Monday, March 29, 2010

Scene Structure Part VIII – How To Make Scenes Boring

Part of an ongoing series on Scene Structure.



How To Make Scenes Boring

medicine_eatstation_eating-702002 I think it’s time to use some reverse psychology on you guys. Instead of explaining how to tighten up your scenes, I’m going to go into detailed examples how how to suck the life out of them. If any of these techniques sound familiar, you might want to consider livening up your scenes.

  • Lower the Stakes. What does the outcome of the scene mean to the character? Make sure everything is resolved right away. Don’t make things difficult or challenging. Make sure magic Fae drop in and deliver problem-solving wands and make the bad guys go bye-bye. Life-and-death struggles are a bit too exciting for modern readers. If something’s important to the character, just give it to him right away. Drawing these things out could lead to appearances on Oprah or Pulitzer Prizes, and no one wants that.
  • Remove Conflict. Conflict is defined as a character’s Goals meeting Obstacles. Are there any annoying obstacles? Or, why even have goals for that matter? Make sure you don’t throw any monkey wrenches in there. Scenes should be as exciting as filling out a tax return…as an experienced accountant with years of service. Your characters should go with the flow, floating as gently as a dandelion seed in the wind, no cares or worries, nothing that makes him want to scream at every turn of the page.
  • Remove Tension. Is there doubt as to the outcome? Should the reader even care about the outcome? Does the reader know anything the characters don’t? Do you lead the reader in the wrong direction? Shame on you. Everything should be nice and predictable, as clear as crystal. Don’t ever confound your readers, they might not have the brain capacity for that. Those morons can’t figure anything out for themselves, so make sure everything is lined up for them without a hint of confusion or misdirection.
  • Write with Ponderosity. Yes, I just said, “ponderosity.” Look it up. Instead of saying, “she was drinking coffee,” you could say, “she was sipping a double mochachina latte espresso with whip and sprinkles while texting on her phone and examining her nails.” Explain everything to the Nth detail, just in case your readers missed something. Who cares if the details add nothing to the story? Don’t forget to mention how exactly the espresso was prepared, and the entire life story of the barista. The more words, the better, especially if they are obscure words no one has heard of before.
  • ¡Viva la Backstory! Readers must know everything about every character, no matter how minor or trivial. Did you research the entire lifecycle of the glowworm? Throw it in there! No information is too random to exclude. Especially in the first few chapters, you must set everything up carefully so the reader doesn’t experience the least bit of confusion (or interest). What happened in the last 6000 years of Elfin History, year by year? Enquiring Minds want to (not) know! Throw it in there, you have the room. No need to interrupt backstory with any kind of action, that would distract the reader from your detailed expositional essay.
  • Random Scenes Rule!   Need a break from your zombie apocalyptic epic? What about a scene covering the care of tulips? Do your characters travel a lot? Include a scene about every ride they take, and every conversation during those long, exhausting journeys. How were those dance lessons? Did they help ameliorate the slave trade in Eastern Europe? I definitely want to hear your character obsessing over her birthmark while delivering a child. It all makes total (non)sense!
  • Maintain Status Quo. Your character has wrestled with the question of how to ask a girl out all night…and he’s no closer come morning. Kewl. Now let’s hear every detail about that inner dialog, for days on end. Still no decision? Great! How about a conversation with him mom that gets nowhere? How was his dinner? Fine? Alright! We’re totally getting nowhere! Send the bad guys out on vacation so they don’t bother him during his month-long introspection. Have his mom cook dinner so he can’t be bothered. The End. Awesome!
  • Keep It Simple.  Are there any new elements? New props? New settings? New characters? If if there is, get rid of them. The characters shouldn’t be burdened with learning anything new. Pretty much the whole book should be an extension of the first scene. In fact, just write that first scene over and over again, and soon you’ll have a whole novel! Creativity is way overrated. No one likes a smarty-pants writer with a complicated world that the characters must learn to navigate at their own peril. Keep your characters safe at home.
  • Don’t Let Anything Happen. Heavens forfend if the character actually does something to change his situation. Kill those activities! TV watching is the best way. Maybe have him play a video game no one has heard of or cares about. Bad guy bothering him? Relocate to the closet and let him play cellphone games. How could that be less exciting! Fighting bad guys is for the cops, not your character. Problem-solving is for brainiac eggheads, not your timid mama’s-boy.

I hope that’s helped you figure out how to take all the life out of a scene. Let me know if you have any other effective methods.



  1. Hey, where'd you get that picture of me? That's what I look like when I think too hard! Thanks for lightening the load on us writers for the day. Maybe I'll be able to stay up past 8:30 tonight after lowering the stakes and all!

  2. That was a funny tongue in cheek write-up. Nice way to learn. Thanks for sharing.

  3. How about: slow everything down and spread the story as thinly as possible, going over and over each point to make sure the dimmest reader has understood. Spend a considerable amount of time trying to get out of a certain French art gallery, despite it being imperative that you do it as fast as possible.
    Great post!

  4. This is great. I lol'd on the coffee bit.

  5. Be sure to mention every little thing that happens every single minute. I don't know if that's in your post because i was getting confused. I kept thinking these are things I should consider doing to my story. I confuse easily.

    Good post, though

  6. @cat: Yeah, stakes are for vampires.

    @Myne: Thanks!

    @DWC: That's a great example. Readers are so dumb!

    @Alicia: Kewl

    @EMK: Yes, blow-by-blow descriptions of hair-combing are very vogue nowadays. Go for it!

  7. Awesome - I love the reverse psychology approach! Fabulous post and very informative ;o)

  8. Great! Fabulous tips. :) I think I'll have my MC stare at the wall now...

  9. I love the idea of what NOT to do as a writer! Your post made me laugh. And thank you for teaching me ponderosity. It's my new favorite word and I'll avoid employing it in my manuscripts at all costs.


Constructive comments are welcome.
OpenID Required.