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Ten Questions To Ask Before Writing An Interesting Scene

In a novel, what is a scene?

A scene is a small increment of the story that progresses the story forward. A novel is full of them. And while this may seem obvious, they ain’t easy to write.

Have you written a scene and not known where to start?

10 Questions To Ask Before Writing An Interesting Scene

Ask yourself these ten questions!

The purpose of a scene is to put the characters in a new situation in which they are either pushed toward or pulled away from their objectives. Your scenes are the necessary steps that the characters take for the advancement of the story. Your characters could be in the scene deliberately, say Betty and Veronica arrived at the coffee shop to meet the woman with the dog for sale. Or they could be in the scene accidentally, say, they were pushed into the back room of the coffee shop by an armed intruder who was taking hostages.

1. Who will be in the scene? At the top of a piece of paper, make a list of characters that are absolutely necessary for this scene and no more.

2. What does each character do? Each character should have an objective in the scene. It may mean they have to keep a secret, deliver a note, or make dinner. They need to be busy with a particular purpose. Betty is there to speak to a dog owner about buying a poodle. Veronica is there because she’d rather help Betty than go home to her deadbeat boyfriend.

3. What are the consequences if the character doesn’t do what they are supposed to? If you write this down now, you can see what options you have for the scene. The more interesting the consequences, the better for this scene. Betty’s wanted a dog for a long time, ever since Foo Foo died, so if this doesn’t work out, she’ll be all the more depressed. If Veronica can’t decide what to do about her bf, Harold, then she’ll have to pay his rent again.

“Every scene should be able to answer three questions: “Who wants what from whom? What happens if they don’t get it? Why now?”
David Mamet

4. What is the emotional temperature of each character? Whatever you do, don’t make them content! They need to irritated, sleepy, hungry, impatient or exasperated. They need to be fearful or stressed or in love. Whatever their state, they have to be in tension. The purpose of the scene is to either increase their tension or decrease it. Betty is on the verge of tears, she misses her old dog so much. Veronica keeps rehashing all of Harold’s sins and gets angry.

5. What do you want the final outcome of the scene to be? Next to every character make a positive + or a negative – sign. For those that will end positively, come up with at least six things that can be done or said that can bring them to the end of the scene with hope. For those that will end negatively, come up with at least six things that can be done or said that will pull them farther away from their goal. This is where their main objectives of the story may change. Betty’s change may be that she no longer wants to buy a poodle off Craig’s List, she just wants to survive. Veronica is so angry with Harold, that she has no trouble standing up to the gunman.

“[T]he success of every novel — if it’s a novel of action — depends on the high spots. The thing to do is to say to yourself, “What are my big scenes?” and then get every drop of juice out of them.”
P.G. Wodehouse

6. What gift are you giving your reader? Each scene’s purpose is to give the reader more information, to have them pulled one way or the other, to reveal more secrets, or to have them grow in empathy for your main characters. If your reader isn’t coming away with a “gift,” or better still, a “surprise” in one of these things, then the scene isn’t necessary. Cut it now not after you’ve been sculpting that 3000 word monster for a month. For example, the gunman IS HAROLD! This infuriates Veronica. She takes the gun from him and forces him to his knees.

7. What is the pacing of the scene? If there is a lot of action, then your sentences should be short and your verbs vibrant and active. If you want a slower, more descriptive or contemplative scene, then choose longer sentences. In the beginning, when Betty is missing her old dog and Veronica is just a bit miffed, the sentences could be longer and reflective, but as the gunman enters and forces everyone to the back room, the action kicks in gear. The sentences are shorter. The dialogue is sharp and to the point. Betty whimpers. Veronica is enraged.

“Structure isn’t anything else but telling the story, starting as late as possible, starting each scene as late as possible. You don’t want to begin with “Once upon a time,” because the audience gets antsy.”
William Goldman

8.How does this scene play with the scenes around it? You should be taking your reader on an interesting ride. This means that the scenes should alternate in action-packed and more passive. The emotionally gripping scenes should have a breather between them in which the main character (and the reader too) can stop and catch their breath. The scene before this one was when Betty finally got dressed and decided that a new pet would get her out of her funk. Or, the scene before this one was when Veronica had chewed out Harold for the millionth time. The scene after? Veronica is at the police station, giving a statement. Betty has snapped out of it, she’s the best attorney in the state!

9.How much attention do you need to the setting? Probably not much, unless it’s critical to the objective of the scene. Go easy on the description. Keep it to only a handful of sensory descriptions. In my example, we don’t need a detailed description of the coffee shop. You could say “hipster” and “reclaimed wood” and “chalkboard menus” and every reader in the world would know what you were talking about. With your setting description, keep it simple too.

10. What would happen if this scene got omitted? Be brutal. Unless the action or the emotion of the scene is critical to the next scene, don’t bother. Without fully knowing all of Betty and Veronica’s saga, we don’t know whether this scene is important or not. If the story is about the true love between Veronica and Harold, then it’s probably important. If the story has to do with Betty’s law career, maybe not. Take a step back and looking at the entire book before deciding.

Answer these questions before you draft!

If can adequately answer them, and then keep your notes with you, the actual drafting should be easier. It could also be that once you answer the questions, the draft takes you on a different tangent altogether — like the poodle seller is a spy, or the coffee shop owner has been in love with Betty for years.

Scene creating is slippery, but perhaps with these questions, you can get a good handle on the creation of them for your novel.

Need more help with scenes? Try these 14 Easy Ways To Bring Your Scenes To Life or What To Do When A Scene Isn’t Working



I am a fiction writing and time management coach. I help time crunched novelists strengthen their craft, manage their time and gain confidence so they can find readers for their stories.

Katharine Grubb is a homeschooling mother of five, a novelist, a baker of bread, a comedian wannabe, a former running coward and the author of Write A Novel In 10 Minutes A Day. Besides pursuing her own fiction and nonfiction writing dreams, she also leads 10 Minute Novelists on Facebook, an international group for time-crunched writers that focuses on tips, encouragement and community. 

Eleven Requirements For The First Pages of Your Bestseller

The first pages of a book are like opening a door.

I let myself go at the beginning and write with an easy mind, but by the time I get to the middle I begin to grow timid and to fear my story will be too long…That is why the beginning of my stories is always very promising and looks as though I were starting on a novel, and the middle is huddled and timid, and the end is…like fireworks. — Anton Chekov

Eleven Requirements You Need For The First Pages of Your Bestseller by Katharine Grubb, 10 Minute Novelists

The first pages of a book are  the first impression a reader, agent, publisher or reviewer will read.

Your goal is to keep them so interested that they can’t put it down. To make sure this happens, consider these eleven requirements for the first few pages. And to make it clear, I’ve used examples from Disney movies.

1. Your beginning should set the stage for the story. Without getting too bogged down with detail, the reader needs to know the general feel for the first scene. Is it indoors or outdoors? What time of year is it, if that’s important? What’s the weather like? Is the main character comfortable or not? What details needs to be mentioned to really see the first scene? Are the descriptions of the initial impression enough for the reader to piece it together so they can put their attention on the main character? In the opening of Aladdin, the viewer sees that the story takes place in a Middle Eastern desert in an Islamic culture. While you don’t have the use of computer animation and story boards, you can express this kind of detail in your words to set the stage.

2. Your beginning should introduce your protagonist. The reader needs a sympathetic inclination toward them, or identify with them or see them doing something that seems virtuous or heroic. A reader will formulate a main character’s appearance in their heads, so rather than insist that the protagonist’s look be precise, give just enough details to help the reader along. Our first impression of the main character should be an active one. Don’t have them waking up first thing in the morning or looking out a window. Now Disney did do this with poor Cinderella. The viewer meets her as she is wakened by birds and mice, but I’m going to cut her a break, since she worked so dang much and deserves a little shut eye.

“Plot is no more than footprints left in the snow after your characters have run by on their way to incredible destinations.”
Ray Bradbury

3. Your beginning should indicate early on the point of view and narrative voice. These are important because they set the tone of whole story.  Carefully choose what character you want to tell the story that’s in your head. Choose the character that has the most to lose. Consider choosing the character that has the strongest emotional connection to the theme. Then, make the words that they use be unique to them. In Pocahontas,  the story was not told from the point of view of Captain Smith, but of our title character. Pocahontas and her tribe had the most to lose in this story. The entire tone of the movie reflected her rich connection with nature and her worldview. Had it been told from Captain Smith’s point of view, everything about it would have been different. Including the name.

Eleven Requirements For The First Pages of Your Bestseller by Katharine Grubb, 10 Minute Novelist

4. Your beginning should hint at the theme. This must be a just a subtlety. In the first reading, your audience won’t see the connection between this opening shot and the rest of the book. But, if your theme is strong and consistent, they will go back to the beginning and see what you have done. Make your theme and intentions of the book understated. It may even be helpful to wait until the rest of the story has been drafted before you tackle the first scene. That’s not cheating, that’s art. In Lion King, the grand, big opening is the presentation of Simba to all of the animal kingdom by his family. Later the viewer sees that the themes include duty and family obligations. So the opening shot points to what’s coming up next.

5. Your beginning shouldn’t focus on making your main character likable.  Instead, focus on making them interesting. Whatever actions you put them in, make it intriguing enough so that the reader wants to know what happened. You’ve got the first third of the book to convince your reader that your protagonist is worth rooting for. Take your time. With apologies to every four-year-old girl in the universe, I’m not convinced that Anna from Frozen was all that likable. She was certainly cute, cheerful and spunky.  I had a hard time being sympathetic to her for never leaving her castle. Don’t even get me started on wanting to marry the first guy to show up at her party. Regardless of how I felt about her, I was still interested in how she was going to get out of this mess. For all her flaws, she was interesting.

“A novel is a tricky thing to map.”
Reif Larsen

6. Your beginning should move quickly with vivid action. A first chapter is not the place for deep introspection, navel gazing or explanation of tragic backstory. All of that can come about the first fourth of the story when the protagonist is debating whether or not to move forward on the adventure. In the beginning, concentrate on convincing the reader this character is worth following through his actions and words. Let’s turn our attention to Cars. The first scene is a race! What’s more active than that? The viewer meets Lightning McQueen (who also wasn’t that likeable) and sees him in action. We rooted for him to win and we didn’t even know why. The action told us about his history and his strengths and weaknesses. We were far more willing to watch what happened to him because we had seen him in action.

7. Your beginning should also explain the status quo. What is the main character’s life like? In just a few pages, you’re going to have that inciting incident jump on the reader like a jungle cat. To have the reader react well and care about the protagonist, the reader needs to know what peace is like for this main character. If done effectively, the reader will become more sympathetic to their plight and hope they fight that tiger well. This is where Belle from Beauty and the Beast sings Bonjour and shows us what it’s like in her poor provincial town. We know something is coming, (I mean the title is kind of a spoiler.) We’re more sympathetic to her because we understand how much she will lose once the story gets going.

“I almost always urge people to write in the first person. Writing is an act of ego and you might as well admit it.”
William Zinsser

8. Your beginning should explain, even briefly, what the deepest longing is for the protagonist. Now as you sculpt the story, you can add to this, or change it. The story hinges on your protagonist’s desire. Express this in a simple choice they make, something they say, or how they respond to a situation. Make sure that this desire is significant: it must be something that is a universal, something we can all identify with. Oh, Ariel, can you sing us that song again? In The Little Mermaid, we see Ariel swimming around describing her collection of treasures, explaining how unsatisfying they are. Part of Your World explains her deepest longing and sets the viewer up. We wonder now how she is going to get it.

9. Your beginning should have a big event. This is called the inciting incident. Besides being redundant, this is the big event that gets everything going for our main character. Often, the event is unexpected and disturbing. In Snow White, the queen hates our sweet little princess. The queen makes a decision that forces Snow White into the woods. This changes everything for Snow. Within your first few pages, you need to have your main character face something unexpected — it can be positive or negative — that sets the story in motion around them. Hopefully this incident will spark even more sympathy for them and keep the reader engaged.

“There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.”
Ernest Hemingway

10. Your beginning must have a figurative or literal threshold for your main character.  He or she enters a new world or a new phase of life that is unfamiliar. In Toy Story, Woody unwillingly crosses the threshold from being Andy’s favorite toy to his second favorite. With the arrival of Buzz Lightyear, everything about Woody’s life is different. He has to figure out how he’s going to handle it. We’ve all been rejected. We’ve all tried to make sense of it. So Woody has our sympathy.  Woody crosses another threshold when he decides to rescue Buzz against his better judgement, but that crossing goes into the second act. Let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

11. Your beginning should ask questions. What will happen next? In A Bug’s Life, by the end of the first act, the viewer wondered what was going to happen to Flick. The viewer wondered what the Ant Queen was going to do about the Grasshopper terrorists. As the story progresses, the questions should become more complicated and not necessarily answered.

I am a fiction writing and time management coach. I help time crunched novelists strengthen their craft, manage their time and gain confidence so they can find readers for their stories.

Katharine Grubb is a homeschooling mother of five, a novelist, a baker of bread, a comedian wannabe, a former running coward and the author of Write A Novel In 10 Minutes A Day. Besides pursuing her own fiction and nonfiction writing dreams, she also leads 10 Minute Novelists on Facebook, an international group for time-crunched writers that focuses on tips, encouragement and community. 

Nine Strategies to Make Your Scenes Feel More Cinemagraphic

Have you ever read a book whose scenes felt movie-like?

You’ve read the books that flowed seamlessly from one scene to another.

You’ve read over the descriptions of the settings that were rich and details. As you turned the pages, you may have had a sense of action and tension that felt exactly right. As you read dialogue, you could actually hear the characters speaking. You saw them bust into the safe, stash the jewels into their pockets, and scurry out the back door before the owner walked in the front. You love books that read like movies. 

The scenes of the book are so rich, you’re tempted to whip up a batch of popcorn.

Nine Ways To Make Your Scenes More Cinemagraphic by Katharine Grubb 10 Minute Novelist

You can write your books that way too. But it will take vibrant and action-packed scenes.

Cut out long descriptions. If you want your book to play in a reader’s head like a movie, then you need to keep the “camera” moving through the scenes. In a film, the camera wouldn’t spend too much time on detail of an inactive object or a setting because it would bore the reader. The director is counting on the viewer to put information together on their own. In the same way you can give your reader only the necessary details of description. Your goal is to make your scenes into a rich world, but do it concisely so that the reader stays interested.

Reduce the inner dialogue for characters. A well-composed character has lots of pain, desires and quirks. It’s tempting to over-monologue the character because you’ve put so much thought into him. Don’t do it. Like too much description, too much characterization can bog the story down and bore the reader. Instead, reveal the personality in the main character’s actions and dialogue. Scenes full of showing, not telling, will keep the story moving.

Keep the characters moving. With each scene, give your characters reason to get up and get going. They need to do stuff with their hands. They need to pick their cuticles, feed the dog or tap their fingers on the steering wheel while they are driving. These little actions create a visual image to your reader. If their action changes it can also add tension. You want tension in all your scenes!

When writing screenplays, it’s a matter of remembering to leave off the page anything and everything that doesn’t appear on the screen.

–Taiye Selasi

Be diligent about backstory. You may have spent months crafting the backstory of your hero. You’ve labored over his desires and goals. You know all his tragedies and fears. You’ve worked at him. Unfortunately, your reader won’t find his story as interesting as you do. Some backstory is always necessary, but it can slow down pacing. Be brutal when cutting it out. Only share what is the most necessary.

Don’t spoon feed your reader with the obvious. A film director has to get his entire story told in 90 minutes. He can’t afford to underscore each point for the viewer. He has to depend that the viewers will the blanks in as they watch (Or lean over and ask their wives what the heck is going on, and then she promptly elbows him in the gut and tells him to be quiet!) In the same way, you need to keep up your pacing and hope that the reader will follow. If you’ve done everything else well, he probably will!

Nine Ways To Make Your Scenes More Cinemagraphic by Katharine Grubb 10 Minute Novelist

Give each scene a clear objective: either the main character got one more step closer to the goal or he didn’t. Before you write a new scene, ask yourself: will he get closer or not? How can I take victory out of his hands? Can I push him to success unexpectedly? How can I garner sympathy from the reader in his plight? Can I get the reader to cheer his success? If your scenes aren’t making that distinction, then you’re creating something static. Don’t bore your reader with inaction.

Understand the emotional temperature of each character in the scene. I find it helpful to see a scene in my head and list the characters in it. Then I list their exact emotion during that scene. I make sure that they react to the events in logical way. Also, I make sure that they argue or find conflict. No two people see the same thing the same way. Your characters should be no different. Make their actions and their dialogue reflect these varying emotional differences.

If I really considered myself a writer, I wouldn’t be writing screenplays. I’d be writing novels.

Quentin Tarantino

Choose vibrant verbs. It doesn’t matter what you’re writing, choose active verbs! “We went to the store,” is boring. “We ambled to the pharmacy,” is so much better.

End chapters with a question or mid-conflict. The scene finishes and you’re just about to tell the reader how it sums up, except don’t. Your characters have spent five pages getting to the treasure. They open it up but you don’t tell your reader what’s in it! The friends drove to that great party on the other side of town, but they get into an argument on the way there about that girl. They show up at the party not speaking to each other. The reader will be forced to wonder, do they make up or not? 

You can also look at this article by Jody Hedlund. She has advice about this too!  And you can also see a different viewpoint altogether on K.M. Weiland’s blog too. 

To make your books feel more like a theatrical experience, think action in nearly every way. Your readers will feel like they are playing out the story alongside your characters. And you? You’ll be the next Michael Bay or Tim Burton.

Now, please pass the popcorn!


I am a fiction writing and time management coach. I help time crunched novelists strengthen their craft, manage their time and gain confidence so they can find readers for their stories.

Katharine Grubb is a homeschooling mother of five, a novelist, a baker of bread, a comedian wannabe, a former running coward and the author of Write A Novel In 10 Minutes A Day. Besides pursuing her own fiction and nonfiction writing dreams, she also leads 10 Minute Novelists on Facebook, an international group for time-crunched writers that focuses on tips, encouragement and community.