How to Write a Scene

I have read a few books lately, that I simply couldn’t get into. They weren’t necessarily horrible books per se but they did leave a lot of things lacking that caused me to not want to finish. They felt rushed, and sloppily thrown together, hoping their course dialogue and lack luster action would hold my interests long enough not to recognize the glaringly obvious lack of structure.

Had the authors taken the time to eliminate some unnecessary scenes, these books could have been critically acclaimed, but alas, shoulda coulda wouldas.

So here I am today, with some well needed advice. Scenes. How the heck does one do them right, anyway…?



Simply put, a scene is the smallest unit of story. We often measure stories by chapters, and rightfully so, however, the building blocks of said chapters are called scenes.

end scene - clapboard

What is a Scene?

When we are introduced or reintroduced to a character, the moment they step on “stage” or in our case, the page, they have entered a scene. A scene is comprised of ONE time/place and ONE action.

For Example:

Elliott jumped in the car, his fingers feather brushing swiftly across the keyboard; he smiled as he sent the text. His ear quirked up and he stirred at the sigh coming from the driver’s side.

“You think you could tell your mothergood morning?”

The grin split his face as he turned, bashful.


Here, the italicized portions represent the important characteristics of scene. The who/what/where/when etc. YOU MUST clearly identify your character or situation driving the scene. Here we can see Elliott got into his mother’s car in the morning and due his texting, failed to acknowledge her. When a characters come onto the “stage” in one time and place, then one action can occur. As soon as you switch location, time,  or point of view, you are switching the scene.



So, I’ve touch earlier on identifying which character needs to be in the scene. Not only must you determine this, but delve deeper into asking why only this character can fulfill the demands of what is happening.

movie director scene

Consider this:

Your MC doesn’t have to be in all the major scenes. I know, I know, that sounds like blasphemy, but think how much richer your story could be if you used another, more minor character to reveal some sordid history. How would that scene vary depending on the character you choose? I promise you, things can really get fun, once you start doing this.


What Needs to Happen

Every single scene needs to drive the story forward in some way. If not plot centric propulsion, then its has better reveal character and progress the character arc. If this is not happening in the scene then it is time to discard it.

Consider the location of the scene also. This is important. Just because it could happen there doesn’t mean it should happen there. What do I mean by this? Well, if you have a space odyssey novel set aboard the XSS Turtledove and you have a scene where your MC is vacationing in Maui, is this really relevant to your story? I would think not.

Consider also your time period. If my story is set in Ancient Egypt, would we really be on a hot air balloon ride on Mars? IJS. Make sure your setting of the scene is matched to the overall theme of your book.



Long or Short?

This is important. Just because a chapter is generally made up of three or more scenes, does not mean that one scene could not be chapter length. Its entirely possible. The important thing is to focus on what your story needs at the particular moment. Perhaps it needs some backstory and explanation which could typically take longer or it needs a ruckus to get our hearts pounding. Its really up to you.

What you want to avoid however, is info dumping or not providing enough information to orient your reader. Make sure your length is as appropriate as necessary to accomplish its goal.


One of my favorite writing exercises is to omit scenes. I can hear the gasps now! LOL. But, it’s true. I like to omit certain scenes where really important things happen. What this forces me to do is come up with another way to convey this information. As crazy as it sounds, this is how many of my stories develop to their best versions.

For example, if I needed to convey the betrayal of the MC, I usually will just write a scene where everything falls apart and there is a big blow up where guilty parties are confronted. So, instead of that, I challenge myself to say, ok…what if this scene didn’t happen this way. What if the MC found out some other way or what if they didn’t blow up at all and rather, their silence does all their speaking etc.

I find, not only are my characters more nuanced, but my overall story is as well. I’ll also play around with scene order and so forth and so on.

Sometimes these techniques work brilliantly and sometimes they don’t, and that’s ok. I’ll just add it back etc. The point is…don’t limit yourself and experiment!


Well, that’s all I have for you today folks! Can you think of anything else? Drop me a line below and let’s get the discussion poppin’! Until next time, GENESYS OUT!



October 29, 2017