Scene Writing: Avoid the Situation Room

A writer I once taught was working on a novel about war in the Middle East. The characters were well-drawn and the writer was skilled in writing dialogue. The problem was, instead of actual battles, the scenes were about what the military guys were planning to do. The officers stood around in the “situation room,” moving the little toy tanks and ships on a map. But really, they weren’t doing much except for talking.

Writing Tip for Today: Here’s why it often makes no sense to write (or keep) “situation room” scenes:

Where’s the Tension?

Writing a scene where your character makes plans to do something is difficult to keep taut. Often, it’s a lot of hot air. And if the next scene plays out those plans, what purpose does the previous scene play? The only way to justify a “planning” scene is if you keep your characters at odds. If one character is opposed, you might be able to reveal character and move the story forward with a short scene acting out the objections. But if your “planning” scene is similar to the actual doing scene, my feeling is that it’s better to dramatize the ACTION and save the planning for a brief narrative summary. (EX: I asked him for a date next Saturday. He said yes.)

Don’t Make Readers Suffer.

Sometimes we write scenes where the character suffers from boredom or annoyance or other unpleasantness such as waiting on a long line. If we give a blow by blow account of hearing a baby cry or of standing in line, our readers may be tempted to flee.Don’t be tempted to act out the scene in a way that forces the reader to suffer in the same way. Instead, give the FEELING of these things without actually making readers go through every minute of some awful or repetitive event. The Rule of Three may be handy. After the third mention that the film was long and boring, the reader gets it.

Mine the Action Gold.

Generals love to strategize (blab) in the “situation room,” but readers want ACTION. That is, the reader feels more satisfied with actual events than with lip service to events that may or may not occur. By resisting the urge to write “Situation Room” scenes, you are also Resisting the Urge to Explain (RUE). Write these scenes if you must to tell yourself how the story goes, but upon revisions, omit them and go with scenes where something actually happens and the tension rises.

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About Linda S. Clare

I'm an author, speaker, writing coach and mentor. I teach both fiction and nonfiction writing at Lane Community College and in the doctoral program as expert writing advisor for George Fox University. I love helping writers improve their craft and I'm both an avid reader and writer of stories about those with wounded hearts.

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