Every book is made up of dozens and dozens of scenes, but how on earth do we write a good scene? What kinds of scenes exist? How long should it be? What should be included in a scene? Feeling overwhelmed? No worries, understanding a scene isn’t as tricky as it might seem.
A scene is should follow the same ebb and flow that your novel does. What I mean is that your scenes should have a beginning, middle, and ending but on a smaller scale. Think of scenes like the baby steps or building blocks that eventually lead us to the end of the story. Things like POV and place within the story will change up what a scene needs to do, but for the most part, they behave similarly throughout.
There are several types of scenes, but for today we’ll be covering the basic ones: building scenes, connecting scenes, and action scenes. Then we’ll chat about some good-to-know tips for the next time you sit down to write a scene.
From its name, what do you think it’s primary job is? If you guessed they are for setting up a character, place, issue, then you are right! Nice job, smarty pants! These scenes are best for slipping in a sprinkle of backstory or establishing something that we need to build off. These scenes are the foundational material we need to tell our stories.
An opening scene doesn’t just belong at the beginning of a book. These scenes can be used throughout your novel to add plot points, characters, etc.
How to write one:
- Figure out what you need the reader to know. Do they need a bit of backstory here? Do they need to understand your character’s motivation? What is it your reader needs to know and how can we tell them in a concise and entertaining way?
- These scenes are not for info-dumping. If it can be left out, leave it out. We don’t want to put our readers to sleep, we want to keep them entertained. We want to tell a great story, and we do that by leaving out the boring or mundane details and including the things that truly matter in the story.
- These scenes are great for setting up story world rules and cause/effect patterns we’ll need to know throughout the story.
- Establish a character’s goal using an opening scene. Tell us what they want and their plan to get it.
- These are great setting scenes. Where are we, and what do we need to know about this place?
- When are we, and who is here?
These are the word bridges our readers cross to get from the beginning of a scene to the tension/action of the scene. We learned about the who in the opening part of our scene, but now we need to transition to the tension, and that’s what connection scenes do; they help a reader transition. They propel us toward the action and other juicy bits that our readers are here for.
How to write one:
- What do we know about transitions? They lead us from a starting place to an ending place, right? So something has to change. What can change for your character or in the story world and how can we bridge the beginning and ending together?
- These scenes are great for showing us a character’s reaction to something.
- Use a connecting scene to tell us about a character’s decision after their reaction.
- These scenes tend to answer the “why” questions. We already know who and where, but why are we here?
This is where the tension keeps us turning the pages well after our bedtime. These tend to be short and packed full of things like high emotion and, obviously, action.
How to write one:
- Can we build tension by reminding the reader what’s at stake? Can we complicate the overall story problem? Awesome, then do it! The point is to ramp up the drama and keep your reader flipping the pages.
- Use these scenes to tell us about the consequences of a character’s earlier actions.
- These scenes are perfect for delivering a disaster to your main character.
- Conflict, it drives a story and makes for a fabulous action scene.
General Good Scene Writing Tips
- A good opening line.
- A good ending line.
- Tangible details. Invoke the reader’s senses.
- Don’t lump too many of the same kind of scenes together. If you’ve just had one heck of an action scene, give your readers a breather and slow the pace for the next scene so they can digest what just happened along with your characters.
- There are so many great ways to start a scene:
- Action: explosion, car chase, natural disasters are always a welcome scene opener.
- Summary: what’s happened and where are we going?
- Character’s thoughts: use this to transition us through our ever-changing MC.
- Dialogue: because we all love to read it and it makes the pace pick up speed.
- As with scene opening techniques, there are scene ending ones as well:
- End mid-action: The timer is counting down, dun dun dun!
- Character epiphany: The light bulb has turned on, and now our MC has a new insight into their problem and how to solve it.
- The character discovers a massive obstacle standing in their way.
- End it with some good, old-fashioned emotional turmoil.
Happy writing, friends!