Wednesday, October 18, 2023

When Stuck in a Scene, Look Around

By Janice Hardy, @Janice_Hardy

Sometimes the answer to making a scene work is inside the scene itself.

I’ve been struggling with a major turning point chapter revision the past week, and one scene was really giving me a headache. It’s the end of Act Two, and the scene that triggers my protagonist’s Dark Night of the Soul and All Is Lost moments. So yeah, it’s important.

What’s worse, is that I knew how the chapter needed to end (because of those oh-so-critical moments), I just wasn’t sure how to get there based on where the story was after all the new revisions. I had to connect Point A with Point B, mixing the original mystery plot with the new personal subplot I’d added.

This scene depended on my protagonist getting face-to-face with the antagonist’s minion and realizing something world-shattering about himself and the Big Problem of the plot. And after all the revising I’d done, I had no idea why that minion was in the scene now.
-bangs head on keyboard repeatedly-

I began my standard “stuck in a scene” process. I called one of my crit buddies and we talked through it. It helped, but not enough, because while I confirmed that that minion absolutely did indeed need to be there for the whole third act (let alone the novel) to work, and I finally figured out why he was there, I still didn’t know how he’d come face-to-face with my protagonist—which was the entire point of the scene!

So I asked him.

Sometimes asking the other characters in the scene what they’re doing there is the fastest way to figure out what’s really going on in that scene.

I knew this character’s mission, knew his boss and their relationship to my protagonist, I even knew the personality quirks of the minion that would create a fun conversation with my protagonist. I put myself in his head for a bit and looked at the scene through his eyes.

When you get stuck in a scene, pick another character and pretend they’re the point of view character.

This gives you a fresh perspective and reminds you what else is going on in the story, which often shakes loose options and ideas on what to do.

In my case, I first identified my minion’s goal for the scene, then thought about how he’d achieve that goal. I considered why he was there, what he was doing to stay hidden, how he spotted my protagonist, and how that affected him. And I learned:
  • He was there to make sure his boss’s Evil Plan was progressing as planned.
  • He was supposed to stay out of sight and not interfere with the folks his boss was interfering with.
  • He would check the area to make sure it was clear to leave before he left.
  • He would notice my protagonist was also there.
  • He would call his boss to ask what to do and receive instructions.
  • He would make contact with my protagonist to deliver a warning.
  • He would mess with my protagonist a little, because he’s just that kinda guy.
And then I knew how to write that scene and how it would play out. I finished the scene and have now moved on to the next and final scene of the chapter, which hopefully won’t cause me as much trouble when I revise it tomorrow.

(Here’s more with A 5-Minute Fix to Jump-start Your Scene)

Some things to ask the other characters in the scene:
  • What’s your goal?
  • What’s your conflict?
  • What do you have at stake?
  • What’s your plot purpose for being there?
  • How do you feel about the other characters in the scene?
  • What don’t you want anyone to discover, see, or realize?
  • What would you do if you ignored what the plot and author said you had to do?
  • What are you afraid might happen?
  • What are you afraid won’t happen?
  • How can you create trouble for the protagonist?
  • How can you help the protagonist?
  • Why would you do either?
These should get your started and get the brainstorming wheels turning, but feel free to add any additional questions that fit your story or plot.

(Here’s more with Stuck on a Scene? Try This Trick to Get it Moving Again)

The scene itself often has the answer to fixing it, so look within when your scene grinds to a screeching halt.

Trust your characters, your setting, and the situation you’ve created. They can help you get past a tough spot and find your way back onto the plot path.

Until the next time you get stuck, right? But at least then, you’ll know what to do.

EXERCISE FOR YOU: Take five minutes and consider what the other characters in the scene are doing, why they’re doing it, and how that might affect your protagonist.

Have you ever tried this trick? How did it work out for you? What do you do to get unstuck in a scene?

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:
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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:
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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 ShifterBlue 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 comment:

  1. I like the metaphysical bend of this, Janice -- asking the characters. Hugs.