Friday, June 11, 2010


by Winnie Griggs
The workhorse of a story is not words, or sentences or even paragraphs - but it is the scene. Because it is in a scene that we see the key element of any good story - namely relevant change.
It is the elements of both relevance and change that makes a scene a scene.

Today I’d like to discuss eight elements that I feel make up an effective scene:

As a set-up for this discussion, let’s imagine a scene where we have our heroine, Debbie Diva, who is newly divorced, and struggling with what impact that label of divorcée will have on her social standing. She’s been invited to a party hosted by a long time acquaintance and the scene opens when she arrives and parks her car.

1 In an effective scene - something happens
The ‘something’ doesn’t have to be remarkable - it can be as simple as a single activity or as complex as several dozen story beats rolled together.

For instance, in our scene with Debbie Diva, if the scene revolves around her fear of going out in public again, the ‘beats’ to this scene might stop with her making the decision to leave her car and walk up to the front door. The party itself may be transitioned over entirely since in this case it was her decision to actually join the party that was important to the story and to showing some aspect of her character.

On the other hand, if the thrust of the scene is to show how she handles being out among her friends, the scene could be composed of a number of beats - arriving at the party, a few awkward conversations, perhaps an overheard catty comment, catching the eye of an intriguing-looking gentleman, and the unexpected arrival of the ‘other woman’.

2. An effective scene should have a focus or goal
In other words, our character (s) will strive to achieve something. Note, the author needs to look at this on two very different levels:
One, is to view it from the character’s perspective - what does the character hope to accomplish during the course of this scene?
The second is the reader perspective. What do you as the author want the reader to come away from this scene with?
In our scene with Debbie Diva, the character’s goal might be to prove to herself that her social standing was not adversely affected by the divorce. The author’s goal for the reader, however, may be to deepen her understanding of some aspect of Debbie’s character, either a strength or a weakness.

3. An effective scene should elicit a reaction
A well crafted scene will evoke emotion of some sort, both in the characters on the page and in the reader. Note, these won’t necessarily be the same emotions.
Again, in our previous scene with Debbie Diva, depending on how the author plays it out, the reaction of our focal character could be one of mortification, determination, depression, irritation, or even victory.
On the other hand, the reaction of the reader might be one of sympathy, amusement or even annoyance. A good writer will choreograph her scene to tease the emotions she wants from both the characters and the readers.

4. An effective scene will have a story purpose
The whole crux of your scene’s reason for being is to move the story forward in some fashion. There are many different kinds of scenes - fight scenes, flashbacks, love scenes, opening scenes, turning points, climactic scenes - but no matter the type, a scene must have some effect on the focal character or overall storyline . Something necessary to the story as a whole must be contained within the scene to warrant its existence, otherwise it should be rewritten or ruthlessly cut. In order to pull its weight effectively your scene should Ideally perform at least two story functions - three or four would be better.

5. An effective scene should have structure
• As in a full-blown story, each scene must have a well defined beginning, middle and end. It’s a mini-story of sorts - there is an inciting incident, a series of actions or beats, and then a resolution that tells us we’ve extracted everything we can from this particular scene. However, with the exception of the final scenes, the scene resolution does leave some unanswered questions, some loose ends that nudge the reader into the subsequent scenes to try to find the answers.

6. A scene should show logical, believable progression
The scenes should flow one from the other, sculpting and shaping your story in an aesthetically satisfying way that is entertaining and relevant.
Since scenes are the building blocks of your story, they must be carefully placed and arranged with every other scene in order to construct a pleasing, functional whole. Each scene builds on the one that came before and leads to the next - enhancing, changing, or redirecting your through line in some way, either subtly or forcefully - always pushing inexorably forward to the story’s resolution.

CAUTION: Logical doesn’t mean predictable, but given what the reader knows about the characters and the situation, it must be a believable next step.

7. A scene should have a mood or attitude
This is the underlying emotion in your story. Is it comedic, solemn, dark, light? Are there underlying urges or desires that drive your characters? These will play into your scene in subtle or overt ways, coloring the actions and goals, informing the responses of both the characters and the reader. Again, using our scene with Debbie Diva at the party, even using the same action beats in the scene, they will play out very differently in a romantic comedy than they would in a romantic suspense or women’s fiction work

8. The final element an effective scene must have is the one I’ve mentioned before, the all-important element of change.
The change can be big or small, but you should be able to both identify it and see how it moves your storyline forward. This forward motion can come either through revelation or a relevant honing of character, world or plot. Debbie Diva, or her situation, must be different at the end of the scene than she/it was at the beginning.

Again, if something doesn’t change, then no matter how lyrical and elegantly crafted, no matter how invested you as a writer are in it, the scene must be ruthlessly deleted.

In closing let me say that the clearest test of a scene’s effectiveness is to use what Raymond Obstfeld, in his book “Crafting Scenes”, calls the so-what factor. When you finish reading over your scene, ask yourself “so what?” Is this scene necessary? If you remove it will it actually affect the outcome of the story ? Does it fit with the scene before and the one after? Did something change? Was it significant enough for its own scene or could the key points be folded in one of the neighboring scenes?

For a chance to win a copy of Winnie’s brand-new release, The Heart’s Song, please leave a comment
Winnie Griggs
Small Towns, Big Hearts, Amazing Grace
Sign up for my newsletter and be entered in monthly drawings!
The Heart's Song, June 2010
The Proper Wife, March 2011


  1. I'm reading this and the first thing that comes to mind is the "scene followed by a sequel followed by a scene" methodology that I'm trying to employ in my current WIP. (It's late. I may be confusing things.)

    In this post, are you referring to all scenes, regardless of being scene or sequel? (I hope this question makes sense.)


  2. Walt M,
    Another night owl I see
    The termiology does get a bit confusing, but scenes and sequels are two types of scenes. Another name for these is action and reaction blocks, which is my preference because it is less confusing. And yes, these tips apply to both types of scenes.
    Hope that made sense if not, ask again

  3. Winnie,

    Can I join the night owl club? ;)

    Thank you so much for sharing this! What great points! :) I remember by Novel Writing teacher at college this last semester shared similar ideas, reminding me that every scene needed to have a purpose and needed to be focused--with action.

    I like how you put it--about every scene needing "change." And how we need to ask "so what?" about each scene.

    This was a helpful post. :)

    For all those who actually drink coffee, I'll get it started. For those of us who don't, how about some juice? And I have some brownies my mom made, if anybody wants some! ;)

    Please enter me for a chance to win your book! Thanks!



  4. Oh, and if JULIE is reading this comment: Head on over to my blog! We're discussing A Passion Most Pure today! :D

    If anyone else wants to join us, we'd love to have you stop by!Thanks!


  5. Welcome to Seekerville, Winnie! That scene "so what?" factor you mention is really what it comes down to, isn't it? Probably should post that on an index card at my desk--IN GIANT LETTERS!

    So glad Amber brought brownies for breakfast! A woman after my own heart! :)

  6. Good morning, Winnie, and welcome to Seekerville! And boy, did you come with the goodies or what??? EXCELLENT blog, and one that needs to be printed off and posted close to my computer!

    I especially like #5, that each scene has to have a beginning, middle and end just like a novel. Gosh, that is SO true! In fact, I personally like to see a strong first sentence that hooks you in to a scene just like a great first line hooks you into an entire book. I actually think hook sentences at the beginning of a scene are almost as important as the first line of a book. Likewise, I think the last sentence in a scene should be a hook that pulls you forward, both preferably with lots and lots of drama! :)

    Winnie, I LOVE your tagline, "Small Towns, Big Hearts, Amazing Grace." That alone draws me to your books because it is so well written! That and the adorable cover of "The Heart's Song" with the little girl reading a book on the steps. VERY inviting! Looking forward to reading it.


    P.S. Amber, I am THRILLED you are discussing APMP and blown away about your great questions, ESPECIALLY the 2nd one. You are DEEP, girl!!

  7. Hi Winnie, Welcome to Seekerville, Wow your topic is so right on for me today because I just wrote a scene and my words were "so what?" Great tips on how to fix that. Maybe the delete button. Hush Ruthy.

    Thanks for the coffee Amber. You did great for a non-coffee drinker. The juice is yummy too and the brownies. mmmmmmmm

  8. You made a lot of great points, Winnie.

    I had to cut a lot of the early scenes from The Healer's Apprentice. I was entering contests and realizing that every word counts, ESPECIALLY in the first 50 pages. I cut several scenes over several revisions. I even cut the scene where the h/h first meet. So when my editor got ahold of it, she only suggested cutting one scene in the whole book, and it was very short.

    Cutting scenes is like pruning a rose bush. It makes the rose bush healthier and stronger. Or I guess it does. I'm not a gardener at all. I unintentionally kill all our house plants.

  9. Hi Winnie,

    Writing a scene sounds like writing a mini-novel! I never thought of it that way, but I can see how it can keep you plot and action focused. Thanks for the great insights.

    I read 'Heart's Song' last weekend and I can see that you practise what you preach. :-) Each scene kept me turning pages to read more! I could easily see 'Heart's Song' as a Hallmark movie. It has that kind of heartwarming vibe to it.

  10. Hi!

    You've given me a lot to think about. Some of this I have been doing carefully without realizing it. It is wonderful to have it analyzed so well that I can use your five points as a diagnostic tool as needed.



    khurst5476 at yahoo dot com

  11. This post couldn't have come at a better time since I'm culling useless words/paragraphs/scenes from my WIP.
    christi_corbett at yahoo dot com

  12. Winnie- thanks for the great info. I believe I'll print this out to use as a reference as I make revisions on my current WIP.

    One question: when you're creating a scene do you worry about all of these elements on the draft version, or do you wait to revise in any elements left out of the draft?

    Oh, and I'd love to read your book.

  13. Welcome to Seekerville, Winnie! Love having a fellow Love Inspired author here.

    Thanks for a terrific post on crafting scenes! Though nothing you said is new to me, that doesn't mean I always remember to write effective scenes. You've given an excellent concise checklist for evaluating scenes that I will use.

    Love the cover of your latest book, The Heart's Song!

    I brought apple fritters this morning, one of my favorites.


  14. Hi, Winnie.
    I love this.
    I have been wrestling with a story, trying to lift the action a little, it's been a quiet little story so far and we can't have that! Where's the mayhem???

    So I got an idea for a scene and it just seems to bring the whole book to life with it's trouble element.

    So, I've really been focusing on scenes here in the last few days. You did a great job of putting it into words.

  15. I was reading a novel about a novelist, historical. It was really funny. One thing she said in that book was she needed to begin each chapter with a Startling Incident and end it with a cliffhanger.

    It was just funny because the the novel is unfolding so she's writing her startling incidents all while startling incidents are happening in her life.

  16. Winnie, welcome to Seekerville!

    And Amber, sweet thing, God has blessed us with your presence, your coffee (a little stronger next time, peaches, not that I'm FUSSY or anything...) and the brownies.

    Kiss Mom for us. Brownies for breakfast. YES!!!

    Winnie, thank you THIS much for breaking this down so perfectly, step by step. And that little girl on your cover is so cute...

    I love kids on LI covers. Am I the only one, or do you think readers are as enraptured by books with cool kids and hurting families as I am????

    And like you, I see these breakdowns as action/reaction...

    human elements with science base, every action has at least an equal and opposite reaction, even if the person refuses to react...

    The refusal to react then becomes the reaction and drives us forward.

    You're making me feel smart, Winnie and you're making Mary think of how she can up the ante of her scenes. Dangerous territory, woman!

  17. Hi Winnie:

    I’m so glad to see you here today! I loved “The Heart’s Song”! I’ve read it twice. Once out of pure enjoyment and once to write a detailed review. I wanted to discover how you achieved all that you did in that novel. Then you write this post and tell how you did it!

    I think readers would be interested to know that “The Heart’s Song” is your first Contemporary. You normally write Historical romances. It is also an RT 4 ½ star Top Pick -- but I rate it a little higher than that. : )

    I think your statement that, “A good writer will choreograph her scene to tease the emotions she wants from both the characters and the readers” is perfectly demonstrated in “The Heart’s Song”. In fact, all of your points are faithfully employed in the novel. Reading the book is a learning experience as well as a lot of fun!

    You seem to have more secondary characters than I can ever remember seeing in a Love Inspired romance. Most characters have a story and seem to get a scene where they elicit a strong emotional reaction in the reader. There is so much going on in the novel, with so many characters, I think the term ‘choreograph’ is the best way to describe it. In a way, the story reminds me of a ballet: the characters gracefully come on stage, do their dance, and then gracefully exit. All the while the story continues as a seamless whole.

    I think of “The Heart’s Song” as the ‘feel good’ novel of the year. For this reason, I think the cover art is inspired. The illustration makes me feel good in a way the story made me feel good. I would have thought the cover would show a Bell Choir or the hero or the heroine. I think the artist truly understood the story.

    A question: Will there be any more Tippanyville stories? Joscelyn deserves hero, the setting is fascinating, and there must be a lot more great cooking to do. How about an 1878 prequel? : )


  18. Thanks for the great advice. I'm going to get to work on my story right now. :)


  19. Amber - the only requirement for joining the night owl club is to stay up at your computer past midnight on a consistant basis :)

    Glad you enjoyed the post and I'll have a glass of that juice please

  20. Hi Winnie,

    I really like that "so what?" question to ask yourself after you write the scene. I really try to make scenes count but sometimes they get a way from me.

    Thanks for the great post.

    RRossZediker at yahoo dot com

  21. Glynna - thanks for the welcome and glad you enjoyed the post

    Julie - I agree, scenes need to be constructed as mini-stories. And thanks for the nice words about my tagline - I feel it does a good job of describing what my books are all about.

  22. My notebook is beginning to bulge from saving all the good tips from this blog.

    This is another excellent contribution.



  23. Sandra - don't hit that delete button too quick, sometimes just a few tweeks will get it back on track. Then again, sometimes cutting IS your only option

    Melanie - love your rose bush comparison - so true!

  24. Winnie,

    Thanks. That clears things up.

  25. Kay - thank you soooo much for the kind words about THS - so glad you enjoyed it

    Kathy - you're right, many writers do this instinctively

    Christicorbett - glad the timing worked for you!

  26. Winnie is so smart! I'm glad she's my friend. She sets a good example for me to learn my craft! And sometimes, I stare at my computer and I do say "So what?" Then my brain says "What if?" I'm glad I hang around with smart people!

    Love you Winnie!

  27. Dianna - I don't 'consciously' do this when I'm crafting the first draft, but it IS something I pay attention do when I am doing my revision/tuning passes

    Janet - Yes, the Love Inspired folks always do such a nice job on the covers. And thanks for the apple fritters - just what I needed!

  28. Mary - thanks for the kind words - one would never think you struggle with scenes - your books are fabulous!

    Ruth - Thanks for the welcome and LOL - I'm sure you don't need me to make you feel smart.

  29. Awww...I'm so glad ya'll like the brownies! :) They've got chocolate chips in them, too, so dig in!

    Ruth: Boy, I don't know if I'll ever get the coffee just right! ;) But maybe with practice... But at least we have brownies for breakfast! My mom and I are quite the chocolate-lovers, let me assure you!

    Julie: Thank you! I'm so glad you like the discussion so far. :) How fun to have the author checking in on our discussion of her book!


  30. Thanks Winnie. This is another keeper.

    Agreed, Helen... my notebook is bulging. (OK, I just said that. Actually I print and tape all over my wall. Sigh)

    YAY! Walt & Vince are back!

    I've never read any LI until Seekerville and have thoroughly enjoyed them. Please enter may at maythek9spy dot com.

    New name alert - Mary Mahem. :)

    Dashing today. Thanks for the brownies and coffee. (Get a grip Ruthy, it was delicious!!)

  31. Vince - Oh my - thanks for the wonderful plug! So glad you enjoyed the book, and yes I loooove to include lots of secondary characters. I hope there will be more books centered around this handbell choir group - that'll be up to my editor :)

  32. Angela - LOL, glad my post inspired you

    Rose - It really DOES come down to that 'so what' question, doesn't it? And we all need help reining those scenes in sometimes.

  33. Helen - you're welcome! Glad you found something of value in the post.

    Hi Lenora! LOL - we both know who learns from who in our partnership.

    KC - You're welcome. And I think I'll join you in having another brownie...

  34. You know, I wrote a book called Heart Song.

    Never published.

    Now you've stolen my title, Winnie. For SHAME!!!

  35. Thank you for the wonderful thoughts Winnie! Just wondering if anyone tries to have a rough number of scenes per chapter?


    EvaMariaHamilton at gmail dot com

  36. Mary - Actually my working title for this one was 'Joyful Noise' - my editor was the one who came up with the final title. But, the again, I always say, finders keepers....

  37. Very nicely put.
    I really enjoyed your post, and learend a lot from it.
    A structured way to look at scenes? That will help everyone!
    Have a good one!

  38. Eva - You're quite welcome! As for number of scenes per chapter, I usually don't think in those terms because scene length varies so much. I usually think more in terms of where I have a strong hook to break my chapters. I'd be interested in hearing what others do in this area

  39. Kelly - glad you enjoyed the post. And yes, I'm all about analysis and structure - my college degree is a BS in Mathematics if that tells you anything :)

  40. enjoyed this posting...and visited your's great!

    kmkuka at yahoo dot com

  41. Winnie, just yesterday I was going through my scenes and trying to figure out what I needed to get rid of. Thank you for posting this. Now I can go back over my chapters with a better idea of what to look for.

  42. Winnie, just yesterday I was going through my scenes and trying to figure out what I needed to get rid of. Thank you for posting this. Now I can go back over my chapters with a better idea of what to look for.

  43. karenk - thanks for taking the time to visit my website - glad you liked it.

    Renee - glad you found the post helpful - good luck with your revisions!

  44. Winnie, a late welcome. What an informative post. And I too print off the real writing world application posts for my writing. Thank you.

    Oh, and congratulations on your RT Top Pick for your first contemp. Are you going to keep writing both historical and contemps?

  45. Great post, Winnie! Thanks so much for joining us!

    I'm doing revisions right now, so this'll be a great help.

    BTW, I love your new cover!!

  46. Tina - Hi! and thanks for the congrats on my Top Pick ranking. And yes, I hope to be able to write both historical and contmporary in the future - thanks for asking!

  47. Missy - Hi there! Glad you found the post helpful and yes I agree, LI does a great job on their covers!

  48. Eva Maria, I usually have 3 scenes per chapter. And I usually alternate POV's. But it's not always that precise. I sometimes have 4 shorter scenes.

    Some people might say that's too predictable. But I just tend to plot that way. Especially now that I use this cool program called Writing Blocks to plot my scenes.

  49. I love visiting Seekerville. I feel like I have entered into a classroom with expert teachers. This post is full of so much information to digest..thank you.

    Many blessings,
    Cindy W.


  50. Cindy - definitely not an expert here, but glad you found the post helpful,

  51. Winnie,

    I enjoyed your post and would like to be entered for the book.

    cathy underline shouse at yahoo dot com

  52. Thanks Winnie and Missy for your input on the number of scenes per chapter!

  53. Cathy - thanks for dropping by, glad you enjoyed the post

    Evan - you're quite welcome

  54. this was really informative and brain opening. thanks so much! Getting ready to start my live blogging fiction story and your post encouraged me and made me do some reworking in my mind to keep my story going. thanks!