September 1, 2011

What’s the Hardest Scene You’ve Ever Written?

Long, tall stairs leading up into distance

(Note: I am not Tawna Fenske, so that title is not a euphemism for anything.  Sorry.  However, this post might include a reference to a shower scene of one woman with two guys.  Or not.)

I mentioned last time that one day of the weekend was taken up by writing-related stuff.  What I didn’t mention was the writing I got done the other day of the weekend.  That shouldn’t be news.  I’m a writer and I’m supposed to write.  Duh.

But the scene I worked on was one I’d struggled with before my trip.  Weeks ago, in the comment section of my dealing with difficult characters post, I revealed my dilemma: “my muse wants to pants the plot in one direction and the hero wants to do something else.”

That’s right.  Two sides of my subconscious were fighting with each other, and I was stuck in the middle.  *shakes head at the insanity*

I put the issue out of my mind during my trip, but apparently my subconscious was working on it in the background.  After I got back, I was taking a shower, and…

Wait.  This story is going to sound horribly inappropriate if you picture the whole thing taking place in a shower, so let’s not go there, okay?

*ahem*  I was fully dressed and just standing around when my muse (who’s male, in case you haven’t read my other posts about him) taps me on the shoulder and announces that he’s solved the problem.  He pulls the hero of the story over, and they each take one of my arms and share a smug look over my head before launching into their “solution.”

I put “solution” in irony quotes there because my jaw dropped at their proposal.  “You want me to write what?  But that would make everyone hate the hero.  They’d throw the book against the wall.”

In other words, this was not a solution.  But those two arrogant jerks grinned at each other and said, “We have every confidence you’ll make it work.”  The hero even gave me a light punch in the arm before he walked off to leave me to it.

Unwritten rules exist within various genres, and with storytelling in general.  Romances should have a happy ending.  Mysteries should be solved.  And there are some things a hero should never, ever do.

Protagonists who do certain things can be an anti-hero like TV’s Dexter at best, but not a straight-up hero.  And the hero of this story was meant to be a real hero (the most cocksure, alpha-male hero I’ve ever written, but still, a hero).

Yet, this was where my story was supposed to go.  Where it had to go.  Their solution made sense for both the character and the plot.  But I didn’t know if I could pull it off without the reader hating the hero, the story, and me.

Last week, I blogged about whether we write for ourselves or the reader.  I mentioned that I draft for myself and edit for the reader.  But this scene was different.  I had to keep the reader at the front of my mind while I drafted the scene so I’d know whether I could take the story down this road or not.  I couldn’t draft this scene and not feel the reader over my shoulder.

Between the impossible subject matter, my own sense of inadequacy, and the tricky style of drafting, this was the hardest scene I’ve ever had to write, from a technical/writing skills perspective.  I’ve written some emotionally draining scenes and others that needed endless tweaking in revisions, but this scene challenged me on a completely different level.

I’ll admit it: I’m proud I was able to write it.  I’m sure the scene still needs work, but I proved it was possible.  And that’s more than I knew about my skills a week ago.  *smile*

What’s the most difficult scene you’ve ever written?  What made it hard?  How did you tackle it?  How well do you think you did with it?  How did you feel afterward?

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Jeremy Duley

I have a hard time writing a sex scene that doesn’t sound like it’s an excerpt from Penthouse Forums. It’s something I’m still working on. Right now the stuff I’m writing doesn’t need a sex scene, but it’s something I want in my bag of tricks. However, it does give me an excuse to “research” and read some stuff I wouldn’t normally read……but I’m not giving up subscription to Penthouse.

Great post Jami!

Ava Jae

Hmm. That’s a difficult question. I don’t know a specific scene off the top of my head that was especially difficult, but I’ve found that climaxes are rather difficult to write. I have on more than one occasion read my climax and felt…underwhelmed. Not exactly what I want for the height of my novel.

Other parts are difficult to get right too–the beginning and ending for example. The beginning especially tends to get rewritten a lot in my manuscripts.

Sounds like you finally got the scene you wanted–congrats! It’s not an easy thing to do. 🙂


Easy question for me. I was stuck about a third of the way through my novel. My MC was in a happy place, but I knew that he and his girlfriend weren’t a permanent situation. The problem was, the girlfriend loved him ferociously and was more than a little possessive (not to mention intelligent and amazing with firearms). I speak in the past tense because the characters and Olga (my BDSM Muse) got together and told me what happened to her: she got killed in a gunbattle. I argued with them, to no avail, and ended up pouring out 5000 words & a few tears over the next hour. Once through that thorny thicket, the path to “The End” became clear.

Jeremy, the trick I’ve found to writing sex scenes (there are several in the same story) is to focus more on the passion than the mechanics. Oh, and listen to your characters. They may tell you what they like & don’t like in bed. 😀

Paul Anthony Shortt

There’s a particular scene in my first novel that was tough on me. Part of the reason it was hard to write is because the ramifications aren’t revealed until much, much later. One character lies to another in an act of such betrayal I couldn’t quite believe I was doing it. I had to dig deep into a lot of the darker parts of my memories to bring this character forth. It was exhausting.

Sean McGuire

I read you, Paul. You have to REALLY know your good characters in order to make them into traitors… and to make your audience believe it. Here’s to hoping you pulled it off.


The hardest scene I ever had to write was when I realized that a beloved character had to pass away in order for the story to continue. Broke my heart to realize. Killed me to write. And I bawl every time I read it.

Tamara LeBlanc
Tamara LeBlanc

GRRRR! *growls with a huge smile* I read your post, zipped through it really, because I was intrigued by your dilema. Not happy that you had a dilema, but very, very intrigued. So much so that at the end of the post when I realized you weren’t going to reveal what it was your hero might do to make the reader hate him I nearly growled right out of my seat. You’re very good Jami. This is just a blog post and I’m so into your writing I got agitated because I couldn’t “turn the page” and discover more. Now that’s talent. I sounds like your muse, your hero and you worked things out. Glad to hear it. And I’m willing to bet the reader won’t end up hating your hero at all. Instead she’ll be riveted. As far as the hardest scene I’ve ever written? Well that’s easy. It’s the one I’ve struggled with for the last two weeks. A love scene. I’m not normally wary of love scenes. They’re not usually hard (no pun intended:)But this one just about killed me. It comes at a very pivotal moment in both the hero and heroine’s character arc, so I had to be very careful with how it played out. For 2 weeks now I’ve written very little. Sometimes a few sentences a day. And yesterday i didn’t write a single word…it’s been that difficult. But today I forced myself to dive in, re-read what I’d struggled through and suddenly…  — Read More »

Roxanne Skelly
Roxanne Skelly

Just dealt with probably my most technically challenging scene. At least one that I struggled with muchly.

I had to move my overly neurotic protagonist from never experiencing the supernatural to being a part of it…without her ending up in a funny farm.
I didn’t ask my muse. I asked a few writers in a workshop. One of them simply repeated my question back to me.
Duh, why can’t I have her start to check herself into a funny farm.

Sometimes it helps to have someone else simply point out your blind spots.

Tiffany A White

The Big Boss Trouble Maker Battle at the end….I’m still working on it. That’s definitely the hardest scene to write! I want everything to come to the perfect head, have one heck of a showdown, and ultimately have my protag walk away victorious and matured….not something that just flows.


I’ve had a few rape scenes that were very, very difficult for me to write, as I have an unpleasant history with that (probably why I write about it; I’m masochistic that way). But probably the hardest thing I ever wrote wasn’t really a scene, but a short story. I still love/hate that story, because it’s so dark, gory, scary, and, worst of all, the bad guy wins in the end (goes against the grain for me, as I’m a happily-ever-after type writer). That story, though, demanded to be written, and wouldn’t let me end it any other way. The bad guy wins. The good girl doesn’t die in the end, but she does get kidnapped and “kept” by the bad guy, after he murders all her friends. I know why I “had” to write it. At the time, I had watched a few horror flicks in a row, and was rather annoyed. It was so predictable. Bad guy/girl does evil thing to good guy/girl, good guy/girl fights back, bad guy/girl heads off good guy/girl’s attempt to stop them, all looks lost, but in the end, against all odds, good guy/girl triumphs over bad guy/girl. Yeah, if that happened in real life, chances are in favor of the bad guy/girl, sorry to tell you. It was still the hardest thing I’ve ever written. Allowing the bad guy to triumph, when he was so horrifically evil…it was awful. Scariest thing of all: my readers loved it. Anyway, great article, and I…  — Read More »

Sean McGuire

It takes courage and wisdom to handle such things. Have you ever read Flannery O’ Connor?

Irene Vernardis
Irene Vernardis

Hi Jami 😀

There is something about showers and your muse…hmmm

Anyway, let’s skip that, and I’ll answer that I find very difficult to write love scenes. Since I believe in the concept that what goes in the bedroom, stays in the bedroom (more or less), it’s awkward to overcome that and put such details on paper for public disclosure.

Moreover, to be honest, many times in books that I’m anxious about the plot, I read at light-speed (sort of) the love scenes to get them over with and reach the next important point to the plot. There are quite a few times (or many) that I find sexual scenes boring. I prefer the “building up sexual tension” scenes than the actual love making scenes.

So, considering the above, it’s obvious I’m not very fond of writing such scenes either. But, I bought a book by Angela Knight, the Passionate Ink, which is actually a guide to writing erotic romance. It’s more than what I need, however she is a very good writer and although I don’t write erotic romance, I really believe it will help me.

There. I put it in writing 😛

Becka (StickyNoteStory)

I killed off my favorite character once (had to, it was the inciting incident in Book Two) and that scene was not only hard to write, but it gave me a stomachache that lasted a full week. It was such a heartbreaking scene! And I’m so close to the characters in that scene that I just… it hurt. A lot. It still hurts to think about it.

I’ve had trouble writing a couple of sex scenes too. Not because I’m uncomfortable writing sex scenes (I’m not – I love it :P) but because the characters in these two particular scenes were just so WRONG together. It was icky, knowing that they shouldn’t be doing it and they were going to regret it in the morning.

I’m so curious about what your hero had to do now! Maybe a little hint? Just a tiny one? Please?

Sean McGuire

I second Becka’s opinion.

My most difficult passages involve sex. There is so much more to it than the physical aspect, in my opinion. Conveying everything in words is insanely difficult. I have a character who is something of a “player”. My protagonist crosses paths with a temptress bent on political gain. I want to write about such things candidly, but not gratuitously. I want to show respect for what I am talking about, as well as honesty.

Editing my WiP has taught me that less is more.

Gail Shepherd

The hardest ones for me are draggy, where I’m writing a lot of exposition or backstory and there’s no tension in the scene. I know this is fictional death. But where ever I find myself having to explain parts of the plot I get bogged down. Those scenes I write over and over. And then finally I cut them out.

Darcy Peal
Darcy Peal

The closest thing to a love scene in my WIP is a woman getting semen from a guy who is passed out so she can impregnate herself. It was difficult writing a scene like this that did’nt seem too weird.

The hardest scene I wrote was killing off my MC (and his wife) about halfway through the MS. It was difficult passing on the MC reins to a previously minor character. The MS will still take some work to ensure there are no books being flung at walls.

M. Howalt

Great post!

I’ve done a lot of difficult scenes. They range from the simple “argh, how do I explain the techinicalities of this without sounding like a manual?” to the more emotionally disturbing ones. For instance, I didn’t one bit like writing about sexual abuse of a 12 year old in the 19th century. I also find endings hard because it’s a kind of goodbye to a well-loved story and the people in it.

… On a somewhat related note, our muses should get together over tea or a beer and talk about how great they are doing “helping” us all the time … Or not. 😉


Ah, Jami. Your posts never cease to get me thinking. Well done, again.

Here’s what I think. Every hero/protag/MC/whatever needs something that the reader/viewer doesn’t like. It’s what makes compelling stories. There’s always a point where the most likable guy is a) caught in an awkward moment kissing a girl – by his wife b) says a rude comment about the mentally handicapped – when his prospective girlfriend, daughter of a retarded mother, is standing right behind him c) any other combination of completely defaming moments.

I say getting the viewer/reader to hate your hero is a necessary accomplishment (gotta have that low moment) – as it makes his climb back up to the top even more challenging, because not only does he have to redeem himself with the other people in the story…but US as well. And when he does, it makes the ending all the more satisfying.

The hardest scene I’ve ever written was for an action screenplay dealing with empowered youths. The supervillain had kidnapped all of the youths’ parents and was executing them on a pirated, live TV signal. Brutal, I know. But it gave the youths the strength they needed to face impossible odds. It was difficult both emotionally AND technically. I wanted to convey the emotion of the scene and the characters, but I didn’t want to be repetitive with the dialog and action (I mean, how many times can the characters yell “No!” over and over again?).

Nancy S. Thompson

The most difficult scene I’ve ever written was a rape scene. It’s the pivotal point in my book & very graphic.  This was hard for several reasons, the worst being that it was perpetrated by my protagonist as an act of vengeance. I wondered how I could write such a scene & still make him identifiable & sympathetic.  But that was point of the novel after all, to show that a good man could be driven to do something terrible & still find redemption. 

The other thing that made it difficult is also what I think makes it believable & that’s because it is what happened to me. But drawing on those memories finally freed me in a way therapy never did. So as difficult as it was, I’m glad I did it, even though it might be the one thing that keeps the book from being published. 

Todd Moody

Don’t be ashamed of the shower, Jami, that is what I do for Muse amplification too, although I don’t think of mine as male or female.

They way you describe your problem and solution make me want to read your book even more, nice trick! =)

The biggest problem I’ve had with scenes is getting the opening right. Trying to incorporate all five senses with a hook and something that starts off the main plot line is a lot to juggle and get right. I’ve rewritten it a least a dozen times, and edited those a ton more.

Great post as always!


I love it when this happens! Eureka!!

Hard scenes can drive us mad, but when the solution hits, it’s so worth it. 🙂

Angela @ The Bookshelf Muse


The first one was where the second protagonist has his thumb bitten off. Instant squick for me. Blurrrg. It took a few days as I did not want to write it.

The second one where the main protagonist refusing to admit her feelings for the second protagonist is put into a place where she has rejects his love in an attempt to keep him safe. (In the past everyone she loved would die or turn out to be an antagonist.) Ouch.

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