Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Happening Scenes

Today on Straight From Hel and on The Blood-Red Pencil, I’m talking about cutting the mundane out of your writing and making your scenes “happen.”

If you lived through the 70s or have read about the 70s, you know that was a happening time. Lots of things were happening, from free love and open drugs to protests to streaking. Things happened.

You want things to happen in your scenes. Not necessarily free love, drugs, sit-ins and panty raids, but you don’t want your scenes to be mundane or stagnant. Things have to happen to move the story forward, establish character or motivation, hide clues, foreshadow events, create roadblocks for the protagonist … all scenes should have a purpose.

Part of creating scenes with purpose is editing out the mundane.

Let’s say you have a character leaving her house and heading to work. Do we need to see her drive there? Why? What happens? Why do we need to see the actual drive, route, traffic and passing scenery? If none of that actually adds to the story, then why not skip the drive? Or why not put someone in the car with her?

Maybe they discuss something significant to the plot. Maybe she and her husband get into a fight over something stupid and it will have repercussions later in the book. Maybe a panhandler races toward her car at a stoplight, she swerves to miss him or sees his unkempt face and looks away – and later in the book this man or this action is important.

Cut the mundane and make your scenes happen.

I talk more about this and give examples on The Blood-Red Pencil today.

You may notice that I’ve added a “Follow Me” widget to the sidebar of Straight From Hel. If you have a Blogger account, I hope you’ll sign up. If you don’t have a Blogger account, you can still sign up for the RSS feed to be sent to your email address. There’s a button for that, too. Following me makes it easy for you get my posts without having to remember to come by each day. And both include the link to come comment if you’d like.

I’d love to hear from you about making your scenes happen. Have you ever fallen into the trap of writing the mundane? What mundane things have you seen in published work that should have been cut? Tell us about it in the Comments – or ask a question.


  1. Great post and advice. When I was "polishing" my ms for Owen Fiddler, my editor was a real taskmaster on this. I had a fight scene between youngster Owen and his pals and it was just kind of "sitting there" on the page. She insisted I cut out the lazy crap and make the fight HAPPEN. I re-wrote it once and sent it back to her. She was livid with me, replying that I need not keep her on as my editor if I'm gonna "mail in" such lazy perfunctory writing. she said find the hot buttons and PUSH them. Short sentences. Show me action. Make me feel pain, feel the blows. Make my nose bleed and give me stomach cramps.

    Same issue came up with a funeral scene. She said, booooooring. MAKE ME CRY! Find the emotional hot buttons and push the hell out of them.

    She is quite the tough love kind of mentor, as you can read (smile) but I just love her. Learned a lot about writing working with her.

    I learn from you too, Helen. Keep up the great posts!

  2. Marvin, I not only smiled as I read that, I laughed. Don't know who she is, but I love her. Keep her.

  3. Excellent advice! So many writers get fixated on the need to describe every single thing... my favorite to date is 'he kissed her with his lips.'

  4. 'he kissed her with his lips.'

    LOL. That one is funny. Thanks for the laugh!


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