Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Week 22: Comfort Scenes

In this week’s lesson from WRITING THE BREAKOUT NOVEL WORKBOOK, Donald Maass discusses what I call comfort scenes. Again Maass provides specific examples. He cautions the writer to be wary of scenes set in the kitchen, living room or while driving a car. He also gives a thumb down to scenes involving drinking coffee or tea or smoking, although he mentions the latter is rarely found in today’s commercial fiction.

Maass is so anti-comfort scenes that he instructs writers to cut them, especially in the first fifty pages of the book. He goes on to say when he discusses this concept in workshops, he finds great opposition from writers. No doubt because many of us place our characters in those very situations. The hero and heroine saunter into the kitchen, grab a cup of coffee and do what? That’s the key.

Maass makes the point that drinking, driving, non-action scenes lack tension and do not move the story forward. USUALLY. Although he does provide examples of such scenes written with a master’s pen that heighten the tension and therefore are effective.

While we may bulk at Maass’ suggestion to “cut the scene,” we should thank him for alerting us to the danger they pose to our writing.

Comfort scenes may provide too much comfort. We want our heroes and heroines to struggle, to butt heads with opposition, to confront problem after problem. If they take time to drink a cup of coffee, ensure that heightened tension follows them into the kitchen or living room. In the same way, create driving scenes that accelerate the drama instead of applying the brakes.

Happy writing!

Wishing you abundant blessings,
Debby Giusti

Fellow authors Janet Dean and Missy Tippens and I, along with Steeple Hill senior editor Krista Stroever, will present FIRST YEAR ON THE JOB: From “The Call” to Publication at the Romance Writers of America Conference, on Friday, August 1, at 3:15 pm. Hope you can join us!

Clipart from


Jessica said...

Ouch. Definitely guilty of this! Thanks for sharing Debby!

Debby Giusti said...

Me too! I'm relooking those kitchen scenes. :) And my characters always chat as they drive from place to place!

Dianne said...

Hi Debbie, just checking in to catch your blog. You always impart such interesting information. Take care..Dianne

Pamela J said...

I had thought about characters in the books usually not doing mundane tasks we all have to live with. Mundane is probably the key. How many ways can you say the kitchen was cleaned? Thanks for the insights shared.
Pam Williams