Sagging Scenes: How to Know When You Are Killing Your Scenes

This post, by Jean Oram, originally appeared on her The Helpful Writer blog.

Do your scenes suffer from TMI? Are they sagging? Boring? Repeating themselves? In other words, are they slower than molasses in January?

Last week I talked about coming in late and leaving early (scene writing tips & how to write a killer scene) in order to keep your reader hooked and turning those pages from one chapter or scene to the next. But what happens when you have scenes with sagging, drooping middles? How can you identify them and how can you fix them?

How to Know When Your Scene is Sagging

This is tough. As writers we sometimes feel as though every word counts. But often it doesn’t. Often we can pare 100 words out of 1000 without the reader noticing–other than it reading much better. :)

But how can you tell if things are dragging for the reader and your scenes are sagging?

Check for these things in every one of your scenes:

1. Repetition.

You have already said it before. Readers have fairly decent memories. If you’ve explained why your character feels hope whenever she is in a hospital, you don’t need to explain it again. One or two words to remind the reader is sufficient, they will pick up the rest.

2. Description.

This is the easiest way to bog down a scene. For example, say you want to describe a room for your reader and you want them to feel how awful it is. The room feels as though a hoarder lives there and it reeks.

Do you need five paragraphs? No.

Do you need two? I’m going to go with no, again.

One paragraph–no more than 4-5 sentences–should be more than sufficient. You want to highlight the biggest, most impacting aspects of the room to give the reader enough big things that they can fill in the spaces. Why? Because when they fill in the blanks they become invested in the story. It begins to feel as though it belongs to them. They are putting a piece of themselves into it and identifying with it. If you describe every detail, it doesn’t leave them room to go: OMG, that smell–I know that smell! That’s Uncle Eddy–and boom! Suddenly they’ve made that room Uncle Eddy and associate all these memories, and feelings associated with Uncle Eddy into that room. It’s theirs.

3. You’ve already made the point.

Sometimes we really, really, really want to hammer a point home. We want to jab our point right into the reader and then some. Problem is… once the reader has it, the rest becomes something that is only taking away from the story.

In other words, if you have sufficiently shown that the character is angry through their actions, words, and/or narrative… stop. Don’t continue on. Delete the rest. Believe in the power of your words.

Pare it down for the biggest impact. Allow the point to be made on several different levels and with a subtly that will truly resonate with the reader.


Read the rest of the post, which includes four more signs of sagging and tips for dealing with all of these problems, on Jean Oram’s The Helpful Writer.