Fix scene by employing black box analysis

One question a number of writers have when editing their novel or short story is if a scene succeeds or not. Sometimes they feel the scene lacks importance, yet they hesitate to cut or revise as it’s tightly written with crisp dialogue or rib-splitting humor.

A solution for evaluating a scene’s importance is to employ a black box analysis. It’s a term coined by CFSW’s David Smith.

The analysis works like this: Isolate the scene by viewing it as a black box from which characters can leave and enter. Then ask yourself a few questions about the characters:
• What motivated each character to enter the black box (or scene)?
• Did each major character risk either gaining or losing something by entering the black box?
• Did each major character act to fulfill a goal while in the black box?
• Did each major character actually gain or lose something when they left the black box?
• Did each major character change at all because of what happened to them during their time in the black box?

Each of these questions can help you pinpoint the problem in a scene. For example, if a character had no motivation for entering the black box, perhaps they either should be written out of the scene or given a motivation for entering it. If a major character took no action to achieve a goal, perhaps the passage needs to be revised to ensure that they do.

If multiple problems are pinpointed, that’s a good sign that simply revising a couple of sentences of dialogue or adding a couple of sentences isn’t enough. Instead, rethink the scene and then rewrite it.


My name is Rob Bignell. I’m an affordable, professional editor who runs Inventing Reality Editing Service, which meets the manuscript needs of writers both new and published. I also offer a variety of self-publishing services. During the past decade, I’ve helped more than 300 novelists and nonfiction authors obtain their publishing dreams at reasonable prices. I’m also the author of the 7 Minutes a Day… writing guidebooks, four nonfiction hiking guidebook series, and the literary novel Windmill. Several of my short stories in the literary and science fiction genres also have been published.