Have you been there? You’re writing your novel and everything is going splendidly. You’ve created engaging characters, built tension, added a sprig of humor in just the right places. Then you hit that spot that you’ve been building up all through the first act, that scene that the readers have been waiting for since the protagonist heard her call to adventure.
You’re writing the scene you thought would captivate, but it feels flat. Everything that’s propelled you to this moment is beginning to slip away and that little voice in your head starts to talk to you: This sucks. Where is this going? What am I doing? All these cool things I have planned for the rest of this book, if I can only get past this scene.
Doubt creeps in. You think, If even I’m bored with this scene, how can my readers get through it? Is this where I lose them?
Suddenly, you’re finding excuses not to write. If you do, you find yourself working and reworking that scene, trying to discover what’s missing, trying to make it shine. It’s not writing anymore. Now it’s work when everything before it came so easily. You’re losing the magic and you don’t know why.
There are things you can do to overcome this. Some people will choose to write, “Chapter 9: Boy Meets Girl” and move on. Others will step back an analyze their story for plot flaws or try to rework their outline. Still other will mentally talk to their characters and let them inform them what’s not working. There’s nothing better than when your characters start to speak.
For me, I get this feeling in scenes when nothing surprising is happening. Characters are saying and doing exactly what you’d expect characters would say and do in this situation. The magic is gone because it feels like a path you’ve been on before, like that last mile or two before you arrive home, the stretch of road that’s so familiar it becomes backdrop.
I ask myself, “How can I surprise the reader? What aren’t they expecting? How can I introduce a roadblock in this route that they think they already know?”
If you’re an outliner, this is going to feel uncomfortable. This might screw up all your carefully wrought plans. But it could just introduce an entirely new element to your story that adds depth and tension to the scenes you already have mentally plotted out.
Think about the novels you’ve read and the scenes that caught you so off guard that you couldn’t believe that the author did that. George R.R Martin’s Song of Fire and Ice series excels at this and drives the story forward masterfully because you saw exactly where the story was going… But you were wrong.
You remember those times when you were reading and something in the story made you gasp? Those surprises, that masterful slight of hand, is what your reader is going to remember when they close the book and long for your next story.
Challenge yourself. What is the reader expecting? Now how can you screw up their assumptions?
Start with your troubled scene. Now think, What if…
Brian Mercer is the author of Mastering Astral Projection: 90-Day Guide to Out-of-body Experience (Llewellyn, 2004) and the Mastering Astral Projection CD Companion (Llewellyn, 2007). A board member of the Pacific Northwest Writers Association, he is the webmaster of and occasional contributor to Author Magazine. When he’s not working as a programmer analyst or exploring alternate dimensions out of body, he can be found writing novels. He lives in Seattle with his wife, Sara.