How (not to) get unstuck while editing

Water lily: How to get unstuck with editing

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.

Tabby cat judges your midpoint scene.

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.

My characters fight with everything they’ve got and several things they don’t have, such as cannons.


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.

Save the Cat!

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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Author: A.S. Akkalon

By day, A.S. Akkalon works in an office where the computers outnumber the suits of armour more than two-to-one. By night, she puts dreams of medieval castles, swords, and dragons onto paper.

12 thoughts on “How (not to) get unstuck while editing”

  1. I hate those pesky scenes. *Hiss*

    James Scott Bell writes some great writing guides! I like Plot and Structure. πŸ˜€

    1. Hiss indeed. I think I’m wrangling it into shape, but it hasn’t been obliging.

      I haven’t read Plot and Structure for a while, but it’s on my bookshelf. Maybe that should be next on my list. πŸ™‚

  2. Good luck! The midpoint is such a tricky spot, even in my weird little books (as opposed to your big, proper fantasy books). I’m sure you’ll get it – I personally find adding cake (to me) and dragons/goblins/zombies (to the book) helps.

    1. Thank you! And don’t be silly – your books are no less proper than mine, probably more so because they’re actually finished!

      The cake idea is excellent, but I’m trying to eat better recently. I wonder if celery and hummus would work as well. I already have dragons, but maybe a few zombies will get my characters emoting.

      1. Hmm. I’m not sure about the celery, but I think the hummus could do the trick. As long as they’re enough garlic in there…

  3. Time is your friend here, unless you don’t have any. Which is true of most authors. Your second best friend is your critique group or partner β€” but only if you trust their responses and they can point out what doesn’t feel right but stop at telling you how to fix it. Your third best friend is scotch on ice, but you already knew that. I feel your pain!

    1. That’s an excellent point on the critique partner front. I think I need to find a CP who I vibe with and trust, who’s a regular reader of adult (as opposed to YA) fantasy. I’ve worked with a great (and insightful) CP in the past, but fantasy isn’t her specialty. You might have just given me my next blog post…

  4. Yes, all the luck for you.
    I know Save the Cat Writes a Novel is really popular. Have you tried reading Big Magic? It’s more of a pep talk book, but we all need a good pep talk from time to time. πŸ™‚

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