Writing the Scene You’ve Been Avoiding

We all have it: that scene the plot is going to demand, or the one that history requires, or the one that really will push your hero to a new place. Sometimes, it’s fun and exciting, the scene we’ve been waiting to get to, that’s been simmering in our brains all along as we work our way toward it.

And, sometimes, it’s not so fun. Sometimes, it’s stressful.

Maybe it’s a romance scene, and you’re not so comfortable putting that stuff on the page. Maybe it’s an anger scene, and it pushed the buttons on your own emotions and self-control. Maybe it targets something from your childhood, maybe even something that’s the reason you’re writing this book–but that doesn’t make it easy. And maybe it’s a matter of putting your character in a place she needs to be, but a place that you, yourself, would never go.

What do you do?

I’m facing one of those scenes this week. For me, it’s one of the ones that history–the history I’m writing about–is making me write. I’ve known all along that I would probably be writing this scene, but I’ve pushed it away. I didn’t touch it during the first draft. It’s actually an okay situation for my hero, who she is, to be in; it is not a situation I would ever choose for myself. It’s a situation different people in my life have told me I perhaps SHOULD have chosen, or be choosing, so there’s a bit of resentment and resistance to add to the complication. The scene has been in the back of my mind, not ever letting itself be completely ignored, pretty much waiting till I got to the point to say, “Fine. Okay. You’re in.”

Or to the point where the story said…”Here.”

I’ve written up to the point where the scene needs to be included. It’s the right time, I think, for my hero to participate. Does that make it easier? Well, actually, yes. Because now the scene has a plot and character purpose; it’s going to do more than just layer in an element of history. And waiting until I got to this point, until the story caught up with the idea, has given me (I think!) a way in. I can see what the scene will do for my character, and how it will complicate her life, instead of mine. I can see her attitude about things, which–yes, has a piece of my attitude, but is most importantly going to be true to her. I think. Waiting…and writing until I was ready, has given me time to get to know my hero and to at least find a point where I can understand and empathize with what she’ll be feeling. And how she’ll be acting.

A point where it won’t be all about me. 🙂

So if you’ve got one of those scenes looming, even in the distance, try not to fret too much. Don’t force yourself to drop it in somewhere just because you know it’s necessary, and don’t spend too much time arguing with yourself about whether to include it at all. Let it sit out there for a while. At some point, I believe, your scene and your story will intersect.

And that’s the time to write it.

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9 thoughts on “Writing the Scene You’ve Been Avoiding

  1. Gerri Lanier says:

    * Thanks for this encouraging post, Becky! As I go on with my historical YA revisions I’ll keep your sound words in mind.

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  2. Thanks for sharing this, Becky. I’ve definitely butted heads with the types of scene you describe, and I know there will be more to come. For me, it was the slave auction scene in my debut novel, All Different Kinds of Free. I think you make a valid point that you can’t force it or rush the process. You have to wait until you know your character and your story well enough to push through the tough scenes.

    I recently interviewed author Jewell Parker Rhodes for a profile in The Writer magazine and she said something that really struck a chord with me. She said, “The things that I know I ought to write about are the things that I’m most scared to write about.” It’s comforting to know that writers at all levels and phases in their career can grapple with the same challenges. Thanks for opening up this topic for discussion!

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    • beckylevine says:

      I think that’s it, Jessica–the things that matter most–whether or not it’s because they’re close to our hearts or something that makes us uncomfortable–those are going to be hard. But important.

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  3. I’ve noticed when I have one of those scenes, I need to step away from the computer often. Sometimes I can only write for ten minutes at a times, go do something ,and then come back to it. Crawling through seems to help me make it to the end.

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