So you've been writing along, feeling the thrill of creating an awesome scene, and when you take a break to re-read, the scene feels flat. Limp. But you're a pro, so you know this is probably just because you're too close to it now, so you let it go and decide to come back later. Maybe you keep writing, maybe you go read a great book or do some research to reset your brain. But when you come back, it still sounds lifeless. Whatever scene it is, it's one you need to really grip your readers and land that blow, but it's just sitting there, and you know in your gut you didn't deliver the punch you wanted to.
that feeling. If you can sense that, you have fantastic instincts.
That's your writer's brain trying to get your attention, saying "Hey-
we've got a problem."
A flat scene is one that's not getting up
off the page. It's just sitting there. It's not alive, it's not
true-to-life in some element. We're seeing it through a character's
eyes, but somehow that character's experience isn't hitting us. And it
A character's experience breaks down into 5 separate things, and if the experience isn't translating to the reader, then you're almost certainly missing one of them. When your writing feels flat, chances are you're missing one or more of these five things.
In 1st and 3rd person where we're very close to the character, a
character's thought is often also exposition. For punchy scenes, blend
them better. Use the character's voice to phrase things, don't use too
much exposition, use thoughts that heighten the tension. Make as much of
the exposition thought from the character as you can-- this tightens
the psychic distance (the distance from the readers to the character's
mind) and gets us right in the middle of things.
This one often gets the same treatment that dialogue does-- way too
much or none at all. The most impacting use of emotion is usually brief
and powerful. We don't need long, winding paragraphs that drown us in
grief or loneliness. By the time the reader finishes those, the action
has paused for so long we're looking around for something to happen and
we've lost interest. Basically, we don't care. Keep it brief, make it
deep, move on. But keep it going, too. Come back to how all these
actions and dialogue and sensations and thoughts are affecting your
character emotionally. We get worn thin. Old wounds get opened up. We
become desperate. Sometimes we've just had it. Keep the emotional
progression of your character advancing; don't let what they're feeling
sit there. Make it go somewhere.
Check through your scene to see if you're
missing any of those. Use highlighters if you want, and color each one
of the five a different color in your scene. Or use colored pencils and underline them. See what dominates. See
what's missing or needs boosted. See if any moment carries more than