How to Make Sure Even Your “Slow” Scenes Keep Your Readers Hooked


Some of your scenes in your story are inherently exciting page-turners. Others . . . well, other scenes are slow.

But you don’t want to risk losing your readers, even—or especially—when the momentum slows down. Here’s how to make even the slowest scenes of your story un-put-down-able.

Some scenes in your book are very exciting. They’re action-packed. They have high stakes, a lot of movement, a lot of character action and choices, and they cause big changes, propelling your story forward.

They might be the boss fight with the Big Bad in an action story. They might be the first kiss in a romance story. They might be the discovery of the body in a murder mystery story.

They’re the big scenes: the reasons why we came to this story in the first place, the scenes we’re expecting and we’re most excited to read.

But there are a lot of scenes in your book that aren’t those scenes. They’re quieter, the stakes are lower, less is happening, and if we’re honest, they’re not exactly the reason we picked up the book.

They’re still important, though, because we need interstitial material to carry us from one big scene to the next. We can’t have a book that’s only the meet cute and the first kiss and the breakup and the proof of love, all one after the other. We need some time and space in between those things in order to have a full story.

And that means that your book will likely have some scenes that are fast and exciting, and some that are less fast and exciting. And it might even have some scenes that are—dare I say it—slow.

But they can’t be too slow, because you still need to hook your readers. You still need to keep them interested and turning the pages. Otherwise, you’ll risk losing your readers because the story slowed down too much, the tension dropped away, and your readers got bored and put the book down.

And you don’t want that!

So that’s what I’m going to talk about in today’s article. I’m going to share with you four questions to use to make sure that even your slowest scenes keep your readers turning the pages.

4 Questions to Make Your “Slow” Scenes Interesting

You can use these questions for pretty much any scene in your book. But I especially recommend you walk through these four questions for any scene where you’ve gotten feedback that the story is slow, or where you read it and think, “I don’t know if this scene is really pulling its weight in this story.”

If there’s any place in your story where the momentum drops, here are the four questions I recommend you use to edit it and make it interesting and exciting in its own right.

1. Why is this scene here? What is this scene contributing to this story?

The first question to ask is: Why is this scene here? What is this scene contributing to this story?

When you wrote this scene, you wrote it for a reason. And in order to edit this scene intelligently, we need to know what that reason was.

  • Is this scene sharing exposition that we need in order to understand the story?
  • Is it establishing character, helping us get to know your protagonist or other side characters better?
  • Is it connected to a subplot?
  • Is it connected to the main plot?
  • Is it introducing a new character or a clue or some vital information?
  • Is it sharing world building?

What is it that this scene is contributing to the story? If we cut this scene, why would it be a loss? What would the reader miss if this scene didn’t exist?

In other words, why is this scene in the book?

Big pro tip here: If you literally cannot come up with a single answer to this question, if you can’t think of any reason at all why this scene is important, your best bet is probably to cut the scene.

Every scene in your book has a purpose. Every scene has a reason why it has earned its place in your story.

And if you come across a scene where you can think of literally no reason why it needs to be in your story, it probably doesn’t need to be in your story. Just go ahead and cut it.

Assuming that you do have a reason (or several reasons) why this scene exists, move forward to question two.

2. Is THIS scene the right scene to accomplish those goals?

In question one, we figured out what this scene is aiming to accomplish. In question two, we’re asking: is this the right scene to accomplish those things?

In other words, why this scene?

Clearly, this scene is slow. It’s not inherently exciting.

Do you actually need to accomplish those goals in this scene?

Or could you take the important pieces of this scene—the character introductions, the exposition, the world building, what have you—and move those into other scenes, then cut this scene entirely?

To answer this question, you’ll need to take a hard look at the structure of your entire story. Look at your scene list. Zoom out and consider your entire plot from start to finish.

Does this exact scene absolutely need to be in that structure?

Or could you cut this scene, shuffle essential material to other scenes, and make your story structure even stronger while saving yourself a bit of word count?

Essentially, in the first question, we asked what it is that the scene is meant to contribute at all. If there’s nothing that it needs to contribute, you don’t need the scene.

And in this second question, we’re asking whether this scene is needed in order to make that contribution. If you need that thing to be contributed to the story, but this scene isn’t needed to do it, grab the important information, move it somewhere else, and then cut this scene.

If you decide that yes, this scene is the right scene to do this job, which means you’re definitely keeping it, now we get to move on to question three.

3. What is the conflict in this scene?

Since we’re keeping this scene, our task now is to make it interesting. And the way to make it interesting is by building up the conflict in the scene.

To do this, you’re going to need a few things.

First, you’re going to need a value shift.

That’s the thing that changes in the scene.

Honestly, the reason why the scene feels slow is probably because not much changes in the scene. We get a lot of information, but nothing really happens.

Nothing is different externally—nothing has changed in the character’s environment or advanced the plot.

And nothing is different internally—your protagonist’s emotions and thoughts are pretty much the same at the end as they are at the beginning of the scene.

Stories are about change. Change is what moves your plot forward. So to build up the change in your scene, make sure your scene has a value shift.

Want to know more about value shifts? Check out Value Shifts: How to Craft Compelling Change in Every Story.

Second, you’re going to need the six elements of story.

This is the way that change happens in the scene—the way the value shifts.

The six elements are:

  1. Inciting incident
  2. Progressive complications
  3. Turning point
  4. Crisis
  5. Climax
  6. Resolution

Together, those six elements form one complete story arc.

And that is the key to engaging your readers through all your scenes, including your slow scenes: you need that story arc to give your scene momentum. Something has to change in some way that impacts the plot.

If you’ve made it all the way to question three, we know that the things in your scene are important. There’s some critical exposition or world building or character introductions happening.

But your readers didn’t come to your novel to get some exposition or world building or character introductions. Your readers picked up your novel so they could read an exciting plot.

Your readers picked up your novel because they expect something to happen in it.

Sure, they need the world building and exposition and character introductions in order to understand and appreciate the things that happen. But they only care about those things insofar as they fuel more things happening.

They’re not here to read an encyclopedia of the world you’ve built. They’re here to experience a really great story.

And a great story is made of characters doing things and making decisions.

So that’s what we need in this scene: we need your characters to do things and make decisions. And that’s what the six elements of story are all about.

Want more on the six elements of story? Check out:

I also have a worksheet you can use to make this editing process even easier. It’s called the Scene Analysis Worksheet, and it covers all six elements of story, the value shift, and a few other scene editing essentials. Get the free worksheet by entering your email below:

The key, though, is this: you must have conflict in your scenes. Something must happen. Something must change. Your protagonist must do something.

That’s what we came here to read. Without it, we’ll be disappointed. But when you give us that conflict, that interesting action and movement, you can pair it with all the necessary exposition and world building, and we’ll enjoy it all the way.

Which brings me to the fourth and final question:

4. Does your reader need all of this information right now?

This question is challenging because yes, the implication behind it is that there might be some words to cut. And at least for me personally, I find adding material so much easier than cutting material.

But remember—the scene is slow. That’s why we’re talking about it. And one of the tools in our editing arsenal is to cut the slowest bits.

There are two things I recommend that you cut:

First, cut information that the reader does not need.

You know a lot about your story and your characters and your world. That’s fantastic. You’re probably continually discovering and developing more and more about your story as you go. Maybe you could fill an encyclopedia with everything you know.

Your readers, though—they don’t need to know all that.

The only things they need to know are the things that will help them understand the story.

If they don’t need it in order to understand what’s going on, cut it.

Ultimately, you’re probably going to know way more about your story and your world than your reader ever will. And that’s okay! It’s okay to know a bunch of information that doesn’t make it into the book.

If you really want to share it all with readers, you can turn it into bonus content. Extra short stories readers can download for free on your site. An entire wiki with every detail you can imagine.

But resist the temptation to share it all in this book. Give us only the information we absolutely need in order to understand what’s going on.

And second, cut information that the reader does not need right now.

The best part about backstory is that it doesn’t have to be boring. If you share it with your readers in just the right way at just the right time, it can be absolutely riveting.

Here’s my favorite thing to do with backstory: withhold it until the reader really wants to know it. And then share it as a juicy revelation that moves the plot forward.

You could share everything you know about your story and its world on page one. You have the ability to do that.

But if you did that, your readers really would not care. None of the backstory or exposition or world building or any of it would be interesting to them. They’d just be bored by all the information coming at them, because they’re here for the story: the things the characters are doing and why those things matter.

If you hold back, though—if you give them just enough information to understand what’s going on, but withhold information for an exciting revelation at a critical moment—then when you finally share it, your readers will be on the edge of their seats.

They’ll be thinking, finally! This is what I was wondering about all along!

It’s no longer dull. It’s really, really exciting, and it keeps your readers turning pages.

So review all the information that you’re sharing in your slow scenes, especially slow scenes that are early in your story, and ask yourself:

Do your readers need to know this information right now?

Or is there a later point where you can share it as a revelation that moves the plot forward?

And where you find those potential revelations, cut them out of this scene and reserve them for the more opportune moments.

Turn Your Slowest Scenes Into Riveting Page-Turners

And there you have it: four questions to help you turn even your slowest scenes into scenes that your readers can’t put down.

These questions are especially useful for scenes that are largely transition material: they get us from one big scene to another big scene, and they convey a lot of important information, but they don’t have a lot going on.

Here are the questions again:

  1. Why is this scene here? What is this scene contributing to this story?
  2. Is THIS scene the right scene to accomplish those goals?
  3. What is the conflict in this scene?
  4. Does your reader need all of this information right now?

Take those questions and give them a go in your next scene edit of a slow scene.

And don’t forget to grab the Scene Analysis Worksheet to guide you as you edit. Get the worksheet by entering your email below:

I’d love to hear how it turns out for you once you use these to revise. Do the scenes feel better to you when you read them through? Do you get better feedback from critique partners or beta readers?

That’ll be your real test: to see whether your readers do, in fact, turn the pages of your scenes. I think with these questions in hand, when you heighten the conflict and ruthlessly trim the information, you’re going to create something your readers can’t put down.

This Is Hard . . . And That’s Why Editors Exist

There’s one more thing I want to mention: this kind of thing can be really hard to do on your own.

It can be tough to spot which scenes are slow when you’re super close to your writing and everything is interesting to you.

It can be hard to figure out why you thought the scene was important to include in the first place and what it’s really meant to contribute to your story.

It can be tricky to determine whether this is really the scene that you need in order to contribute those things to your story, or whether a different scene would serve your story better.

It can be hard to find the conflict in your scene and figure out how to enhance it, or figure out how to create the right conflict if there’s no conflict yet.

And it can be so, so difficult to tell what information is essential right here, right now, what information you can save for later, and what information you can cut.

I know this is difficult because I walk clients through this process. In fact, the entire process in this episode is pulled straight from the work I’m doing with clients in their manuscripts right now. Just last week, a writer and I spotted a slow scene and went through this exact process to liven it up.

And that means I see firsthand how hard this is to do on your own. If you go through this process and it works, that’s fantastic! I hope you do it and I hope it boosts your scenes!

But if you’ve read all this and felt daunted, or you’re thinking, man, I wish I had someone to bounce ideas off of while I work through all this and make sure I’m on the right track, that’s totally normal. And that’s precisely why editors exist.

If you’d like my support to walk you through this process for your slow scenes, feel free to check out my wishlist and services to see if I’m the right editor for you, and then click right here to reach out.

I would be delighted to help you make all your slow scenes page-turners that are indispensable to your story.

And I’m so excited for all the page-turning stories you create!

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