Anatomy of a Scene


It’s been a few weeks but we are back!

We are continuing our discussion of the topic of scene writing as a way to break down your novel into manageable chunks, and to consider each scene as an individual piece of the whole, but to also incorporate all the necessary elements into each scene as you write them. We’ve talked about the necessary elements in scene beginnings, scene middles, and scene endings. We’ve talked about how to set up your scene so your reader can visualize your story world. And we’ve talked about incorporating your character’s five senses to convey information to your reader about the character and the environment your character moves through.

Remember that each scene should be in your novel for a reason, and should move your story forward. Each scene should have an intention and a purpose. Each character in that scene should also have an intention and a purpose. It is important to note that your scene may have a different intention than your character, and the trick is to write the scene so that each intention is visible to your reader.

So this week, let’s talk about specifics about what your characters need in the scene.

Each scene should provide your character with some information necessary to move the story forward. Your character needs to respond to this information, or react to this information. If no information is provided to your character, or your reader, then why is that scene in your novel? It’s a bit of a test. If nothing is happening for your character on the page, delete the page.

In each scene, your character needs to interact with someone else or something. These other characters or things promote your character’s response or reaction, and it is these responses and reactions that help you to create a complex character for your readers.

Think about what your character’s motivation is in each scene. Your scene intention is generally related to your plot, but what is your character’s intention? What does your character want? Are they in the scene to discover who killed the preacher? Are they trying to discover who their spouse’s lover is? Are they trying to find a way to save the world? Note that your character has, or should have, an overarching motivation for the plot. They may also have smaller motivations as they get detoured from achieving their goals and confront conflict. But, then need a reason to be in the scene, and both you and your readers need to know why they are in the scene. You can also consider your character’s backstory as motivation. What happened in the past that is pushing them forward? What are they trying to overcome? How does your character change from the first scene to the last scene of your novel? How do they grow? Are their beliefs changed? Do these changes alter their motivations over time?

As you build your scenes toward your climax, each scene should also complicate your character’s life in some way. Raise the stakes a little higher. Don’t make it easy for your character to find that pearl necklace. Don’t give them the easy way out. Nothing should be too convenient. Make it hard for your character.

As you work through your last scenes, consider all of the problems, and hardships that your character has encountered, and resolve those. If your character lost their keys in chapter five, they should find them again toward the end of your novel. After the climax, your scenes should be easier for your character to move through. Your character finds answers and solves problems, and saves the world.

Writing scenes seems simple sometimes, but good scenes provide your reader with needed information, and writing the scene with all the elements necessary to provide your reader with a satisfying experience can be complicated at times. Keep at it.


On another topic, I am hosting RMFW’s annual writer’s retreat in Colorado Springs  April 6-9 and I’d like to invite you to attend. Registration opens October 1st and space is limited. You can find more information about the retreat and register at:

I hope to see you there.


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