It’s happened to all of us. We get to a certain point in our writing and realize… something just isn’t right. Sometimes, the reason clicks right away; we go back and fix it and forge on. But sometimes, we just can’t put our finger on it. Where is the problem? Why can’t we move forward? Is this writer’s block? Well, put on your stethoscope and lab coat, because it’s time to diagnose a scene. Or maybe the whole shebang.
Solving the puzzle
Chapters can be like Rubik’s cubes. Sometimes, you have to move the pieces around until they jive. Reordering a few chapters or segments with some minor adjustments can do a lot to improve the flow of a story.
More often, I find that reordering events within a chapter can make a huge difference. Look to see if you can trim a few introductory paragraphs that slow things down. Then move the events around a bit, so that tension builds in a continuous upward line, and you’ll end the chapter on a nice page-turner.
Alternatively, work backward! Identify the strongest possible ending to your chapter, and once you’ve moved that over, see how you can reconnect what’s left behind in a way that flows naturally towards that conclusion.
This is one of those things that can often be easier for a fresh pair of eyes. Don’t be afraid to join a critique group and get new input! There are also a ton of resources and advice-givers on the Moms Who Write Patreon.
Trim the fat
Maybe your progression feels slow. Maybe the progression feels just fine, but the scenes lack oomph. That might indicate you have too many chapters in the first place.
Occasionally, several chapters that cover things in a linear fashion can be combined. Do you have a chapter that’s all dialogue, and another that’s all action? Do they use the same characters (or can they)? Try combining those chapters, so that the conversation occurs in the midst of the action.
In the same vein, sometimes we write outlying events that truly must be included, but the segues and connections add unwanted bulk that drags the narrative. Can you scoop out the most important stuff from that and plug it into a scene more directly along the main plotline? Could such events become inward memories or flashbacks? How about reducing it to a conversation piece or indirect reference, adding drama and mystique? Can the characters encounter some kind of object that would prompt the narrator to briefly explain where it came from or what it means?
See how you can creatively include the necessary information. Try not to veer so far off the main events or diverge plot lines. Save anything you cut in a separate file, and if you feel your story has suffered too much from the loss, you can always add pieces back in.
Gain some perspective.
Another great solution when you’re stuck: rewrite a scene in a completely different point of view. Single POV authors, stay with me!
Changing perspectives this way can help us notice emotional impacts or character reactions that we might have overlooked. Sometimes, the scene is just better through a different set of eyes. If not, the entire flow of events may change once you give yourself that insight into the secondary character’s inclinations.
Even if you keep the original point of view in your final work, exercising the alternate point of view can lead to mind-blowing epiphanies for approaching the scene! See what changes when you think about things from that new character’s perspective. Give everyone in the room a motive, and their interactions will take you in highly charged, surprising directions!
Once thus informed, you can still go back and rewrite the original point of view. But you’ll have a far more authentic, intricate dynamic to work with. Just make sure you “show, don’t tell” to maintain the distinction of your POV and make the scene feel extra real.
Taste test the recipe
Have we still not solved the problem? That’s ok. Every story is unique and has its own challenges. Let’s read it again slowly, like the first taste of a new recipe, and analyze it the same way. What’s missing? A dash of spice, a pinch of action? How about a spritz of dialogue? Is there supposed to be a conflict that isn’t coming across quite strong enough?
When in doubt, go crazy!
Maybe the whole bit just feels blah. Perhaps it connects two more important bits or gives valuable information, but it’s a squall in the storm. So… throw something in the water without a life jacket.
Shove another character in there and see what they do. Give an existing character a sudden thought that changes how they behave or perceive. Make someone question what they want. Trip someone on a rock and see who catches them. Interrupt the scene halfway with something planned for the next chapter, and force your characters to react and recalibrate. Decide someone didn’t get enough sleep last night, and write them grumpier.
Sometimes, all you need to do is add a dash of something—almost anything—to produce the tension, humor, or romance that will make the scene engaging. When you can’t seem to diagnose a draft, just freewrite! Have fun with it!
Stop looking for your answers and just wander around. You might be surprised what you stumble upon!
About the Writer: Kathryn Tamburri (@KathrynTamburriAuthor) writes clean YA epic fantasy novels which seethe with slow-burn romance. You can find more of her writing tips on The Devo Blog at KathrynTamburri.com, and learn from her publishing journey by subscribing to her fun author newsletter!
Looking for a book that delves deep into addressing plot, character development, tone, and storytelling as a whole? John Truby’s The Anatomy of Storytelling is a member favorite that helps writers develop a compelling story through the eyes of a screenwriter.
Not a screenwriter? It doesn’t matter! Sometimes, the key to getting rid of writers’ block starts with looking at your story through a different lens. Find some more of our favorite writing craft books here!