Three Simple Questions to Tackle that ‘Stuck’ Scene

Recently, I gave some advice to a fellow writer and blogger who was stuck on a particular scene in her novel. We’re often prone to random bursts of writer’s block, miniature in size but crippling in nature, where we run into a brick wall at a scene and cannot see a way out.

I’m here today with three simple questions you can ask yourself, in order to tackle the troublesome scene.

To talk broadly, a novel is a collection of scenes stitched together, building a complex mosaic that eventually forms a complete picture. In my experience, scenes should always be about advancing characters toward a milestone.

Your novel will have milestones naturally, whether you use the traditional three-act-structure or if you’re more freely creating your story. There are two major milestone types that I use:

  • The physical milestone: moving your characters from opposite sides of the world/country; bringing your hero and villain together in a conflict; the bad guy destroying a planet; a character dying.
  • The emotional milestone (or non-physical): your love interests finally expressing their feelings; a young agency recruit betraying her government; a son forgiving his father; characters having an argument and splitting apart.

Some scenes will be action or movement scenes – literally moving your characters in your world, and contributing to the physical milestone. This is an excellent time for visual description of the world, for fights/conflicts, etc. Other scenes will be reaction or building scenes, and are perfect for exploring character bonds, backstory reveals, etc. They help with the non-physical milestone.

Now think about your troublesome scene. Ask yourself these questions:

  • Where are my characters now, and how are they positioned in my story?
  • What is the next major milestone (physical or non-physical) that my characters need to reach?
  • How does this scene contribute to getting my characters to that next milestone?

If you can’t answer those three questions, then you need to rethink this scene. You’ll find, very quickly, that the scenes you become stuck on are the ones that aren’t moving your characters toward a milestone – and they should be rewritten entirely, from a completely different angle.

Remember – writing should feel natural. It’s a misconception that writing should be difficult all the time. There are periods that are difficult and frustrating, but scenes should flow naturally, and if they don’t, then stop wasting your valuable writing time. Remove the scene and write a new one that can safely answer those three questions above.

Do you agree with my advice? Has it helped you? Do you have your own tips or tricks to offer? Leave a comment below, and share this post on social media to help other writers!

6 Comments Add yours

  1. Blaise Haddow says:

    I do this sort of implicitly, and it’s nice seeing it in a more explicit form. For every scene card I do, I write on the back what the conflict in that scene is (I believe every scene should have conflict) as well as the purpose of the scene. The purpose, to me, is the justification for the inclusion of the scene, and can include an actual plot progression or a character introduction or revelation (which are, arguably, just subplot progressions). I’m not sure how I would break up more specific milestones in #TheProject off the top of my head, but I’m sure it wouldn’t be tooooooh difficult xD

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    1. Sounds like you’re on the right track Blaise! That’s perfect, and I completely agree with your scene structure – all scenes should be moving characters forward, so you’ve definitely got the right idea. Thanks so much for sharing your own process!

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  2. Ooh, I totally agree!! All scenes should be pointing the characters and the plot forward and getting the book to that climax. I don’t often get stuck with this though??! For some reason?!? XD I get stuck because I can’t CHOOSE between scenes, hehe. (And yes I could just write them both and pick a favourite…I’m lazy. But I need to work on that. :P) But I totally love these tips and I’m so keeping them in mind. Talking yourself (or to someone else!) through a plot stump is really really great too *nods*

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    1. I’m so jealous! I sometimes get stuck, but only when I’m pantsing – which I recently learned is something I simply *cannot* do. Thank you, I’m glad you like my tips – and absolutely, talking through writing with someone else is amazing, and not only did my advice help the other person, but it helped me in turn with my own work!

      Thanks so much for reading!

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  3. LOVE this! Like Cait, though, I don’t usually get stuck! Which is strange considering my lack of plot. But whenever I don’t explicitly know what comes next (not “stuck” exactly) then I close my eyes, crank up the music, and write whatever feels… right.

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    1. That’s amazing if you don’t get stuck with scenes – I think I’m fine as long as I have a good outline or plan; but writing to music *always* helps me! Thanks for reading!

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