How to Liven Up Dull Scenes
I think we’ve all had the experience during drafting where you get to a scene that you just don’t. want. to write. You know the scene needs to be written to move your plot along, but you just can’t seem to muster the enthusiasm to write it. (And granted, sometimes you really don’t need the scene! But that’s a situation for a different post).
So, how do you overcome this? One way is to just grit your teeth and mash out the scene as best you can and then move on. Or skip the scene altogether and come back to it. Both of these are perfectly fine methods, but in both cases, you do eventually have to write the scene. And it’s very hard to write a scene when you’re bored by it. And if you’re bored by a scene, chances are, your readers will be, too.
My first step when this happens to me is to sit down and really think about why the scene is boring me. Usually, it falls into one of these main categories:
The scene lacks tension
This is the number one reason a scene falls flat. All scenes, even the quiet ones, need tension. Tension doesn’t have to be huge blowout arguments between your characters or dire life-or-death situations. Tension can be subtle. It can also be internal. If you’re writing an expository scene, think about how this information affects your characters (and perhaps it affects each character in different ways–a perfect source of tension). If it’s a more action-based scene, make sure whatever’s happening has stakes, and that those stakes are rooted in your characters’ emotions and motivations.
The setting isn’t adding anything
This is a trick I picked up once while frantically rewriting the third act of my book for the second time, and I was surprised by how rarely it fails me. Sometimes a scene that feels boring to me just needs a simple change of scenery. This is particularly true of dialog-heavy scenes. You can add layers to any conversation by putting it in a more specific and more interesting setting. Is the conversation secretive, but the characters are stuck in a public place? Do these characters share a past, and do their surroundings remind them of that past? What sort of things can be seen/heard/smelled/touched around the characters that can add texture, tension, and depth to the scene? A cool, unique, or moody setting can be just the thing to kickstart a dragging scene.
The scene doesn’t ‘turn’
My favorite scenes to write are the ones that I feel will surprise readers in some way. It doesn’t have to be a huge, jaw-dropping twist, but I try to write every scene so that there is some small surprise. Sometimes, it’s a character making an unexpected choice. Other times, it can be a sudden shift in tone–a quiet, intimate moment getting interrupted by mayhem, or an action sequence laced with romantic tension. Or it can be a piece of information that changes the reader’s perception. Often times I find when I feel bored by a scene, it’s because I’m trying to just write a straight line toward a particular plotpoint. When that happens, I try to see if I can ‘turn’ the scene somehow, and make whatever’s happening happen in a more interesting and surprising way.
If you’re still finding yourself bored by the prospect of slogging through your next scene, then my best advice is to pause, take a step back, and return to the things you love about this book. The crackling romance filled with all your favorite tropes. The cool and unique worldbuilding. The smart/funny/fierce/fabulous protagonist. That one side character who just pops off the page. Chances are, one of those things can be threaded into the scene you’re struggling with, and may be just what you need to take a dull scene and make it shine.
(For more advice on what to do when you’re stuck on a scene, I highly recommend this post by Susan Dennard).
Do you have any tips or tricks to get yourself excited about a scene?