17

I wrote a scene that I put my heart and soul into. It was received well by most of my readers, but I'm struggling with crafting a new scene for a book I'm currently writing. Here's some comments from my beta readers on the first scene in which I was able to captivate my audience:

"OMG I love how you set the mood!" "Love it! The details and it was so graphic, made me feel like I was there. I had to stop reading for a minute because I felt like I was there," "Beautifully written"

I want to be able to do this again in my new book, but I'm finding it so difficult. How can I get back to that place?

27

You can't.

Do you know Psy? As in Gangnam Style? They tried SO HARD to make comebacks. What did they do wrong? Everything they did after that was a rehashing of Gangnam Style. The cinematography, lighting, even the melody sounded so much like Gangnam Style. I actually liked Psy's previous music but everything after Gangnam Style was just a rehash of the same things over and over again.

They ceased to be original.

Unfortunately, you need to let go of your incredible success. Move on. If you discover the secret that made it successful and reuse it, your fans will call you unoriginal. If they wanted that scene over again, they'd reread your book.

Don't try to repeat your successes. Create something new.

"All men can see the tactics whereby I conquer, but what none can see is the strategy out of which victory is evolved. Do not repeat the tactics which have gained you one victory, but let your methods be regulated by the infinite variety of circumstances." -- Art of War

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    This doesn't answer the question. The question is about getting to the psychological place of putting one's heart and soul into a scene. – Cyn says make Monica whole May 31 at 1:13
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    @Cyn I think they are trying to say; "you can't get back to that place by focusing on getting back to that place. It will make you unoriginal", which is a valid answer to the question. – linksassin May 31 at 1:14
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    @linksassin : Is it? It's a valid point, and may be worth saying. But "you can't get back" "by" one method doesn't really answer the question of "How do I/can I"? Saying how you can't doesn't answer how you can. (Although, Caspian's answer was "Create something new", so I think that statement did provide an answer.) – TOOGAM May 31 at 10:12
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    @TOOGAM it's somewhat of a frame challenge but still a valid answer. The fact they support that view makes it quite a good answer actually. Could use an edit to state their opinion more clearly though and not need clarification in a comment. – linksassin May 31 at 12:09
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    Dan Brown writes the same book over and over again. Seems to work for him. – LarsTech May 31 at 21:10
10

You write. If what comes under your fingers is not great, if you're not satisfied, you rewrite. It's easier to find what needs to be improved once you have something, than finding the perfect scene while staring at a blank page.

You have no "inspiration"? Write anyway. Inspiration will come. I wouldn't say writing is like a muscle that needs exercise, but I do often feel it's like a train: there's the first effort of getting going, and then it gathers speed. You don't write, it keeps standing at the station.

Rewriting is a normal process. Hemingway rewrote For Whom the Bell Tolls 38 times, I believe. Do not expect the perfect scene to just come out in your first draft.

5

It's called Writing In Flow. There are some things that happen when creativity is unleashed within yourself. This state of Flow and the opening up of our creative selves is explained in two great books:

Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi.

He is the one who first explained this experience and wrote that book to help creative people to return to that place.

He then wrote the foreword for another authors book, Writing In Flow which attempts to explain how Flow works when writing.

Both are valuable resources for writers and are very helpful for understanding the challenges of the creative process.

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    OMG! This is so true. I just read the synopsis to his book and I can say I fully relate to the "creativity at play". That's how I felt when writing the scene. I had butterflies in my stomach and I felt excited, I couldn't wait to put it out for my readers. I have a few friends that laughed at me when I said I'd rather stay home and write than go on a Mexican vacation. They thought how silly I must be to find more enjoyment in writing than to go on vacation. Writing it so much more fun for me, but many people just don't understand the excitement and joy I get from it. – Dawn Kelli May 31 at 15:49
  • +1 for links to Flow State and how to get into it! I mentioned it in my answer in passing, incorrectly assuming authors would know what it meant. – Josh May 31 at 16:10
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    @DawnKelli Fantastic! I feel the same way when I write and forget about everything else. Others who haven't been fortunate enough to experience Flow can't understand how amazing writing can be. A person really has to try to create something and fail and strive through it to experience it and that often takes a lot of time that people are unwilling to invest. This feeling is imitated by various social media and the reactionary emotions that those media create and people believe they are in Flow but really they aren't for the most part. It's a very interesting thing. – raddevus May 31 at 17:45
4

First of all, not every scene in every work will have your heart and soul in it. Different aspects of the story will require different things from you. Let the story decide when you need to pour yourself into the scene and reach that euphoria again.

But from a writer's perspective, maybe you're not hitting flow state as deeply as you did that day? Is that a possibility? Maybe you, the author, aren't as immersed in the story at other parts of it, or aren't as invested in this story as the one your readers raved over?

The sad fact is, no one can teach you how to get to that point again. Some really good answers already provided; what I would recommend is a fusion of them.

  • Write. Write anything. If you feel you're not immersed in writing enough, the creative part of you isn't engaged fully, do some "warm up" writing beforehand. Loosen things up for yourself. Like jumping on an elliptical machine before lifting weights, it gets the "creative juices" flowing and moving, gets your creative mind started.

  • Don't neglect daydreaming. Allow your mind to wander, and drift, while you stare out a window or sit with your eyes closed. Heck, if it helps, go 'head and take a nap. Let your subconscious mind chew on the story, the scene, whatever it is you want to get down. Think so much about your story you're part of it, a character in it. Then write.

  • Put yourself as deeply into the mind of a character as you can. Whatever the viewpoint character is, whether it's the central character or protagonist, or the antagonist, or one of the ancillary characters, jump into their mind and see the whole thing through their eyes. Filter the scene through their mind and heart. Express their opinions and desires, or their emotions and thoughts, so the reader experiences them too.

  • Make sure to engage the five senses. We only take in a portion of our world through our eyes. But we use all five of our senses to interact with our world. The sense of smell is one of the most powerful memory triggers humans have - don't leave it out of your writing. The characters will see, hear, touch, smell, and taste things in your created world. Let the reader do the same through them.

  • Use things like subtext and innuendo to deepen the writing, and let the reader fill in the gaps. That will be one of the more powerful ways you can deepen engagement for the reader - let them and their imaginations do the heavy lifting for you. Add enough description to get the point across, and to make the environments real, but also leave out enough so the reader will be finishing your word paintings for you. Their imaginations are way better than ours in a lot of cases. :)

But...before any of that begins, make sure you're fully in the story. Make sure you can see, smell, taste, touch, and hear everything you're writing about. Make sure you're seeing the world in your mind's eye with vivid color, and can lose yourself in it.

That's the best way to get your readers into the fictive dream: being in it with them when you write.

3

What did you think when you first wrote that scene? Was it easy or hard?

The best scenes in my complete novel are the reveal scenes, because they are fraught with emotion and interpersonal dynamics. To craft a reveal scene, you need to obscure effectively beforehand.

I like both of the answers, and will piggyback off of Galastel's comments--write. Also re-write, as she says Hemingway did. Listen to the cadence, learn to hear the emotional arc and movement in the words, be willing to kill darlings in order to stick the landing.

I think the answer is to write and then re-write. Writing can get better through revision and editing and learning to 'write by ear.'

3

There's no straightforward approach to anything involving writing, so it's going to take time and effort regardless of how you end up considering the matter. That said, by my experiences, there are two primary writing approaches by which someone can create a memorable scene:


With the first approach you develop the scene naturally, as an outcome of a narrative's natural flow. This utilizes your ability to think dynamically, adapt to situations, and fluidly incorporate your experiences into an emerging narrative.

You can train your ability to think dynamically by doing keyword association writing sessions. This is a training method [and at times, story origination method] where you just write down whatever random words come to head for X minutes, typically at least long enough to fill one full column on a page, and then challenge yourself to form a narrative or scene based off the keywords in question. It may also be possible to find websites that randomly generate words for such a purpose, if you want to approach it from a different angle.

You can train your ability to adapt to situations by engaging in writing groups, tabletop storytelling/roleplaying sessions, or any sort of freestyle writing or language based competitive engagement.

You can train your ability to fluidly incorporate experiences by studying the various distinct narrative sources you may come across [eg, daily life, literature, films], and keeping a journal wherein you note down the most useful information you can pull from those experiences.

The intent of this isn't to create a reference journal, but to develop your skill at extracting those elements of a narrative which are profound, appealingly distinct, or otherwise engaging. Perhaps more importantly, working through such a process allows you to determine why the elements in question are so compelling, allowing you to better work such key factors into your own writing.


The second approach to creating a memorable scene is, simply, to create a memorable scene. That is to say, you don't create a memorable scene as an outcome of a narrative, you shape a narrative around premade memorable scenes. While the previous method was more about training your skills in improvisation and unconcious absorption, this method is all about developing your skills in calculated narrative design.

First, determine what kind of scene you want to build around. This can, at first, be as vague as possible, such as "romance involving pirates". Then, try narrowing that scene down, and then try narrowing it down some more. Do this all while trying to figure out how the scene can present itself as being distinguished from typical narrative scenes.

Focus on that scene, hold that scene in your head, go to sleep thinking about it. Relate that scene against experiences you encounter, and deliberately consider how your scene could be better shaped in regards to making its appeal match up to the compelling elements of the experiences you are encountering.

If you ever get stuck on a scene, switch your focus to "what scenes would relate well to this kind of scene". You may be surprised, and find your entire narrative shifting to focus around a secondary scene, and may even end up dropping the first scene altogether.

If you come across a flash of genius, and come across a new "perfect scene" idea, focus your efforts around it, instead. Don't be afraid to set unworkable concepts aside- the ones with potential may be useful for future stories, and the ones without potential are best dropped as soon as possible.

While the first approach was based around developing a narrative as part of a flow, this approach is better suited for those who find it easier to treat narrative flow as the glue between key scenes. Even though you may drop some, even many scenes by the end, this approach allows you to construct clear "bookmarks" in your narrative process, which then allows narrative connections to create themselves, smoothly, as a byproduct of relating the developed scenes against one another.

Take a general concept like "World of horses.. with great stampedes". Develop a scene like "A young tribal boy rides a golden stallion into the sunset". Develop another scene, like "a witch doctor engages in a tribal ritual to ward of beasts". You can then conceive of the fact that perhaps horses are not considered tamable in this world, and that the boy is riding off because he is shunned by his tribe due to having been the first to tame a horse. You can then work out what steps are necessary between the second scene and the first, for them to lead to one another.

Of course, those aren't what I'd consider "memorable scenes", but the process is nevertheless fundamentally based in the manner of that example. And, of course, forming basic scenes into memorable ones is a part of the process, as is deciding that a scene isn't memorable, just narratively relevant. Or perhaps not relevant at all.


In short, even if you don't use the processes described here, my recommendation here is that you first consider if your writing style is better supported by a narrative flow approach, a scene-oriented approach, or a mixture of the two. Or perhaps even something a bit more off the beaten path, such as reverse-narration flow, where you start with the end and determine how the narrative got to that point by working backwards.

Consider what writing approaches you want to go with, based off your understanding of what style of narrative development works best for you. Of course, even after focusing yourself on one of the approaches, the others shouldn't be dismissed entirely; Switching to the other approach on occasion may help break through writer's block, thanks to the switch in perspective.

As far as creating emotional impact in scenes, that comes naturally as a part of developing a narrative or developing scenes, as an outcome of one's investment in the characters and story development, and by one's ability to attentively incorporate life experiences into their writing. There's no shortcut to that, aside from developing the skills related to writing (be that through the processes I described, or through others which may be more agreeable to your cognitive process).


I will note this: As others have commented, you don't ever want to get hung up on recreating a past scene, because then you're no longer building a narrative based on flow or carefully constructed scenes, you're instead attempting to frankenstein a piece from one narrative into another.

In other words, you'll be limiting your new narrative to the scope of your old one, while also denying yourself access to the other narrative elements that made the scene in question so memorable the first time around. Well, unless your aim is to rehash the same story over and over (and, in fairness, that does work for some); In that case, you've a lot more freedom to reuse broader swaths of your previous narrative.

Moreover, such limitation will inherently restrict the adaptability of your creative process, as you'll be dedicating too much of your mental energy on trying to shoehorn edits into a premade work. Unless you've talent in redevelopment of existing works or in creating scenes of a specific format, the various downsides of such imitation makes it something which is best avoided.

2

You might consider that piece of writing from the perspective of your readers. Forget about what you wrote, then read other people's feedback; try to personally connect with the impressions they describe in the context of a person reading a piece of written work.

Then read that part of your work keeping their 'reviews' in mind, but without your memory of your work, as if their description was what convinced you to read that piece of writing. Read it as if you're consuming the writing, not producing it.

You might then be able to identify the elements they describe which resonate with you similarly, or of similar strength but for different reasons when you read that piece of writing. Something like you would read a well-regarded piece of someone else's work to acquire elements of their style -- only in this case, it was writing that was (incidentally) authored by you.

It's possible you might then pick up familiar pieces of both the writing which worked and/or the mental/emotional state you were in when you wrote it. (Make sure you note down some references to those impressions, as they may be hard to remember later).

2

I've always been a "prisoner of inspiration," but I've at long last come to understand/accept that there are technical, skill-based things that you can do to create those perfect scenes --you don't have to wait for the stars to align and your soul to speak.

First really understand your characters, setting and scene. You don't have to plot everything out ahead of time, but take some time to clearly visualize the place, the people, and all the events that happen in the scene. Next, find something that you really love in the scene, to make sure your enthusiasm stays high as you write it. Finally, remember that your descriptions and dialogue should all be doing double or even triple duty. They are (a) directly providing information, (b) putting us in the the mindstate of the main characters, with hints as to their mood, history, attitudes and desires and (c) creating counternarratives, substories, foreshadowings, allusions and so forth.

You also don't want to be a "prisoner of technique," but if you do the work to bring things like this under your conscious control, it will expand your ability to reliably connect with the reader. My suspicion is that your previous scene was probably built on a lot of prep work that you might not even have been conscious you were doing.

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