Wednesday, June 27, 2012

When Something’s Not Quite Right With a Scene

by Elizabeth S. Craig, @elizabethscraig

4929374625_cca549bba6_nY’all probably won’t see me visiting online a lot this week. I’ve got a book to turn in on Friday (well, the deadline is July 1—to me, that means I should hand it over before the weekend) and I’m doing my usual pre-deadline scramble.

I’m scrambling even though I’m happy with the book. My problem (well, one of my problems) is that I never, ever think a book is done. I’d be still working on Memphis 1 if it hadn’t been for the deadline I had back in 2010. :)

Despite my overall positive feeling about this book, there was a scene that I wasn’t happy with on Monday. Something struck me as not being right, but I couldn’t figure out what it was. And this is kind of late in the game to be discovering weak scenes.

So I ran through the likely reasons why a scene doesn’t work:

Too long Repetitive Doesn’t advance the plot Doesn’t offer character insight Sentence structure needs switching up Large blocks of text need breaking up POV issues Boring—slow pacing Not enough dialogue Too many characters in the scene Lack of conflict Confusing (check dialogue character tags. Reintroduce characters who have been offstage a while) Scene has no goal

None of them seemed to apply.

So I did my usual fixes for scenes that don’t work:

I removed the scene to see if it was needed. It was still needed….it provided information the sleuth needed to solve the case.

I considered taking the bit of important information from the scene and sticking it into a different scene. But I decided against it. I still thought the scene served a purpose aside from providing information (I’d written in some character development.)

I made a blind rewrite of the scene—I rewrote it from memory. I still wrote the scene nearly verbatim.

Then I really studied the scene and I found that I’d not considered the secondary character’s motivation at all. I didn’t need to write it from that character’s POV (that would be overkill), but I didn’t think out what the character would be motivated by in the scene…saving his own neck was the main one, but there were others that were equally important to that character.

Once I realized that, there were a couple of other details I put in the scene. Otherwise, there was this gaping hole—something that didn’t make sense. I didn’t see it in the read-through, but it was a plot hole. It tripped me up, although it sure wasn’t obvious. Here’s a good post on plot holes, from editor Jason Black, if you need a refresher. And Janice Hardy has a nice post on character motivation.

What do you do when a scene seems off to you?