How To Resuscitate A Lifeless Scene

How To Resuscitate A Lifeless Scene


Sometimes, we seem to have covered the basics when we write a scene. We have a character with a scene goal, there is conflict, and there is a reversal, or a disaster, at the end. We’ve also included dialogue, body language, and action. And yet, there is still something missing. It should work, but it doesn’t.

[Suggested reading: Everything You Need To Know About Scenes And Sequels]

What lies beneath?

A simple way to fix this is to go beyond the goal of the scene and to look at the character’s underlying intention or motivation in that scene. In other words, ‘Why are they doing this?’

Example: Gavin, a top model, meets his new agent, Fred, for drinks. His scene goal is to get to know the man better and to tell him he wants to make more money. They end up talking, finding out more about each other, and maybe disagreeing about things.

If the scene falls flat, it could be because we don’t know why Gavin’s doing this. Maybe, it’s time to delve a little deeper into his psyche. Remember that most people have an agenda for everything. We play games to show our strengths and hide our weaknesses, and most of your
characters will do this too.

How To Resuscitate A Lifeless Scene

Brainstorm 5-10 reasons that are motivating him and choose the strongest one. Then rewrite the scene with this motivation underlying the interaction. Using our example, Gavin could want:

  1. To seduce him
  2. To control him
  3. To impress him
  4. To find out how much he knows about his past
  5. To confess something
  6. To test him
  7. To manipulate him
  8. To find out if he is hiding something
  9. To see if he is tough enough

This sub-text will give you the tension you need. You will be able to underscore what he wants with why he wants it. Your choice of words, your descriptions, their body language, and their conversation will be more layered as a result.

Writing Tip: If you can’t find a motivation, you probably don’t need the scene in your book.

Face the fear

Most of us are driven by fear. We fear pain, death, losing a loved one, disease, injury, failure, not being accepted, not being loved, missing an opportunity, not having enough money, not being liked, and the list goes on. If we are feeling sad, depressed, insecure, angry, judgemental, we are driven by fear.

One of the best ways to get your characters to grow in a story is to get them to love themselves, and accept themselves for who they are. If Gavin finds out what motivates his behaviour, he may overcome his fears and stop doing it.

Writing Tip: This exercise will also show you what drives your characters.

[Suggested reading: 17 Screenwriting Scenes You Should Use In Your Novel]

Top Tip: If you want to learn how to write a book, join our Writers Write course in Johannesburg or sign up for our online course.