Scenes are what make up a novel. Not only do we need enough scenes to push the plot and get our beloved characters down their path, but we also need enough scenes to create a word count so our writing can turn into a novel. But the trick is weaving quality scenes without simply writing to fulfill our desired word count. So how can you accomplish this?
During critiques, every writer--and I mean EVERY writer--has encountered the heart stabbing words: “nothing is going on in this scene” or “this doesn’t advance the plot” or “your characters have already been there done that.” Feedback like this are red flags that you have spun repetitive scenes in our story.
Don’t worry, it happens to the best of us. As writers, we are so close to our stories it can be difficult to spot information we’ve already expressed. Allowing this to happen once or twice isn’t a big deal, but the more you let this slide, the more frustrated and agitated your audience will grow due to the lack of advancement with the plot.
With that being stated, I’d like to pivot to where repetition is welcomed. Thematic motifs, which are motifs that highlight, reveal, and develop a work’s theme, require repetition for a story’s theme to take shape. For instance, if you’re writing a novel about a princess trying to evade an arranged marriage with an evil prince, she will undoubtedly have repeated scenes of hiding from her captors.
But what is not okay is plot-oriented repetition.
In every scene something must change, either to the character or the plot itself. Every. Single. Time. If it doesn’t, then it’s time to rethink your scene to advance the story.
Here are 5 questions to ask yourself when identifying if your repeated scene is a thematic motif or plot-oriented repetition:
1. Has your character moved closer to achieving their goal? If you discover your character isn’t getting closer to what they want, then examine how you can rewrite the scene to get them back on the right path.
2. Are your character’s obstacles evolving and presenting new information? If your character is repeatedly facing the same or similar variation of an obstacle in every scene, you’ll want to rethink the purpose of that scene. For instance, in the case of our princess, in every scene she will be working to escape her fate, but she must do it in different ways that bring new light that adds to the story, and her one step closer to freedom.
3. Does each scene bring variety to the story? Yes, we all love our epic fight scenes and spine-tingling make-out sessions, but if every scene has your characters duking it out or locking lips, then the lack of variety may wear on readers. Remember, contrast breads variety. And variety creates a happy reader.
4. Do your scenes happen in the same place? I’m not referring to changing the town in every scene, but if every chapter takes place in a high school classroom, consider changing it up. For instance, have conversations take place in a car or the park or a nearby shopping mall—as long as they are not random and make sense within the story. Mixing it up can present new opportunities for your characters to grow.
5. Do your characters mingle with each other in different ways? If not, shuffle your supporting characters around to allow different combinations of characters to be present in a variety of scenes. By doing so, not only will you help change up the scene, but it should also help bring to light the motives, desires, and goals of each cast member. A conversation between your protagonist, mother, and a family psychiatrist will be different between your protagonist, boyfriend, and a cop!
Now, get out there and shred some rubber, word players! Time to #CreateYourEpic!