Escaping the Friend Zone, and Killing Other Darlings
Everyone’s heard the phrase “Kill Your Darlings” at some point in your writing career, yes? Those scenes we love so much because we’ve had dreams about them, or maybe they were the inspiration for the whole novel itself. Those precious gems we.cannot.give.up. We may even fight with our CPs and Betas and do our damndest to find a way to keep them.
But . . . while you’re working on saving that Darling, there was another scene type lurking around the corner that snuck up and bit you in the ass, and you probably didn’t even know it.
It’s called . . .
The Friend Zone Scene!
What is a Friend Zone Scene, you ask?
Well, it’s a very Friend-Zoney scene. Kinda cute, but clearly not perfect, not really all that exciting although it’s got good qualities, is easy to read, comfortable, and maybe it goes somewhere someday, but it probably won’t. You don't see it as a Darling, because it doesn't drive that cool of a car, but it's still there, leeching, dragging down your prospects, even though you like it, and . . . I just made you all freak out a little bit, didn't I?
Don't worry - this happens to us all, and as a freelance editor/author, I can confidently say that EVERYONE, yes everyone, has these scenes! But guys and gals, I ask you: You don’t date people you put in the Friend Zone for a REASON, so why would you put Friend Zone scenes in your novel?
Answer: you wouldn’t!
Your MS is prime locale, and if a scene wants to be in your book? It better EARN. ITS. PLACE.
NO DARLINGS. NO FRIEND ZONE SCENES.
SOLUTION: Make sure your scenes meet the 2 (two? that’s all? YEP! JUST TWO!) qualifications they need to have:
1. Have an Arc
2. Advance the story
Now, I know that was a lot, so let’s take these one at a time ;)
1. Have an Arc
Individual scenes, much like the overall build of the novel, should follow an arc. And (hint) it’s the same arc as the whole story.
A status quo
An inciting incident
A climax, and
An endpoint (either a half-resolution, or a new conflict)
In our example world, we’re in a 50s soda shoppe (because I’ve been craving a Grease marathon. Hey, it happens.)
We open the scene with our status quo – where we are, what we’re feeling, what’s going on.
Poodle Skirt Ponytail Girl is standing at the counter, twirling the cherry in her whipped cream sundae as she gazes longingly at the boy of her dreams.
Then something happens. *See: Katie waving and pointing to inciting incident*
She decides to cross the room to talk to the boy she’s been watching, and oh, what a long walk it is.
We have the natural buildup of momentum as the scene progresses toward a scene climax.
The asshole boy makes a quippy remark that gets the girl to burst into tears.
Perhaps she strolls over and says something cheeky, then makes out with his best friend.
Either way, there’s a climax.
This is followed by the resolution of the scene, ending either on a high point, or on a low point. Bonus points for cliffhangers.
Ponytail Poodle Skirt Girl holds her head up high and storms out, saying, “I knew you’d lose that bet that revolves around my External Arc A. And just wait to see what I have planned for you next!”
Or she runs away in tears, then plots to exact revenge by batting her eyes at the asshole boy's enemy.
And voila! We have a scene arc. Without one, we go nowhere.
The scene may lag because of lack of proper pacing, cut to the reader possibly starting to skim or have their attention wander, maybe they jump ahead to look for the climactic interaction before the end of the scene/chapter, only to find none and wonder – what was the point?
Worse, if we end a scene without addressing a high point/low point that attributes to our plot advancement, why should the reader care to move forward?
By having an arc that goes all the way from Status Quo to Post-Climax Resolution, each scene is sure to be developed enough to keep the reader’s attention from the first line, to the last, and into the next chapters.
2. Advance the story (through the External Conflict, and/or Internal Conflict, and/or address the MC’s overall Misbelief.)
This is the “have a point” part.
Um, have a point?
Like, really. If your characters sit around in a racetrack stadium eating chocolate ice cream out of a cup and just make goofy faces at each other, and then decide to go play hopscotch, and they’re NOT international hopscotch players practicing for their final showdown, or damning themselves to death because of their extreme lactose intolerance and subsequently decided this was the way they want to die . . .?
Cut. That. Shit.
(Or revise until you find a way to get a point in there.)
Scenes get three options on how they’re going to have a point:
1. They can advance the External plot line.
For me, this is the sports part of the sports romance. Girlfriend’s gotta beat that guy’s lap time if she’s going to make qualifying, whatever. It’s the plot line that drives the momentum forward throughout the story, the hands-on end goal.
2. They can advance the Internal plot line.
For me, this is the romance part. Boy + Girl but DON’T WORK and WHY? Keep ‘em together, keep ‘em apart, angst, feels, sex, all that stuff. That’s the internal.
3. Address the Main Character’s overall misbelief.
Kinda like your theme. This is the “lesson” your character needs to learn by the end of the book. The one they slowly realize and overcome through whatever crap we put them through on the external plot line train, and by wrecking their souls with the internal plot line dining cart, but in the end, they all get off at the same station.
Except it’s not in Friend Zone. It’s in PurposeVille.
So, have a scene that is all about the sports part of your sports romance. Cool. But ARC that shit so you end up in a different place than where you started, and end with a reason to keep going because you didn’t resolve the goal 100%, or you ended up having a new goal.
By all means, have a scene that is a long walk on the beach, your characters hand in hand and swoony faced. But have them talk about feely stuff that advances the internal lovey dovey plot line so they learn something new about their person or their relationship.
Have them stare at their reflection in a goldfish pond and contemplate their existential crisis about how no one will love them because they snort when they laugh. As long as they have a lightbulb go off at some point, and give us some Jerry Springer conclusion thoughts about starting to embrace their inner clown.
And, if at all possible, try to build scenes that walk on the beach hand in hand, talking about why your external plot line affects your internal plot line, and end by staring into the goldfish pond, contemplating the existential crisis and setting a goal to get a damned parrot before the world explodes and it’s too late.
But NO MORE DARLINGS. And Watch out for the FRIEND ZONE!
Oh, and fuck clowns.
Until next time, Happy Reading!