Investing in the roadblock

A recent tweet from an author reminded me of a far too common roadblock: the ever unfinished scene.

Now and again a scene simply refuses to work. It is a great idea, it certainly appears to move the plot forward or develop the characters, it’s fun to write, and it’s got robotic monkeys in it, but no matter how much we try to beat it into submission, it is never quite right.

I have had several of these scenes in Persistent Spirit. After a brief skip through my revisions and notes on them, I have come some conclusions

They were contrived

Like Mike Harding’s Fourteen Pound Budgie, we give these scenes the Vaseline and brick hammer approach to creating a segue between two plot points.

Tip: re-tune what came before and what follows.


The more time you spend revising the scene, the more apparent investment you feel you are sacrificing by deleting it. It’s too easy to see the time spent revising as adding value, despite never achieving the desired result.

Tip: just like in poker, recognise when to fold and cut your (time) losses – your book is more important than this scene.

It’s telling you something

In every case where I have experienced these stubborn scenes, I have ended up deleting them. I know recognise the malady as a clear indication that the scene is simply not necessary.

Tip: listen to your instincts.

It’s critical to the story

That’s right, like that lucky pair of underpants is critical to you choosing next week’s Lotto numbers: no, it’s not. That’s clouded judgement, superstition, denial – likely fuelled on the time investment you’ve already spent revising that scene.

Tip: if your entire book rests on one scene, you have a short story, not a novel.


So far, each time I find myself here, I eventually end up deleting the scene altogether. Deletion forces you to rethink and rework what is around the roadblock and in my experience has only improved the end result.

Great, thanks, but I absolutely know this scene is absolutely, totally, in every way vital

That’s usually my response I offer myself when I stumble over one of these scenes and am too stubborn to hear my own experience screaming at me. The answer is simple:

No, it’s not.

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