We’ve all had it happen – maybe countless times in one novel. No matter how many books you’ve written or how much you plan, sometimes a scene just won’t work. Maybe you can’t start it, maybe you can’t finish it or maybe you’re stuck slam-bang in the middle. So what do you do when it happens? Grab more coffee? Procrastinate? Cry with despair? Rely on good, old-fashioned denial?
There’s no miracle cure and this is not an exhaustive list, but here are a few questions that might be helpful to ask yourself when faced with that dead-end scene:
Have you chosen the right point of view?
As a writer, on some level we instinctively know which character viewpoint we are writing from. Sometimes we get it wrong. If you do find yourself flaying, switch the POV and see what happens. It might open up a whole new thread you didn’t expect. At the very worst, it could even deepen your understanding of your character on some level.
Have you selected the best possible setting?
Maybe you’ve placed your character/s in the wrong place. External stimuli can play a very effective role both in building a solid scene as well as bringing out the best or worst in your characters. It can help create focus, mood, tension, or even present an important viewpoint or response that is going to reveal something deep and meaningful about your characters. The setting should always reflect or generate an incident that is integral to the plot. If it doesn’t, it might be worth questioning its purpose.
Do you actually have something to say?
That’s the fundamental question for every scene in a book: What’s the point? Every scene should say or reveal something. Have nothing to say and the dead-end is fairly inevitable. If a scene doesn’t reveal character (or anything new at least) and/or it doesn’t move the plot forward, why have it? You may as well have your characters twiddling their thumbs, commenting on the weather or asking each other what they’d like for dinner for all the difference it will make as far as story progression goes. Be relevant. Be revealing. And always be reaching to tell your reader something.
Do you need a break from it?
Maybe walking away is the best solution. Take a break and come back to it – an hour, a few days, or even weeks later. Don’t dwell on it, move on – write more scenes. Hopefully you have at least a vague idea of how the story is progressing, so work on a scene that appears further along. No one says a book has to be written sequentially. But if you’ve done that and it still doesn’t work…
How about scraping it altogether?
Okay, so very few writers actually enjoy scraping scenes. But if it doesn’t work, no matter what you do, it’s definitely time to move on. Don’t delete it! It’s still worth holding on to them in a separate folder somewhere, at least until your novel is complete. But don’t dwell on something that just isn’t sparking – you have an entire novel to write!
If you’ve got your own coping mechanisms and suggestions for those dead-end scenes, I’d love you to share them.