On Writing: Accomplish Your Scene Goal and Get Out

I’ve been on a hiatus from my apocalyptic novel, but now that I’m back, I have no more idea of how to write my current scene than I did a month ago when I abandoned Chip, my hero. After Chip hiked through his changed neighborhood, encountering one horror after another, he rescued a pit-bull from a raging river. He met the dog’s owner, talked to him for a few minutes. And that’s where I left him.

I’d been looking forward to that particular scene, thinking it would be easy to write because I would have two characters to work with. I worried about Chip spending too much time alone, but some of those solitary scenes turned out quite well. The changing environment, a defunct plumbing system, and a few of out-of-place and out-of-time creatures gave Chip plenty of conflict. Maybe too much conflict. By comparison, the scene with his mentor (the dog’s owner) is flat. It was supposed to be a high point, but it’s going nowhere.

In the mythic journey scenario, mentors help prepare the hero to face the unknown. They give the hero gifts, which the hero must earn. (Chip earned his gift by rescuing the mentor’s dog.) Mentors act as a conscience for the hero, though sometimes the hero rebels against the nagging conscience. Mentors motivate. And they plant information that will become important during the climactic moment. You’d think, with all that to work with, the scene would just burst out, fully formed. But it’s not happening, which is why I’m sitting here at the computer blogging instead of writing.

Maybe I need to think of something else to give the scene spice. Maybe Chip doesn’t like the mentor, or maybe he doesn’t like the advice the mentor gives him. And maybe I need to rethink the dialogue.

Despite all the writing books that say you need short bits of dialogue, if there’s nothing to be gained by all that back and forthing, it’s better to string one character’s dialogue into a longer speech rather than have the conversation come out sounding like an interview. And if there’s no way to make a scene more interesting, it should be cut to its essentials. Accomplish the scene goal, and get out. In this case, there’s no reason to prolong the meeting with the mentor since Chip will never see him again.

And maybe I should stop over thinking the scene and just write something, anything, to get me back in the habit of writing. If it doesn’t work, I can always fix it during the rewrite.

3 Responses to “On Writing: Accomplish Your Scene Goal and Get Out”

  1. Suzanne Francis Says:

    I always have trouble writing for new characters, until I get to “know” them. I think your problem is assigning so much import to what you consider a “throwaway” character that Chip isn’t going to meet again. I am not saying he shouldn’t be Chip’s mentor, only that if he is then you need to spend time fleshing out his character. Don’t cut and run from the scene–give it a whole chapter. Have them take a walk together, or face a problem in which they must cooperate. Even if you want him to remain mysterious you can give him a face and clothes and an accent and mannerisms and…

  2. Mom Says:

    Maybe your problem is that you left the previous scene without a problem to address.

    Always end a scene with “yes, but” or “oh,no.” Then you know where to go next.

    Make the rescue of the dog set off another dilemma — the dog won’t stay with its original owner or the hero sees that the dog is being mistreated or the dog telepathically tells the hero that he is headed for danger or the owner asks the hero to take the dog with him since he can’t care for him. Never end a scene without a new problem.

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      Good point. I don’t remember how I ended that scene. It was the middle of a chapter, and by the end of the chapter, he’d encountered a rattlesnake, tripped over a volcano, and almost died of thirst. This book has been sitting around doing nothing for a long time, but you’ve made me interested in revisiting it. Thank you.

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