Most Common Writing Mistakes: Is Nothin’ Happening in Your Scene?
What happens next? is the question we all want to inspire (in breathless tones) from our readers. But in order for something to happen next, something has to happen to begin with. At first glance, that one’s a no-brainer, but it’s actually ridiculously easy to write scene after scene in which one big fat stinking hunk of nothin’ happens. In fact, it’s possible to write an entire novel in which nothing happens—although significantly less possible to get said novel published.
Let’s take a look-see at some of the signs your scene may be more of the nothin’ sort than the happenin’ sort.
1. The Daily Routine Scene
Occasionally, detailed descriptions of a character’s daily routine can be both interesting and edifying, but, too often, this is just a stalling technique on the part of an author who is still getting to know the character himself and/or doesn’t yet know what’s supposed to happen next.
2. The Backstory Scene
Backstory is a crucial part of any novel, but it has to be wielded skillfully so it shares information only when and as it becomes necessary. A scene of backstory, explaining your character’s job history as he arrives at his current workplace, is probably not only unnecessary, but also a sign that not much is hopping at the current workplace.
3. The Chitchat Scene
Dialogue is often one of the most energetic, conflict-heavy, plot-progressing elements of any story, but it
only works if it actually progresses the plot. Two characters sitting around passing the time of day and exchanging those niceties are that are boring enough in real life, never mind fiction, should inspire a magnetic pull between the author’s forefinger and the delete button.
4. The Too-Much Description Scene
Description is a good thing—a very, very good thing—since the author’s description of his characters and settings are the only medium through which readers can view and interpret the story. But too much of a good thing is still too much. A scene that focuses primarily on description is a scene in which you can almost guarantee not much is happening.
5. The Pointless Monologue Scene
The character’s extended thoughts, told via narrative, must always have a point, must always drive the plot forward. If all your character is doing is musing about the fact that she really should replace her chipped nail polish or that his latest customer is the 113th person in a row to order a chai latte—it’s probably a sign that not much is happening in this scene.
6. The Been-There-Done-That Scene
Repetitive scenes are easy traps to fall into, especially since authors often forget what they’ve already written and what they haven’t. But once you’ve established your character’s modus operandi as a safe-cracker, you don’t need to go over it again, in detail, in a subsequent scene.
7. The “Just Killing Time” Scene
“Sequel” scenes, in which characters take a breather from the nonstop action, are a vital part of pacing. But it’s just as vital that these scenes move the plot forward. Don’t let your characters sit around rehashing their tough day or staring at the cracks in the ceiling. Make sure their actions and dialogue continue to move the plot forward.
If you can keep something happening in all your scenes, you’re sure to keep readers glued to every single page!