Lame Scenes

Here’s one of my top ten frustrations with writing: Breaking a story in a manner that results in no lame scenes.

I’m a plotter, not a pantser, and one of the most derided aspects of plotting is that is forces the writer to adhere to a list of beats or scenes. Many seat-of-the-pants writers find the process confining. They want to dive into the jazz-improv of writing. I can’t really blame them, but the danger of improvising a plot is venturing down a path only to ¬†find it leads nowhere. Of course, the danger of plotting is that the path to the destination becomes predictable and lacking in creative spontaneity.

And there are those lame scenes. I must have a super spider-sense for lame scenes. Even when breaking stories with other writers, I’m aware of plot conventions that result on boring or cliche ridden scenes. Either I find the moments illogical or coincidental, or I realize that a certain action will require a lengthy talking scene to explain the motivation for that action. Scenes of people sitting at a table talking are the kiss of death in my estimation…unless there is a bomb under the table. Writer Aaron Sorkin often solves that problem by putting people motion for walk-and-talk scenes, but that is merely putting frosting on the raw cucumber of exposition.

I have a feeling the answer lies in developing all the skill-levels that writers much utilize to create a well-functioning story. One level is the bird’s eye few of a a plot, where the big story turns are sorted out. My guide “The Plot Machine” covers a lot of that God-like perspective. The ground level perspective is the writing itself, where the writer is experiencing the story as it unfolds. This is more about writing than plotting and I’m not sure it can be taught.

But there is a middle level…Middle-Earth?…that lies between the two extremes. This is where the beat is considered, but also how that beat will be ultimately executed. Many pants writers never explore this level. They want to turn on the imagination and start running (or typing). But I suspect this middle level is critical to being productive. In screenwriting this is where beat-sheets and treatments are written. That is simple enough in the film world because films are told in a sequence of pictures and you can create that in a variety of simplified forms apart from a screenplay. Prose writing has a bigger challenge because the voice and perspective the author uses may not be evident until the writing begins, maybe not discovered until the second or third draft. Writers of series have an easier time as subsequent books are usually told in the same voice and POV of the first book.

The strength and weaknesses of that particular voice and POV determine what kind of scenes are going to be really strong and what scenes will be lame. A very internal specific voice will enliven even a talky scene with perspective. An objective voice would struggle with talking scenes, but soar in action scenes. Of course, the more you write, the more tricks you’ll discover to slather frosting over even the lamest of scenes. In my current project, I’ll have to make sure the characters are wearing comfortable shoes. I sense some brisk walking in their future.

 

About Deke

Writer and filmmaker Dale Kutzera is a recipient of the Carl Sautter Screenwriting Award, the Environmental Media Award, and participated in the Warner Brother Writers Workshop. His credits include the TV shows "Strange Frequency" and "Without a Trace" and the independent film "Military Intelligence And You!" He is the author of five novels and the popular "Plot Machine" story-structure guides. He writes about writing and filmmaking at www.DaleKutzera.com.

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