Flat scenes are problematic because you may not even know that they are flat. You have a vague notion that something is wrong with the scene or chapter. It is boring, or it just doesn't work for some reason. You struggle and struggle to improve them, to make them interesting, and still, they just lie there, dead on the page, like a limp noodle. You poke and prod and give up in exasperation and let the poor flat scene lie there until next time, why have to face it again.
I recently dealt with this issue in a chapter of my novel. There's always been something about this chapter that has bothered me, though I've rewritten it many a time. It is a relatively static chapter, but it is important because it gives a lot of information about the characters, particularly our heroine, and so it can't be deleted. I've brought in other characters, invented phone calls, tried everything I could think of to make the scene more lively.
And still, in its dullness, it resisted me.
This weekend I had a brilliant idea. I chopped the chapter in half. After all, I'd just done that with chapter one, and it worked, well, brilliantly, with the two chapters that were formerly one now snapped to attention and toiling much harder on their own.
So I tried the same thing with chapter five. It didn't work. Now I had two flat, lifeless chapters.
Yesterday, I went off to a movie (Twilight, which I liked a lot, if only for the gorgeous Northwest shots and the views of my beloved Columbia River, which you can see in the trailer) and as I watched the previews, an epiphany occurred.
The scenes were flat because they had no rising or falling action. None, nada, zip, zilch. They ended in the exact same emotional terrain in which they began. Flat line from start to finish. No ups, no downs. Once I got home and took another look at the elements of the scenes, I could rearrange them so that there's a dramatic moment–a high point–at the end, one that makes you want to turn the page to the next chapter.
And then it occurred to me that not only would this make a good topic for a blog post, its such an important topic that it was probably worthy of several blog posts. So stay tuned, because tomorrow I'm going to talk about the elements of a scene. And the day after that I'll discuss rising and falling action, or, making a scene turn, in more detail.
Photo of the earth by Jaime Olmo used under Creative Commons license.