Why doesn’t this chapter work? The rules of writing a scene.

Have you ever read something you’ve written, and know that it just doesn’t “work” but you can’t figure out why?

I’m currently reading a beta that is in probably its fiftieth draft. That’s okay.  People write at different speeds.  For me personally, I am reading this manuscript for probably the sixth or seventh time.  Each time I read it, I am pleasantly surprised by the “growth” of the story.

Think GirlSo, here’s where the “Why doesn’t this chapter work” comes in.  I am DEVOURING this manuscript this time around.  The added scenes are spot-on.  The story is exciting and driven.  Then BAM!  I hit a roadblock.

I hit a scene that just didn’t satisfy me.  Was it written well?  Yes.  Did it follow the plot?  Yes.  So what was wrong?

I went back to a writing lesson I learned probably a year ago.  It said that each scene needs to be a miniature story in itself.  It has to start, have a rising action, a climax, a falling action, and a resolution.  Now, I am not saying that this needs to be in depth.  Think of it.  A falling action can be as simple as an emotional response of a character shaking their head… but a scene really DOES need to have all these elements.

The problem with this scene is that it didn’t do this.  It was a scattering of information, mostly that I already knew as a reader, and it did not push the story forward.  No, it was not filler.  I just don’t think the author “did what they intended” to do with that scene.

Now, I’m not psychotic.  I am not saying that I look at every scene I write for rising action, climax and resolution, but I think at this point I naturally write this way… as all serious writers should.

So next time a scene is bothering me, and I can’t figure out why, I’m going to dissect it. Does it have a rising action? Climax? Falling action?

Most importantly … is something resolved?

I think that’s the biggie.  If nothing is resolved (however minor) then the scene does not drive the story forward.

What are your thoughts?



21 responses to “Why doesn’t this chapter work? The rules of writing a scene.

  1. Yep, this is something I’ve heard before and I know for a fact that I don’t always catch it. It’s something I’m going to be all the more aware of going forward with new projects. I think if I keep it in mind, even at the back of my mind, all of my writing with benefit as a result.

  2. I’ve been aware of this concept for a while and believe I have been following it, but only other eyes will tell if I’ve been lying to myself. I’m lovng this post. Timely for me too..

  3. This post is so timely for me, because this morning I was sketching out a scene, and it just wasn’t working for me. And I think it’s because of exactly what you just outlined. It’s not a story in and of itself, and it’s not really pushing the main story forward. It just is. Which means it needs tweaking or omission. Sigh.

  4. That’s a great way to examine a scene when it doesn’t feel right. Maybe it’s because I grew up reading so many classics, but I don’t mind the occasional scene that simply provides some additional background information. But as someone writing in the early 21st century, I have to look at the realities of what most modern readers expect. 😉

  5. Sometimes we don’t want to kill our darlings, even though we know these scenes no longer serve their purpose. It takes a strong writer to know when to cut them because they no longer work even though they are well written, and then follow thru.

  6. This was very interesting. I have never heard of scenes having to contain those elements and I took note of it. The only problem though, a LOT of my scenes (when writing thrillers) leave the reader hanging intentionally. Some of my conflicts aren’t solved until the following chapter and at times, 2 or 3 chapters later.

  7. Spot-on advice! I always have to go back and ask myself this when I’m editing, although I’ve always called it “arc.” 🙂

    • You just have to be careful because many scenes can add to the arc and be just fluff. They need to draw he story forward. If you can cut a scene and everything else in the story still makes sense then it is unnecessary

  8. Liam, Head Phil

    First of all, thank you for the link! And of course, thank you for the post. I had previously known of this, but I had never consciously used it. Lately I’ve been working on combining uses of scenes, so that instead of five scenes in which one thing happens in each, I have one scene in which five things happen. Now you’ve put a definite statement to my vague feeling. Thank you!

  9. I sometimes ask myself what the point of the scene is. If I am floundering in a scene and it’s not working, then that’s my first question. If I can’t answer it, it’s usually the reason the scene isn’t working. I plan to add your technique to ‘my scene not working’ list of things to try and make it work.

  10. That’s a great tip, I’m definitely going to look back at some of my writing to see if I I’ve been doing that. I don’t think I have consciously been doing so.

  11. I love Vernor Vinge’s ‘Law’ … All scenes need to accomplish 2 of 3 things. 1)Provide background information. 2) Develop the characters. 3) Advance the plot.

    Rather elegant, and whenever I’ve bogged down in a scene, I can look at it from this perspective and figure out what is missing.

    Who is Vernor Vinge? … http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vernor_Vinge

  12. Thanks for the link to my blog…