How to Fix Lackluster Scenes

Fix it dolls

Fix It!

We’ve all written scenes which almost work. Almost, but not quite.

Such scenes are difficult to fix since we can’t easily put our finger on what’s wrong.

The subtext seems to be in place. The dialogue seems to be communicating the plot and revealing character. Yet, something seems amiss. The writing seems too unimaginative, too lackluster.

In one of my recent classes a student presented us with such a scene. She had a strong female character giving instructions, in her high-tech office, to a male employee about some top-secret project. Everything seemed in place, yet the scene seemed stolid, dull. Something was definitely wrong.

My usual remedy in such cases is a series of variations – a change of location, a change of time period, and, in more stubborn cases, a change of character.

Luckily, here, a change of location did the trick. Instead of having the woman instruct her employee in her office, I suggested she does this in a hothouse, while trimming exotic plants. That way each comment could be accentuated by a snip of her pruning clippers. This would immediately add a deeper layer of subtext to the scene.

The student thought about it and ultimately decided to move the scene to an aviary, which worked just as well. It allowed the warm tone of the setting to add an interesting spin to the dialogue.

The result was an inspired scene that ticked all the boxes. Not only did the character’s actions grant an element of irony to the woman’s tough demeanour, the new environment lent an element of visual variety and contrast, too.


Consider changing the location, time-period, or background-action of your characters to pump up stolid, lackluster scenes.


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Image: JD Hancock

2 thoughts on “How to Fix Lackluster Scenes

  1. Elizabeth B.

    Interesting example–what would you say it is about a simple change of setting that can truly change the same content from something dull to something alive? What is it about the way we read that makes that trick work?

    1. Stavros Halvatzis Post author

      Elizabeth, I think the setting creates an interesting tension on so many levels. It works through subtext, creating irony, inflection, mood, not to mention visual and unexpected variety. An inspired setting can enrich and correct so many things in a scene.


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