Fixing that scene that just doesn’t work


I’m on a writing advice spree, it seems, because my WIP has been fighting me so much lately. My latest issue? A(n absolutely massive and important) scene I rewrote was boring; trying to read it was like trying to find the rainbow in a bowl where you’ve mixed all the food colouring. It was a jumbled mess. There was a lot of information my protagonist was learning, as well as emotions she was cycling through, but all of that was completely lost in my writing. 

(but at least it was written down: check my writer’s block advice if the words aren’t coming!)

So, what did I do?


I wrote down an outline of the scene. There was one bullet point for every single thing that happened (e.g. “this person attacks”), and under each bullet point I wrote down two things:

  1. What (if any) information did my protagonist learn from this thing?
  2. How did my protagonist react to this thing and new information emotionally?

(For extra fun: write down what the person they’re fighting against, or having a conversation with, or whatever, is learning and feeling, too. It helps.)

This forced me to summarise what information I was trying to deliver to the reader concisely as well as think through my protagonist’s eyes (basically, I had to justify every emotional reaction before I could even think of including it in the scene).

With that outline, I now had a list of stuff I had to make sure the reader learned, with the added of bonus that each piece of information had an emotional reaction attached to it. So, that means that even if I got the rewrite wrong again, at least 1) I would be able to deliver my information more efficiently since I could compartmentalise it and 2) it wouldn’t sound like I was rattling off items on a shopping list (because no one cries or screams in agony if they learn they have to buy some string cheese for their mum).


Armed with the four major pieces of information I was trying to deliver to the reader (in the most efficient and least confusing way possible!), I copied the chapter into a separate document and got to highlighting where my protagonist was learning each bit of information:

Well, I thought, that looks a bit jumbled. (And remember, there wasn’t enough emotion there. That’s just highlighting pure information.) My outline had shown me that what I thought were two separate pieces of information could really be delivered as one, so that was my starting point. I started rearranging information; merging points or connecting them in new ways by using the highlighting as a guide.

As I was doing that, I also started working in what my protagonist was feeling. She’s having an internal conflict in this scene, so it was really important to me to show both sides of her conscience where before the scene had sounded quite one-sided. 

The end result: 

As you can see, the green has moved up. Yellow is much more compact. Blue and pink/purple aren’t joined together anymore, instead they’re separated by red. Red = the second side of my protag’s conscience that was missing. 

And look at that! There is new emotion everywhere! Struggle, conflict, angst, where before there was only confusion and characters going through robot-like actions because… reasons!

I’m not saying that this new rewrite has fixed the old scene’s problems. I’m still worried that there is too much of an info dump. I’m worried about the fact that, after my edits, the scene (already long) became nearly 500 words longer.

But hey, it’s a step in the right direction. I feel much better about this scene now and, even if I’m not quite there on communicating ideas to my reader yet, I understand them so much more as a writer!

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