Tuesday, May 26, 2020

The Antithesis Method: A Simple Solution to Getting Unstuck in a Scene

By Bonnie Randall

Part of The How They Do It Series 

JH: Stuck in a scene? Maybe going forward isn't the right way to handle it. Bonnie Randall shares her method for fixing a troublesome scene. 

A challenge I have used when stuck on a scene that feels wooden, isn’t working, or just refuses to write itself is something I have nicknamed “The Antithesis Method,” and it’s as simple as this:
Just write the scene precisely opposite of how you had planned to write it. If they were going to be friends, make them fight. If they were robbing a bank, have them get robbed. If they were headed to a wedding, land them at a funeral.
Sound like a lot of work and a lot of dismantling? Trust me, it is—put it can be well worth it.

In my debut novel, Divinity & the Python, I had a scene where Shaynie meets Weste for an agreed-upon date. I tried everything to make that scene work: I made their banter more witty, I deepened their emotional reveals to each other, I complicated it when one and then both of them received phone calls, disrupting their date. None of my variations worked, and all of them made it feel as though that one scene had the whole plot of the novel in a holding pattern, spinning its wheels. I puzzled over it for longer than I’d like to admit before deciding to do something radical:
What if the opposite happened? What if Shaynie waits for Weste to show up for their date, and…he never arrives?
I wrote the scene. Loved the scene. Suddenly the tension and stakes and the conflict were back in the book. That one upended scene pulled the whole novel back on track and, what was more, all that I wanted these two lovers to learn about and reveal to each other ended up being that much sweeter when it did happen, later.

Since then I have used the Antithesis Method whenever something’s off, stuck, or just doesn’t ring right. The entire first draft of Within The Summit’s Shadow was complete when it struck me that The Dead Boy’s—the villain’s—identity just didn’t seem sinister, or creepy, enough. Enter the Antithesis Method, and though the re-write was onerous, the payoff was massive; The Dead Boy’s identity became someone no one (not even me!) would have ever suspected.

Yesterday the Antithesis Method struck again as I plotted the antagonist’s moves in my new WIP, The Shadow Collector. His/her motives seemed so tired. So cliché. But…what if s/he was working toward the opposite goal?

Well. That’s more chilling.

(Here's more on Stuck on a Scene? Try This Trick)

Why Does It Work?

When we reverse the outcome of a goal, a motive, or an entire scene, we force our imagination to consider other solutions—and complications—that fundamentally change the core problem our protagonist or antagonist are facing. As such, it can widen the arc of our story, and force our characters to call upon resources they (and maybe we) did not know they had. It can also reveal motives and goals they (and we!) were unaware they held.

On a micro level, even reversals that don’t necessarily upend plot (ie: changing a sunny day into a thunderstorm, or moving from a church to a bar) can elicit a more powerful punch within a scene.

Beyond that, reversing a scene—or elements within a scene—can serve to reveal what is essential and what may just be stage dressing we really didn’t need. (example: What if you moved your fight scene from a static street onto a moving subway? Would symbolism be added or lost?)

(Here's more on 5 Tips for When You’re Stuck in a Scene)

How to Do It:

1. First, don’t feel like you need to be married to whichever reversal you write. 

Remember—you’re doing it because something about the scene you’ve got isn’t working, and you’re hoping to reveal what’s wrong.

2. You can go big (or small).

Go big and change your entire villain like I did in Within The Summit’s Shadow. Go moderate and flip a scene on its head like I did in Divinity &The Python, or go small and shift day into night, sun into rain, or a summer-set novel into the cold, dead of winter.

3. Make notes.

Perhaps even in the form of a Venn Diagram—as to what was different in each scene, and what sorts of things remained in the overlap. From there you’ll have a better idea (as well as your intuitive knowledge) as to which scene works better, and why.

(Here's more on Busta Scene: Getting Past Hard-to-Write Scenes)

Have you tried ‘The Antithesis method’ yourself? Would you be willing to give it a go?

Let me know in the comments below and, as always, happy writing!


Bonnie Randall is a Canadian writer who lives between her two favorite places—the Jasper Rocky Mountains and the City of Champions: Edmonton, Alberta. A clinical counselor who scribbles fiction in notebooks whenever her day job allows, Bonnie is fascinated by the relationships people develop—or covet—with both the known and unknown, the romantic and the arcane.

Her novel Divinity & The Python, a paranormal romantic thriller, was inspired by a cold day in Edmonton when the exhaust rising in the downtown core appeared to be the buildings, releasing their souls. The series continues with her newest release, Within the Summit's Shadow.

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Andrew Gavin knows he's a train wreck. Before he even became a detective, Andrew’s first trauma—at only seventeen—occurred when he witnessed a gruesome suicide. Ever since, a delusion he calls The Dead Boy appears when his anxiety spirals too close to the edge…


Goaded by The Dead Boy, Andrew shoots and kills an unarmed teenage bully in what appears to be a fit of rage. Suspended from the force, and awaiting a possible murder charge, he retreats home to the Rockies. There The Dead Boy taunts him daily. Except…


Elizabeth McBrien, the childhood sweetheart he scorned, is back home in the mountains too, and shocks Andrew by revealing that she too sees The Dead Boy. Astonished that the spirit is not a delusion, but real, Andrew is further unnerved when he learns that The Dead Boy has ‘befriended’ Kyle, a gravely ill kid Elizabeth adores.

Now it's specter vs. cop in a race to save Kyle's life, and The Dead Boy insists that Kyle’s survival hinges on secrets Andrew holds about that long-ago suicide. Yet Andrew knows the entire truth will destroy him, and also annihilate any new chance he may have with Elizabeth. But they are running out of time; Kyle is dying, and The Dead Boy is ready to sacrifice anything in order to once again walk among the living…

Within the Summit’s Shadow is a paranormal romance unlike any you’ve ever read. Set in the resort town of Jasper amid the splendor of the Canadian Rockies, this novel combines love, mystery, and a persistent, deeply psychological, very personal haunting. Randall really delivers the goods with this one.”


  1. Excellent! Sometimes you have to grab the scene by the throat and shake it. This is an approach I don't employ nearly enough, but when I have it's worked exceptionally well, and one time paid huge dividends. It was late in Riparia's Bk2, A River in Each Hand. Beneath the ancient, sunken palace she discovers a perfectly preserved library. It was okay, as far as it went, but okay wasn't what I wanted. Instead, I rewrote it, keeping the library as a beginning, but also "steampunking" the heck out of it. From that flowed a cascade of ideas that led to the Time Library and rewriting the scene that came before it to add her passing the Lifespan Mirrors. Oh, and that was just the beginning.

    1. Love it! And that story sounds freakin’ AWESOME

  2. That is a very helpful article. I am an aspiring writer, waiting to hand my first novel to my editor, and in the meantime revising my second book. I knew since I finished the first draft that book 2 needed a lot more work, and your article gave me the idea for how to (hopefully) improve one of my main characters and convinced me to pretty much re-write his part in the first third of the book.

    1. Happy this has been helpful to your process! Write on!