Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Reasons for a Scene & Building up Scenes

Author Margaret Daley gave me great advice years ago when she said that she tries to have at least three reasons for a scene being in a book. If not, she either builds it up, or cuts it.

Today, I am sharing a list of reasons I have compiled for scenes being in a romance. If you write a different genre, I'd like to broaden the article. So, if you see some reasons missing...by all means...post 'em in the comment section! :-)

This will help you if you've ever received contest comments suggesting the judge didn't understand the reason for a scene. Or suggestions to build up a scene.

Every scene should move the plot forward and deepen characterization in some manner. And, every scene should have tension in it. Your opening scene should ALWAYS hook readers. Then write every scene as punchy as your first.

In every scene, ask yourself, "What is the point of this scene?"

Reasons for a scene (this is not all inclusive):

Hook readers.
Introduce characters.
Introduce external conflict.
Reveals characters' internal conflict.
Intro characters' story goal
Alter characters' goal.
Intro characters' motivation.
Intro relational conflict in romance.
Ramps tension (every scene should do this)
Forwards plot (every scene should do this)
Inciting incident/disaster
Black moment.
First kiss.
Ups the stakes.
Throws a wrench in characters' plans.
Shows the growing romance.
Establishes setting.
Reveals character's epiphany.
Introduces important secondary characters.
Reveals story crux.
To show characters strengths, integrity despite weakness
To endear character to readers.
To foreshadow upcoming conflict.
To bring in more conflict.
Red Herrings.
Introduce clues (if mystery).
Emotional punch
To deliberately mislead the reader (fairly, of course)
Emotional punch ( to maybe change the reader's opinion of a character.
To make reader feel empathy or sympathy for or understand a character's reaction
To pace up or slow down the plot speed
Sequel to show character's response to conflict etc.
To give plot information to readers
To anchor readers in setting, time period, etc.
New story or character revelation
To add conflict
To develop or deepen characterization
Spiritual depth
Set up for a sequel (as in a second book not a scene sequel)
Take the protagonist further away or closer to their goal.
Moves the story forward, forward momentum
Advances the plot
Deepens sensory so reader experiences story
Displays theme or takeaway
Spiritual thread
Show romantic or sexual tension between hero and heroine in romance
Introduce plot twist
To evoke reader emotion or sympathy
To foreshadow
To hint at upcoming conflict or impending doom
To bring in more conflict
Show important plot info
Tie up loose ends
Resolution/wrap up


Forgive me if I've repeated myself...I'm literally on drugs at the moment of posting this following surgery.

I KNOW THERE ARE MORE...so shoot me YOUR reasons for a scene being there. Stuff I haven't listed.

Cheryl Wyatt


  1. Stuff you haven't listed?

    Honey, you listed every reason I could think of and twenty more, LOL!

    Great post, drugs or not, and a little birdie told me you managed Nascar so I think the drugs are doing their job, honey-lamb.

    So Cheryl, answer this...

    Does the scene's point always have to be flagged for the reader's benefit if the build-up makes sense a few pages or chapters down the road?

    I'm never a big fan of scenes that get explained by internal thought all the time. That has its place, but some things I want to 'see' evolve. You actually handled this very well in A Soldier's Family. I could see their angst, feel it, but you progressed them forward without offering a silent explanation for everything, thereby giving the reader credit for having a brain. I like that. A lot.

    So is acquiring the skill for knowing when to explain and when to shut up and let a story evolve a learned art?

    And while you're mulling that question, I've brought peach crisp and a fresh carafe of Southern pecan coffee.

    To die for.


    We can have the barista whip you up a special blend or you can help yourself to the flavored creamers and whipped cream to your left.

    Peach crisp.



  2. Grin ... I couldn't come up with that many reasons on or OFF drugs, Cheryl, so I am TOTALLY impressed!! My personal favorite would be: "Show romantic or sexual tension between hero and heroine in romance." Mmmm ... this could very well be the ONLY one I ever use ... :)

    Seriously, you nailed it on all points and some I never thought of. Great job, great post, my friend.


  3. If thats what drugs do to you I want some of them!
    looks like an interesting list.

  4. Hi Cheryl, What a great list. I've heard Margaret talk and have heard the premise, but you just make it clear as day. Thanks.
    I'm with Julie, I love the scenes that build up that tension. And Ruthy, I'll have some of that peach crisp.

    Cheryl, you really do come up with great writing tips. You should write a book about writing.

  5. Wow! A nifty check list. (Nerd Girl loves to-do lists)So, each scene should meet several of those criteria.

    I know in my second door-stop novel (the size of a brick) I later read through it and realized many scenes were not moving the plot but rather were "How to Milk a Cow in Five Easy Steps" or "How to Give Riding Lessons ..."

    I'm glad I wrote them b/c they portray times in my life that are no more. But they would be better journal entries than novel scenes.

    And peach crisp, to boot! May I break out a 5-Quart bucket of vanilla ice cream to share? Breakfast of champions

  6. Good grief, Cheryl! An amazing list! Couldn't add a thing.

    And, um, after the chapters I read in Julie's book last night ... the sexual tension between "just friends" was, um, HOT! Mitch is doomed. Utterly doomed.

  7. Thanks, Cheryl! I just wrote:

    Does This Scene:
    1. Move the plot forward?
    2. Deepen characterization?
    3. Have tension?

    and taped it on the wall in front of my work space. Thanks for the great checklist as I revise! And for the great list. If it's not all-inclusive, it should be!

    Hey, do you guys know how to find out how Kit Wilkinson is doing? She was a visitor here several times, wasn't she?

  8. Myra, grin, Mitch is NOT doomed ... but then it's all a matter of perspective, I suppose. :)


  9. Ruthie...I think the reasons in a scene should NOT be flagged. I think it should be so seamless that the readers has no clue the author is striving to have reasons for the scene. I think authors can tend to, like you said, over explain which is insulting to readers. Hopefully we write in such a way that readers are oblivious that we've worked to incorpoprate sound structure our book. Hope this makes sense. And I hate writing and reading long snippets of internal thought. I'm more drawn to action scenes. LOL!

    I think this post would be most beneficial for writers who need help with shoring up a sagging middle or who have weak story structure.

    Hopefully the story and characters will so rivet the reader that they have long lost touch with the scene changes anyway. LOL! Before they know it they've turned the last page and wishing there were more.

    Yes...I braved a weekend of NASCAR the day after my second surgery in eight days. LOL!

    Thank you for your compliments in A Soldier's Family.




  10. Julie,

    I kind of cheated...I polled the ACFW loop for reasons for a scene...so I didn't come up with all those all by myself. LOL!

    And yes...definitely there needs to show physical attraction/romantic/sexual attraction in romance...can't believe I left that off! LOL!

    Note to self...add it now...



  11. LOL! Ausjenny.

    The post took me four times longer to write and proofread and I still have no idea if it made sense. A couple of parts...I am not even sure what I meant. So hopefully it made sense as I'm laying off the pain meds today. LOL!


  12. Thanks, Sandra! I love hearing Margaret's tips and teaching. She has a wonderful fantabulous character chart on her blog or Web site. At least she did years ago. I use it for character development.

    Almost everything I learned, I learned from seasoned writers. And I'm still learning.

    I feel the same about you gals! We should do a Seeker Craft book or something.


    Cheryl who is going for a second cup of pecan coffee!

  13. Ann...I have scenes like that too! LOL! Scenes that stagnate the plot. You said it even better than I did!

    Thank you for visiting us today. And for offering your thoughts.



  14. Myra,

    I totally agre....

    Julie's heroes are smokin!



  15. Melanie,

    Glad the post was helpful.

    Kit is a good friend and I've been e-mailing her with no response. I will look for her number today because I am concerned. Please keep her in your prayers.



  16. Wow, thanks for that list. I think I'm going to print it out.
    Right now I've been struggling with my wip, wondering if my scenes have enough purpose. Now I can hold this handy checklist up.
    So glad you're through with surgery.

  17. Thank you Jessica! I'm glad you found the list helpful.

    Be sure to search the comments for things I might have missed or forgotten to put on the list.


  18. One thing I wanted to say too was that it might be better to write to the end of the book then go back and make sure your scenes drive the story forward. That way you don't get hung up with editing. Unless you're an edit-as-you-go kind of writer.

    I'm an instinctual writer, which means I write without any conscious thought to structure or craft. Yet when I'm done, my stories always usually (according to our resident structure expert-Camy Tang) have sound structure.

    I think this comes from being an avid reader and ESPECIALLY because I am an avid reader of the genre and line I write for.

    So, whether you've been published before or not, be sure to read current works from any publishing line you are targeting.


  19. THAT IS A GREAT LIST! Wow. Ok, now I'm going to have to go through my WIP again (**wink**)
    Seriously, that was a really helpful list. THANKS!

  20. I can't believe I haven't gotten over her today utnil now.

    And now I'm overwhelmed with the list and so delighted to see Cheryl here and in action.

    Great post

  21. Is it possible for a newbie (yanno, like me!) to get SO hung up on this that it hinders more than helps? I ask because I seem to be asking something along these lines with every paragraph I'm (trying) to write and it feels like I'm choking way more than I'm writing. (ok, so there's no seems to it.)

    Is this something that I can wait until I have the story told to worry about or do I just need to work through the choking?

  22. Sheri,

    I know the feeling. LOL! I lose count of how many passes I make through the ms.

    Thanks for dropping by!


  23. Mary,

    You could write circles around me. You're probably doing everything on the list and more without even striving to. LOL!

    You are amazing.



  24. Patty,

    ABSOLUTELY, YES. YES. YES. It can be overwhelming and stifling to try to remember all the rules when doing your rough draft. It can be so overwhelming, people want to give up. So that's why I ignore everything until I get my mess draft down. I totally turn off my internal editor.

    If you are an avid reader, chances are your stories have sound structure.

    This list is merely a troubleshooting list for when scenes fall flat or need a boost or aren't moving the plot forward.

    If you are what I call an instinct writer or a panster, IGNORE the list. Once you've written your first draft, you can go back and make sure you have reasons for the scene.

    My motto is, "Get it written over getting it right." Write outweighs right for first drafts.

    With each ms, you'll do these things automatically.

    If the rules are hanging you up. Write without thinking about them.

    Hugs and God's best to you!


  25. Thank you, Cheryl!
    That was the impression/feeling I was getting as I sat and felt like I was getting a root canal without the comfort of pain killers!


  26. Cheryl, I missed stopping in yesterday. So glad I got here today to read this dynamite post! You gave us a comprehensive list of reasons for a scene! Great job!!!

    Delighted you're back in Seekerville, drugged or not. We missed you!


  27. Great article! Lots of good stuff on this blog. Which is, of course, why I have it bookmarked. :)