Tag Archives: scene

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. 

Three Tips to Diving into your Writing FAST by Author Robin Patchen

How do you get a running start on your writing every day?

For those of us who must write in short increments (say about ten minutes), it’s important to be able to jump right in when you can snatch a moment. I’m certainly not the master of this—that would be Katharine, of course—but I do have a couple of quick tips.

Dive Into Your Writing FAST With These Quick Tips by Author Robin Patchen

Most of you have probably heard Ernest Hemingway’s advice on this subject—end your day’s writing in the middle of a sentence.

I’ve tried that, but the annoying OCD chick inside me just can’t stand the thought of that half-completed sentence and that [gasp] missing punctuation mark. Alas, there are still some tricks for the rest of us.

End your day’s writing in the middle of a scene. If you can’t end mid-sentence, try ending mid-scene. You know where the scene is going to go, and you know how you’re going to get there. So if you get to the middle of that scene, you should be able to finish it up and slide right into the next one pretty seamlessly.

Make a quick list of what needs to happen in the scene. Before I start any scene, I make a quick list of what needs to happen. That way, if I get stuck, I can check my list. There might be snippets of dialog or even “stage directions” on there. I keep the list right at the start of that scene. Being a lover of lists, I delight in deleting the things I’ve already accomplished. The extra bonus of this is that, when I end in the middle of the scene, the next day I can peruse that list quickly and remember what I was doing. Here’s a sample from my latest WIP.

1-B notices the car’s temporary plate. Considers implications.

2-B suggests R trust him. “Right. Because that worked so well for me last time.”

3-Get cradle from barn and clean it.

4-Make a grocery list, have B offer to go with her.

5-End with subtle threat:  “Call Suzy tomorrow, or I will.”

As you can see, the list isn’t comprehensive, publishable, or even understandable to anybody but me. Consider it your scene cheat-sheet.

The use of that kind of list has revolutionized my writing.

Remember: It’s a first draft. Repeat after me: “If it stinks, I can fix it.” Say that three times, every day before you start writing. And then write. And when you start thinking, this is the worst drivel I’ve ever written, remind yourself again that you can fix it later, and get back to work.  When I was working on my last book, putting every one of those first 40,000 words on the page felt like pulling a bone from the mouth of a hungry bulldog. The last 60,000 words flowed like water in a bubbling brook. However, when I read the completed manuscript, it was all pretty good—the parts that came easily were no better than the parts I’d had to fight for. So just write and worry about the results later.

How about you? Do you have any tips on how to dive into your work quickly?

Author Robin Patchen tells how to start your daily writing quickly and easily #writing #writetip #amwriting

Robin Patchen is the author of two published novels and a freelance editor specializing in fiction. You can find her at RobinPatchen.com and RobinsRedPen.wordpress.com.