Forget all that stuff they tell you at Writing Conferences about character arc, point of view, and pacing. The REAL secret to writing a story that people want to read is this: Three disasters and an ending.
Whenever I find myself struggling with a scene that isn’t up to snuff, I try to take a step back and apply that simple tenet. Let me give you an example:
Scene: Sam and Kim meet at the grocery store.
Pretty boring, if that’s all we know. So let’s add some disaster. [Rub hands together and utter: “Broo ah haha.” — if nothing else, it keeps the nosy neighbors wondering… ]
We start by brainstorming — which is just writing down ideas. At this point, we want to get as much down as possible. (Later we can do some culling, but you might be surprised what goofy tidbit turns out to be useful, so let yourself go here.)
What terrible things could happen?
1) Sam and Kim are ex-lovers who haven’t seen each other in years.
2) Sam was painting the bathroom earlier that day and forgot to take off the plastic grocery bags he had tired around his shoes. He’s also wearing his ex-roommate’s paint shirt which reads: “I get hard for retards.”
3) Sam & Kim broke up when their jobs forced them to move to different continents, but they never got over each other.
4) Kim is late for work so she’s rushing. She takes a corner too fast and crashes her cart into Sam’s cart.
5) Sam’s finger is crushed and begins bleeding profusely; A jar of spaghetti sauce is knocked out of Kim’s cart and smashes to the floor making it impossible to move without stepping on glass shards and tomato sauce.
6) Kim broke up with her abusive boyfriend the previous night and looks like she’s been crying all morning. As soon as their carts collide, she breaks out in tears.
7) Just as they recognize each other, a woman walks up from behind Sam, puts a gallon of milk in his cart, and asks “Who’s the human hosepipe with butterfingers?”
That’s enough to get started. Now you can take all those images and ideas floating around in your head and write (or rewrite) the scene. It could turn out that Sam is the main character, and this is just a speed bump on his way to deciding that he should marry the woman he’s shopping with. Or, she could be his neighbor (who he graciously took to the store since her car’s in the shop) and he gets back together with the love of his life, Kim. Lots of possibilities and that’s what we wanted!
Here’s one for you to try. See how bad you can make it! (Post your imagined disasters in the comments section for everyone to enjoy):
Scene: Alex spots Drew walking a dog.
1) The dog is pooping on the grass right next to a “No Dogs!” sign.