Anatomy of a Scene


Writing Pensive Scenes

This week we are continuing our exploration into writing scenes by looking at pensive scenes, or those scenes that explore the thoughts and feelings of our characters. These are not action scenes by any means. In fact pensive scenes slow the pacing of the story significantly, so they are used sparingly. We don’t want our stories to drag.

Pensive scenes allow your reader to see your character’s interior self. There may be thoughts (internal monologue), and moments which allow your character to digest actions, and events, and twists that have changed their course of action earlier in the story.

Pensive scenes also allow your reader to catch their breath after a series of action filled sequences of events. Note that pensive scenes are rarely ever used to open a novel. They also tend to show up later in the plot line.

So what makes a pensive scene?

  • Your character spends more time thinking than acting or speaking
  • Pensive scenes reveal something to the reader about your character’s frame of mind
  • Pensive scenes must have some bearing on the plot. If they don’t, then cut them Each and every scene must move the story forward or it should not be in the book

Be sure to use scene setting to ground your reader in space and time when you are writing a pensive scene. You want your reader to know where our character is as they have this internal time. You can use the setting also as a way to convey the mood and meaning for your character’s thoughts and emotions. You might also start the scene in transition between the heart-pounding action of the earlier scene to help move your reader to a quieter moment of your character’s thoughts. Let your reader gear down rather than making them stop on a dime as it were.

Remember that the purpose of the pensive scene is to give your reader some intimacy with your character as your character experiences their inner thoughts.

  • Give your character realistic responses to earlier events
  • Make sure that your character wrestles with some issue in the previous scene or series of scenes
  • Have your character come up with a plan of action to move them toward their goal
  • Show your character’s internal conflict
  • Include some element of danger for your character to think about
  • Add tension through your character’s surroundings
  • Use mood and ambiance

When writing your pensive scene, it is still important that the story move forward.

  • Can you end this introspective scene with a cliffhanger so that your reader will continue to turn the page?
  • Can your character come to a moment of decision that changes the direction of the plot?
  • Is there some surprise that pops up? Your story still needs twists and turns to interest your reader, even in quiet scenes.

Remember that pensive scenes should be used sparingly in your novel, but they can be a great way to create intimacy between your character and your reader. They slow the pace but if you end with some special twist your reader will be intrigued.

Come see!

I have been invited to speak at PubCon on April 29th in Denver. I’d love to see you there if you can make it.

Black and White Cat


  1. These are harder to write than they seem. Like violence, descriptives, and/or sex scenes, less is more and when noodling around, finding a stop can get difficult. Thanks for sharing.

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