Using amnesia in your story can lead to a contrived plot. Without proper preparation, readers will be left annoyed and confused. Don’t fall into this trap. Follow these simple tips
Why adding a scene to fix a problem usually doesn’t
Adding material to your manuscript to solve a problem? The magic fix-it scene rarely works. While these scenes are intended to solve a specific problem, they often cause a host of other issues. But there is a better way.
The origin of the magic fix-it scene
“My critique partner said” has now become my most hated phrase. This little collection of words is used to justify the most disastrous decision a writer could ever make: adding a useless scene.
Useless scenes come in many forms:
Vignettes into a character’s life (My CP said I my characters are underdeveloped)
A peek at the villain, (My CP said she didn’t understand my villain’s motivation)
Rambling world-building (My CP said she didn’t understand something about my world)
These are only a few examples. If you are getting these comments, tossing in an extra scene will only create more problems.
This new scene will not be grounded in the plot. If you have a logical progression of scene and sequel through your entire book, adding a random scene will interrupt the flow breaking the cause-and-effect chain. Your new scene will likely not further the plot. It will only serve as a ground for info-dumping on the reader.
Why is this info-dumping?
Any time you stop the story to explain something, you risk info-dumping on your readers. This includes any long excerpts (more than a paragraph) detailing something that isn’t happening that moment: personal backstory, history, magic explanation, setting, etc. If in doubt, use the telling test “If this were a movie, could I see it on the screen?” If the answer is “no” then you are telling. Long episodes of telling is an info-dump.
What about so-called “character moments?”
Writers like to use this word to describe scenes that do nothing except show the character having emotions. The problem with these scenes is: they do nothing except show the character having emotions. In other words, they don’t contribute to the overall story. They are not part of the cause-and-effect chain that moves the character through the plot.
Good character-building scenes affect the plot
In A Torch Against the Night by Sabaa Tahir, the scenes between Laia and Keenan are part of a larger plot point. These scenes are designed, not just to show the two of them together, but instead have a cause-and-effect relationship that leads to Laia giving Keenan her armlet. This gift has huge implications for the plot (I won’t spoil it, but I was stunned.)
In The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, the scenes between Katniss and Peeta do more than show Katniss’s softer side. They change how she behaves. You can see the effect of her experiences shaping how she perceives the games and ultimately her reactions to the games.
Any character-building scenes need to affect the plot, otherwise, your readers will be left wondering, “Where is this going?”
What to do instead:
Rather than just inserting a scene that doesn’t fit your cause and effect chain, go back and improve the scenes you already have.
If your characterization is thin, write more personality in their reactions. Fill out your MRU’s (If you need a refresher, click here.) with more internal dialogue or thoughts. Show them struggling with an already existing decision or having regrets, and don’t put in anything that doesn’t have consequences. Every interaction your characters have shows their characterization. You cannot fix a thin character by adding a single scene. You must make sure your characterization is present through the entire novel in every interaction.
Likewise, adding large chunks of description to create more setting is only going to slow the pacing. Go back through your scenes and look for places where your characters are being affected by their setting or interacting with their setting. Look for places where the setting mirrors a character’s emotional state or juxtaposes it in a way that emphasizes it. Lastly, use short setting descriptions in transitions between scenes to ground your readers in a new environment. When you write setting, look for small pieces that draw a larger picture: a screen door slams, sun catching the drips from an icicle, the smell of exhaust and hot vinyl.
World-building is a major hurdle for many writers. Too often they fall to the temptation to explain everything in one long essay. Editors (myself included) tend to treat these long-winded explanations with the delete button. Unfortunately, authors forget to add this information back into their novels in the appropriate place. World-building must be done by showing how the character’s world affects them. Show how the world is a source of conflict for the character:
None of these examples require a long explanation about how the society reached this point. The reader only needs to know how the world is affecting the character at that moment. If you are doing this correctly, the reader should need no more than a few sentences of explanation which can easily be slipped into the MRU.
There’s no such thing as a magic fix-it scene. Work to improve your existing scenes by adding information where its important to the character, not the reader. Make sure every piece of information you add to your story has consequences for the characters. Feedback from critique partners can help you improve your entire novel, and the entire novel cannot be fixed with a single scene.
Time for The Falling Action
Too many writers rush through the falling action. Give your character a moment to process what has just happened. The main battle may be over, but there is still plenty to do.
What is the Falling Action?
The falling action is the effect of the climax. Whatever choice was made in the climactic action, this is the effect. Luke fired the Proton torpedoes, now he must escape before the Death Star blows up.
Frequently falling action involves escaping the evil fortress, which is always either ready to explode or inexplicable falling apart, while picking up lost companions along the way. But there are plenty of other possibilities. Don’t limit yourself.
In Inside Out the falling action is the scene where Riley exits the bus and reunites with her parents. This is the direct result of the climactic action. (Sadness taking control of the panel.) We see Riley form a new core memory and family island remerges in its improved version.
In the Lego Movie, Lord Business puts the Piece of Resistance on the Kragle causing the explosion that stops the micromanagers.
Don’t summarize the aftermath. By falling into exposition and telling, you cheat your readers out of a real ending. Stay with your main character.
The Falling Action must:
- Be directly caused by the choice/action in the climactic scene. The relationship must be obvious. This is not the time to add a bizarre twist or introduce some new drama.
- Answer all questions raised in the climactic scene.
- All character should be accounted for. If someone is injured, make sure the reader knows what happened to him. No one gets left behind. And nothing is more annoying than an unnecessary cliffhanger
- Feel like a complete scene. Watch out for long paragraphs of exposition and telling. Show your character working through the next few moments.
Don’t rush through the falling action. Give the reader a chance to see the results of the hero’s quest. The story is nearly over. Time to finish strong.
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The First Victory?
In the final battle part 1, the hero will appear to win, but the victory isn’t complete. Final battles are often in five basic stages.
- first wave
- second push
These are usually interpreted in 2 variations
A single goal, multiple attacks
- Hero experiences an apparent victory
- He villain “resurrects” or pushes back
- The second attack
We see this in the Lego Movie and the Lego Batman Movie. Emmet comes back from the basement and his goal is to stop the Kragle. We also see evidence that Emmet has completed his character arc because he is now a master builder.
In the Lego Batman Movie, we also see evidence of Batman’s character transformation. He is now working as part of a team.
Multiple Goal Variation
In this version, the hero must achieve two or more distinct objectives before final victory is possible.
- Hero achieves the first goal
- Antagonistic forces push back
- Hero begins second, more difficult battle
We see this version in Inside Out. Joy must first get Sadness back to headquarters before they can start the bigger battle of saving Riley.
There are other possibilities, but these two are the most common. Why? These are more likely to produce a satisfactory ending.
- only 1 obstacle=victory is too easy
- Too many obstacles=becomes tedious to the reader.
What to do
- Decide which path your hero will take to victory and map out your steps.
- Review your research before you begin your battle scene.
For more tips on writing actions scenes click here
- While things are exploding, don’t forget about your character arc. Find a way for your character to demonstrate his new knowledge.
Today is only the beginning of the final battle.
The fight has just begun, but your character’s journey is nearly over. Now everything is in place. This time your hero is ready.
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