Wednesday, December 12, 2018

What to Do When You Really Don’t Want to Write That Scene

By Janice Hardy, @Janice_Hardy

Some scenes are hard to write, and others fight you every word. Does that mean something is wrong with it?

In every first draft I’ve ever written, I reached a point where I forced myself to finish a scene. It didn’t want to be written, it fought me every word, and it took me days to write. I just wanted it done and over with, and when it was really bad, it threw me right out of my writing groove.

But my outline said to do it, my daily plan said to write it, so I did. And it was terrible. Didn’t matter what scene or which book, it always turned out the same.

Eventually, I realized this was a huge red flag that something was wrong with the scene. If I didn’t want to write it, what made me think someone would want to read it?

While not every scene or book is going to flow effortlessly from our brain to the page, the ones we really struggle over often have a reason behind the pain. If they were working, or belonged, or excited us, we probably wouldn’t be struggling.

When you’re stuck on a scene, ask yourself:

Do you really need this scene?

Sometimes we think we need a scene when we really don’t. Maybe we planned it and the story changed enough it’s no longer necessary. Maybe it’s just a transition. Maybe it’s just boring.

If all you need to do is get from A to B, it might be better if you simply ended one scene and jumped right to the next scene. A scene break often clears up the “do I have to write this?” feel of writing a dead scene. Try finding a strong ending point for the previous scene and just skip to the next.

(Here’s more on when to add a scene break)

Can you make this scene do more?

Sometimes the scene does need to be there, but there’s not enough to it yet, so it’s not ready to be written. Is there enough conflict? Is the goal clear? Could it benefit from some world building or character development? Can you merge it with another scene? Opportunities are everywhere.

(Here’s more on not knowing how to end a scene)

Is there an emotional component you’re missing?

When things get too mechanical, that’s a clue that you might be skimping on the emotion. Maybe you just need to dive back into your protagonist’s head and figure out what she has at stake to raise tension again and make the scene work. What is she worried about? Does she have any issues about what she’s trying to do? Is she distracted by something that can get her into trouble?

(Here’s more on writing with emotional layers)

What are the other characters in the scene doing?

Even if the protagonist doesn’t have a lot to do in that scene, maybe the other characters do. This could be a great opportunity to develop those secondary characters a little and have them take the limelight. Maybe they can voice opposition to what’s happening, or present a problem or conflict to add more spice to the scene.

(Here’s more on getting unstuck in a scene)

Is it a sequel hiding as a scene?

Often, the hardest-to-write scenes aren’t scenes at all, but a sequel hiding as a scene. It’s all about the reaction to what just happened, a rehash of the events, or a sharing of ideas between characters that doesn’t end with a plan to act. The reason you can’t write it or finish it, is because there’s no goal driving it. It’s not a scene, and it doesn’t belong on its own.

(Here’s more on a the difference between a scene and a sequel)

Is it difficult for you personally?

Sometimes, a scene is hard to write because it’s emotional, or touches something that’s hard for the writer to face. It’s not a bad scene at all, but an emotional issue holding you back. You know the scene needs to be there, but it’s also going to take a lot out of you to write it.

(Here’s more on writing hard to write scenes)

We usually have a good idea when things in our stories aren’t working right. Even if we aren’t yet sure what it is or how to fix it, our instincts poke at us that we’ve gone off track. I’ve learned to trust my writer’s instinct in these situations. When it tells me something is off, it’s usually right.

How do you handle scenes you don’t want to write?

For more help on plotting or writing a novel check out my Plotting Your Novel: Ideas and Structure.

Go step-by-step through plotting and writing a novel. Learn how to find and develop ideas, brainstorm stories from that first spark of inspiration, develop the right characters, setting, plots and subplots, as well as teach you how to identify where your novel fits in the market, and if your idea has what it takes to be a series.

With clear and easy-to-understand examples, Plotting Your Novel: Ideas and Structure offers ten self-guided workshops with more than 100 different exercises to help you craft a solid novel. Learn how to:
  • Create compelling characters readers will love
  • Choose the right point of view for your story
  • Determine the conflicts that will drive your plot (and hook readers!)
  • Find the best writing process for your writing style
  • Create a solid plot from the spark of your idea
Plotting Your Novel: Ideas and Structure also helps you develop the critical elements for submitting and selling your novel once it’s finished. You’ll find exercises on how to:
  • Craft your one-sentence pitch
  • Create your summary hook blurb
  • Develop a solid working synopsis And so much more!
Plotting Your Novel: Ideas and Structure is an easy-to-follow guide to writing your novel or fixing a novel that isn’t quite working. 

Available in paperback and ebook formats.

Janice Hardy is the award-winning author of the teen fantasy trilogy The Healing Wars, including The Shifter, Blue Fire, and Darkfall from Balzer+Bray/Harper Collins. The Shifter, was chosen for the 2014 list of "Ten Books All Young Georgians Should Read" from the Georgia Center for the Book.

She also writes the Grace Harper urban fantasy series for adults under the name, J.T. Hardy.

When she's not writing novels, she's teaching other writers how to improve their craft. She's the founder of Fiction University and has written multiple books on writing.
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  1. One strategy that has worked for me is to dive into another project. Working on another project allows my skills to develop which the difficult scene may have required.

  2. Timely article! I've been struggling with a scene that didn't want to be written this week. I changed things up several times (different setting, different minor characters...) hoping it would help, and it never worked out until I realised the problem: I was treating the scene as a stepping stone to getting to the interesting parts, instead of making it interesting in its own right. There was no conflict or anything that would drive the story forward. It did introduce some important characterisation, but that on its own wasn't enough to carry the scene.

    Upon realising this, I went back to the drawing board and decided to add a conflict that I was planning to introduce later, and suddenly I could write it easily.

    1. Yay! I'm so glad I was able to help you get past that :)

  3. You listed several suggestions I want to take advantage of with my current WiP. The one about the emotional component made me realize I'm not showing enough about the reason why the opportunity is so important.

    1. Great! Glad I could help :) Always makes me happy when a post resonates with a writer and is just what they need.