When a Scene Isn't Working

This article that I wrote originally appeared on Suite101.

When a Scene Isn't Working

Tips For Overcoming Writer's Block

Here are three questions to ask when a particular scene seems stalled.

Whether you believe in "writer's block" or not, there are always times when a writer gets stuck on a particular scene. It can almost feel like hitting your head against a brick wall.

Many times, the writer's unconscious instinctively recognizes when there's something wrong with the scene. While not all scenes have the same problems, there are three questions a writer can ask himself that might help jump-start the writing flow.

What Is the Character's Scene Goal?

The character should walk into the scene hoping to accomplish something by the end of the scene. This is his Scene Goal. He may or may not achieve it—in fact, more often than not, he doesn't succeed—but he has this purpose in mind at the start.

Also, the character should pursue this goal for the majority of the scene. Once the goal is finished, the scene loses its tension—and the reader's interest. And possibly the writer's interest, too, which may be why you can't move forward in writing the rest of the scene.

Having a Scene Goal helps focus the character for the scene so that he—and the scene—are not aimless or meandering.

A writer experiencing writer's block should look at the scene and make sure the character has a strong Scene Goal. If he has a Scene Goal, does he pursue it for the entire scene, or is the goal finished by the middle? Make sure the character has a strong Scene Goal he pursues for the entire scene.

What Can Be Changed?

Can something in the scene be changed or switched around to make the scene more dynamic or dramatic? Maybe you're hung up on the scene because something intuitive is telling you that something needs altering.

Can you change the setting or time? From indoors to outdoors, from night to day?
Can you alter the cast of characters in the scene? Remove or add people?
Can you change the character's Scene Goal?
Can you change or add information presented to the character? Maybe eliminate or add more clues to the mystery?
Can you alter the nature of the conflict or obstacles against the character? Maybe there isn't enough conflict against the character's Scene Goal.
Can you change the ending of the scene or perhaps the ending of the scene before this one?

One handy piece of advice is to see what you can do to make things worse for your character. It will not only perk up reader interest, it might suggest to you new directions for the story.

What's the Character's Reaction to Conflict and Change?

Going a step further from just adding conflict and change to the story, show the character's emotional and physical reactions to that conflict and change.

Emotional reactions draw the reader deeper into the character's personality and also make the reader more invested in the character. Also, the character's reaction may take the story in a new, unexpected direction.

While these three questions to ask may not solve all cases of writer's block, it might spark new directions for your story or your character that may get you over that hump. Keep writing—perseverance always wins over writer's block.


  1. I just got over a BLOCKED scene this weekend. I am going to copy down this advice. It looks great. Thanks Camy. :)

  2. You're welcome, Robyn! I'm glad this article was helpful to you!


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