Picture the scene:
You’ve just sent your MS to your dream agent and you’re certain they’re going to love it. After all, your big finale has government agents and shapeshifting-werewolf-wizards fighting on top of the Empire State Building, as Manhattan slowly sinks into the Hudson River. It’s got everything. It’s a sure-fire bestseller! What’s not to love? A few weeks later you receive your MS back in the post, along with a rejection letter and a polite note scribbled beside your big finale. It’s just one phrase:
Sound familiar? Don’t worry, you’re not alone. We’ve all been there. All my writer friends, including the published ones, have seen this comment on their MS at least once during their careers.
So what is ‘Scooby-Doo’?
Cast your mind back to when you’re a kid. It’s a Saturday morning and you’re watching Scooby-Doo with your siblings. Right at the end of every episode, Mystery, Inc. would reveal that the ghost haunting the fairground was really Mr McCrabbie, the villainous park keeper who you met at the start of the episode (and he would have gotten away with it too, if it wasn’t for those meddling kids!). Shock! Well, not really – it’s Scooby-Doo after all.
In book editing terms, ‘Scooby-Doo’ refers to a moment that is ‘larger than life’, and isn’t believable in the realms of the universe you’ve created in your novel.
How do you make sure your scene isn’t Scooby-Doo?
A good trick is to sum up what happens in your scene in one sentence, and then read it back.
Jane drops a stage light on Jack’s head, to knock him out of the school play
Just from this one sentence you can tell this scene is ‘Scooby-Doo’. Unless Jane has an obsessive compulsion to drop lights on people’s heads, chances are it’s simply not realistic in the realms of your book. So find a dramatic alternative that is believable to your characters and your universe.