Questions Every Scene Should Answer

Novel writers know that scenes must have certain elements in order to succeed. Some of these are elementary: a specific time & place, at least one character (and the POV), and some sort of a reason to be there. Throw in some crucial sensory details and you may be satisfied. But wait.
Writing Tip for Today: Not so fast, as they say in cheesy movies. In order for a scene to be truly successful, a novelist must go beyond those basics. Consider these questions:

  • Does the Scene Move? Effective scenes move. The characters move in time and space, the plot moves toward or away from a goal and the story line moves (however incrementally) toward the climax. Next time you craft a scene, ask yourself if it moves in all three of these areas. 
  • Does the Scene Evoke Emotion? Scenes that work best are the ones that grab readers by the gut and don’t let go. In your draft, you may not have fully addressed the characters’ emotions–you’re trying to get all these other elements togather. But wait a day or more and revisit, looking only through an emotional lens. Add or deepen emotions where appropriate to give your scene a bigger punch.
  • Does the Scene Advance? Every good scene sends out ripples. If the characters move, it lends a sense of movement to the overall scene. If the characters grapple with a problem that creates tension, it enlivens the plot. But when the characters move in time and space, create high tension by dealing with a charged issue AND at the same time this ADVANCES the story, it makes a reader feel obligated to keep reading. Think of your story as a race. Every time you create a scene that deals with motion toward actual physical action, a plot point and the overall story goal, you move the story closer to the finish line.

About Linda S. Clare

I'm an author, speaker, writing coach and mentor. I teach both fiction and nonfiction writing at Lane Community College and in the doctoral program as expert writing advisor for George Fox University. I love helping writers improve their craft and I'm both an avid reader and writer of stories about those with wounded hearts.

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