Editing my fantasy novel in progress, I reached a scene that I couldn’t make work. Here’s how I tried (and failed) to solve my problem.
Not too long ago I finished the third (and final?) structural edit of my work in progress. Which meant it was time for a scene-by-scene edit.
Everything was happy bunnies and golden sunshine for a while as I made my adequate scenes dramatic, glittery, and deep.
Then something went wrong.
I could blame work. Or Minecraft. Or poor sleep.
Really, the problem was my midpoint.
The midpoint of my WIP consists of two scenes.
The first is excitement, action, and death. It overturns what the characters know about the world and each other.
The second is the emotional consequences of the first. It’s the middle of the night, the room is hushed and smoky, and a cat wanders around trying to get close to the fire without getting too much attention from any of the people.
The characters look at each other wondering what the truck just happened. Then they start to talk.
It’s supposed to be a big emotional scene.
My first hack was more of a lame hedgehog.
It didn’t feel right and I didn’t know how to fix it, so I got stuck.
In case it’s helpful to you, here’s what I did to try to get unstuck. Be aware–it didn’t work.
Read the scene
My first step was to read the scene as it stood. My logic was sound: perhaps something would become clear in the reading that wasn’t clear from my memory of the scene.
Alas, it did not.
Write the scene again
Perhaps the problem was that I’d jigsawed together too many things that “had to happen” and the flow of the scene was unnatural.
Okay, I didn’t 100% cover the old version while I wrote the new version, but I certainly plastered over the joins.
Coming out, it flowed better, but it still didn’t work.
Make the characters fight harder
From my incessant reading of the scene, I determined that one character wanted something badly, but rolled over when she didn’t get it.
So I made her fight harder for it. She brought out a catapult, a regiment of mountain trolls, and a flak cannon** and battled with all she was worth.
** Metaphorically speaking. None of these things appear in the book.
At the end of the day, the scene had more conflict, but it still wasn’t quite right.
It occurred to me that I was approaching the problem wrong. Perhaps the scene wasn’t the issue, but me.
So I had a drink.
Mmmm, scotch on ice.
Pleasantly relaxed, I meant to go back and read the scene again, but I got distracted playing Minecraft. (Ah, so maybe it was Minecraft’s fault!)
Read books on writing
I may have mentioned I have many of these, and I read them for inspiration as well as instruction. Inspiration was lacking, so it was time to pull them out.
I was halfway through Techniques of the Selling Writer by Dwight Swain when I got stuck, so I finished it.
It was good, but not enough.
Next I read Write Your Novel From the Middle by James Scott Bell. I was stuck at the midpoint, so it seemed like the logical choice. Plus it’s short.
Structurally, I can’t see anything wrong with my midpoint. (Possibly because I read this book several times during my structural edits.)
It does what it’s supposed to, but it STILL DOESN’T WORK.
It occurred to me a problem elsewhere in the novel might push the midpoint out of alignment. To rule this out, I read Save the Cat! by Blake Snyder.
Nope, I don’t think that’s the issue.
But Save the Cat! is about screenplays. So I bought Save the Cat! Writes a Novel by Jessica Brody (the first of these books I didn’t already own) for additional verification. I’m reading it now.
In the meantime, I had another thought.
What if the insight a character has that I thought started the scene is in fact the culmination of the scene?
Something about that feels right.
Perhaps I’ll have a go at reordering the scene tonight, but I’ve been drinking, so perhaps tomorrow. Either way, we’ll see if change #56 finally makes the scene ring true.
Wish me luck!
Have I overlooked something obvious I should try to fix the scene? What do you do when you just can’t make a scene work?
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