Classic Tips: Scene Writing Must-Haves

If you write fiction or memoir, your work is more effective when it can tell a story. Stories are more effective when they are largely told in scenes.

Writing Tip for Today: What are some scene writing must-haves?


Scenes bring a story to life. Readers crave action and want to experience the scene as fully as possible. In scene writing, the must-haves form a list of eleven elements. A scene must include a specific time and place (relative to the story), a character of some kind, a narrator or point-of-view character, a purpose or reason for the scene, as many concrete sensory details as needed and in some way, what the lighting of the scene is like.

With these elements, you allow readers to become immersed in your scene, experiencing it in a more three-dimensional way. Think of each scene as part of a movie in readers’ minds. But not just any movie—you’ll want to guide readers by showing them the why of the scene, how that purpose plays out in action and dialogue and how the scene resolves.

If you’ve set a goal for your story as a whole, you’ll also need a goal for each scene. The conflict and tension readers want should play out in their minds as “Will this character attain the goal or not?” With that in mind, give your scenes worthy obstacles so it’s not too easy—readers dislike challenges too easily met.


In a scene, the particular time it takes to unfold is called pacing. We’ve all experienced others who recall events in excruciating detail, moving at a snail’s pace as they describe an event with TMI. When you write a scene, this pacing becomes vital—you must decide which details/moments serve your scene and which drag a scene into a boring slog.

One way to pep up pacing in scene writing is to give details only on a need-to-know basis. Readers will assume certain actions or processes without reading each tiny step forward. For instance, if a character is heading out to work, readers know the character will need to open the car door and stick the car key into the ignition, turn it, etc. In familiar actions, you can safely summarize these details—unless the car is set to explode when the key is turned.

Take a look at your scene’s pacing to be sure you haven’t dwelt on insignificant details but then glossed over the important bits. For instance, a writer described in great detail several sentences about a cat who hung around on her porch for weeks until the writer adopted the kitty. Then the writer included only one brief sentence about how grief-stricken she was after the cat passed away. Pace your scene to give important details the most room.

Pace your scene to give important details the most room.


One way to know what’s important in a scene is to evaluate the POV character’s emotions as they build. If you’ve set a goal with worthy obstacles, your character is likely to feel frustrated, maybe determined and finally glad or sad or mad, depending on if the character won or lost the scene’s goal.

Take a look at a scene you’ve written and map out the emotional progression of both the character as well as the reader. What is the character feeling at different points in the scene? What emotions do you want readers to experience as they read through the scene?

Effective scene writing depends on your writerly ability to elicit emotion in both your character and your readers. By including the eleven elements of a scene, pacing the scene and aiming to pull out emotion from both characters and readers, you can elevate your writing to an unforgettable must-read.

Thanks for visiting these Classic Writing Tips while I recover from surgery. Keep Writing!

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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