has their backs to her, and they’re kicking and taunting Neeme. Nya kicks Pack Boy behind the knee. He falls down, clutching his leg and yelling. She dives and rolls at Pack Girl, knocking her legs out from under her.
3. You have to focus on the dialog
There is no internalization, no inner thoughts, no exposition. Characters act and speak. A script format brings the dialog front and center (literally since dialog is centered). It’s easy to see how it flows without all the rest of the text. If your characters aren’t having a realistic conversation, or are spouting lines more than talking, you’ll spot it right away.
You really want to do this?
Leave her alone.
Or what? You’ll push me over and bruise me?
I’ll kill you. Only you won’t die for days.
Don’t see no weapon on you.
4. You have to clarify the motivations
You don’t get a lot of space to show motive, but the actors need something to go on to understand why their character is saying and doing what’s in the script. Explaining a lot of backstory here really stands out. You only get a few lines to get across how your character feels.
Iesta kicks Neeme and she whimpers. The others laugh. Nya puts her hands over her ears, not wanting to hear, but unable to block it. She’s torn whether or not to help the fallen girl. Iesta bends over and grabs the sack.
5. It makes you tear apart your scene in a new way
Description vanishes. Internalization is gone. All you’re left with are the drive portions of your story. What’s said, how it’s said, what’s done, why it’s done. The focus is on the external, not the internal. If the problem lies externally, it should be a lot easier to spot it (too much action, stilted dialog). If it’s internal, you’ll spot it because you’ll have a script that isn’t too different from your original scene. You won’t have to cut the internal stuff because there won't be much to cut.
Granted, this is a bit extreme and not everyone needs or wants to rewrite a problem scene like this. But if you’ve tried everything else and are still stuck, maybe give this a try. I’ve discovered time and time again that a change in perspective can suddenly make you see something you didn’t before.
Have you ever written a script? Did it change the way you thought about your writing? Have you ever rewritten a scene in a new way to try and fix a problem?