The Value of the Unanticipated

This article that I wrote originally appeared on Suite101.

The Value of the Unanticipated

Sprucing Up a Blah Scene

A writer can inject unexpected disaster into an uninspiring scene to take it from boring to brilliant.

Many times, writers themselves know when a scene is lacking. They may have structured it well, conveyed just the right amount of information, and revealed wonderful characterization via clever dialogue.

Yet they'll read the scene they've written and know something is off. While the solution isn't always lack of conflict, many times adding a specific type of conflict can lift a drab scene to one with sparkle.

Add the Unanticipated

A well-structured scene can still be boring if there's not enough conflict, or if the conflict is too predictable.

Dwight Swain is the first writing teacher to publish about Scene and Sequel. In a Scene, the character has a scene goal and obstacles against that goal.

Are your obstacles unique? Or are they predictable?

This is the time to dig deep into your creativity to surprise the reader with conflict that takes them unawares.

A good method is making a list of 20 things that could go wrong in the scene. The first five to seven things in the list will be more cliché ideas, but as you rack your brain to get to number twenty, the ideas will become more unusual and unique.

The more unexpected the conflict, the better.

Make It a Disaster

Don't just make the conflict unanticipated, but also make it cause massive problems for the character.

The end of Swain's Scene usually ends in some sort of "Disaster" that is a literary sucker punch to the scene point of view character.

Is your scene "Disaster" absolutely horrendous? Or does the scene end on only a slight upswing in tension?

People talk melodramatically about "the worst thing that could happen" to them. What's the worst thing(s) that could happen to your character in this scene?

Make them happen to the character.

Do not be a compassionate writer. Make your characters hurt. The pain and conflict and emotion will draw your readers in like a black hole they can't escape from, until the very last page.

Adapt According to the Genre

Obviously, a writer who writes suspense is going to have different types of disasters than a writer who writes women's fiction. You need to adapt the principles in this article to your genre and writing style.

However, within your genre and style, make sure you add conflict that is as unexpected and disastrous as you can make it. Do not be satisfied with anything "moderately bad." Go for your characters' vulnerable spots. Be ruthless.

While people in general like to avoid conflict, it's what makes fiction enthralling for readers. So add conflict and keep your reader riveted to the page.


  1. Dear Camy,

    Did I mention I love you?
    This is the best advice ever.
    Except maybe the one with deep point of view.
    Thank you,

  2. LOL! I'm glad this helped you!


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