I made this list as part of my revision process for my debut novel, Let it Reign. I hoped to write a book readers would struggle to put down. One of our goal as authors, is to make a story flow and keep the pages turning. Three-dimensional characters and riveting plots are essential. But to succeed at something, you know breaking a goal into steps is your best shot at accomplishing it.
For storytelling and writing craft, those steps are scenes. And it’s important to look at each individually, as well as how they work from one to the next.
Hence why I think this list can be helpful not just in the revision stages but also during plotting. Or even while fleshing out your scenes and adding more details in later drafts.
So whether you are staring at a blank page or a messy draft, I hope these questions help anchor you into the story and the scenes just as you hope your readers will be one day.
For this journey, let’s take two characters (let’s call them A and B) and work through a scene with them to give a more hands-on explanation how these questions benefit the story as a whole, and make your chapters rich from scene to scene, to scene.
1. What needs to happen in this scene?
This is going to be your basic ABCs.
Example: Character A walks in on Character B hurriedly cleaning up blood and finds out Character A is. . . the killer they’ve been searching for throughout the book.
Gripping right? But let’s make it more intense.
2. What are the character’s goals here?
Knowing this will help you decide whether or not certain characters need to even be in this scene (or if a character is missing perhaps), how they will act and react throughout the scene, and what their motivations are against the other characters involved.
Example: Let’s say A was searching for B to tell them they are in love with them. Now what? As for B, maybe their goal was to finish cleaning up the blood of their latest victim, knowing A was on their trail? Perhaps they’re late to catch their escape flight?
3. What is this scene’s purpose? Am I increasing tension, showing growth, or creating more conflict?
Your scenes should have a purpose if they are taking up ink and pages and adding to your word count. The purpose is up to you as the author to decide. It can be comedic relief, showing character development, raise the stakes of the plot, etc. How you tone the dialogue and prose will affect this. Think of it like background music in a movie impacting your feelings about what’s on screen.
Example: For A and B, I would say this scenes purpose would be to increase tension AND show character development. Will B let A go because they love them? Will they arrest them? Will B kill A to keep their secret? And how do they feel about A in return?
4. Who needs to be in this scene?
Well, we will need A and B, right?