SCENE 15: How to Salvage a Scene

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What if you are writing a scene and your gut tells you it’s not working? How do you figure out what is wrong?

Scenes Need Action

After writing a draft and realizing it was lousy, I re-read the synopsis of this scene. “E realizes that he needs to accept M’s help.”

What’s the main verb in that statement? Realize.

That’s a good scene synopsis, but a lousy scene outline and inevitably leads to a bad draft because there’s not enough action going on. Realizing something is all internal. All I got was talking heads, as E and M discuss the issues of the story. Now, technically, that could be enough for an effective scene – something important changes does change. In reality, it makes for a boring scene.

I’m considering three ways to salvage this scene:

  • Find action to add. Look around the scene and see what else is there. What could make the story events worse, provide comic relief, deepen characterizations, etc.?
  • Change setting. Put the conflict somewhere else, a place that has potential for better action.
  • Combine this scene with another. Essentially, this is giving up on the scene as stated, and adding this emotional response to another scene.

I actually used the first strategy to revise the talking heads scenes. When I stopped to look, there were some interesting actions that could work in nicely.

Scenes Need Events that Matter

Likewise, you must have events that matter. When you write that action scene with great action, it’s not enough. The missing factor here is the connection to the main character’s goals.

To salvage the scene, look to see if there’s something in the scene that can be tied directly to the character’s goal. Can you change the setting, or the events/beats to make it matter? The most drastic change would be to change the character’s goals and motivations to match the action you’ve written; this isn’t the usual course of action, but it does happen.

A final skill is to recognize when a scene can’t be salvaged and should be omitted instead.

When you realize a scene is weak on action, what do salvage a scene?

2 thoughts on “0

  1. Thanks Darcy. This is all so helpful. It’s reinforcing things I’ve come to realize I’ve had to correct in my writing. Though it’s taken me a long time to realize it all.

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