Five Steps to Write Forward-Moving Scenes

One of the basic errors of authors, especially ones who are learning to write fiction, is creating scenes that go nowhere. Yes, I know, in the eyes of the writer, the scene does important things. I thought the same thing when I started writing.  In romance, I thought a scene where the hero and heroine shared information about themselves moved the story forward. I realized that scene had no tension, no conflict, no forward motion. That’s what authors need.  If the scene only introduces characters, brings the setting to life, provides backstory information, or provides characters with time to get to know each other, these purposes don’t always move the story forward. Where’s the tension? The conflict?

While introducting characters and setting, you can enhance the forward motion of your novel by using some interesting techniques such as the five steps below.

1. Before writing a scene decide what will happen in this scene to move the story forward. What is going to happen of significance or what new information will be shown in this scene. Will a major decision be made or will new conflict begin or a continuing conflict end? Will the scene foreshadow an upcoming situation or event? If the scene will only allow the characters to get to know each other better or to introduce backstory, eliminate it. Characters can get to know each other better while something significant is happening and backstory can be included in small pieces throughout the novel on a need to know basis only.

2. The next step is to ask what the characters need to be in this scene and what will each accomplish during the scene. In what way will the character’s needs or desires create conflict or add tension? Conflict does not have to be blatant, but can be reflected in the POV character’s introspection or shown through the response or action of a POV or non-POV character.

3. Select the best setting for this scene, the location and time of day or season of the year. The setting can add or detract from a scene, so chose one that will enhance the purpose of the scene and the needs of the characters. Too many scenes are set in a car while the characters are driving or at a table in a restaurant or kitchen as they talk about situations. Be creative and use locations, time of day, weather, and seasons to enhance the scene and its purpose.

4. Each scene will provide pertinent information, action and conflict to move the story forward, and it will be either be a scene or sequel. Dwight Swain’s definition of a scene is to provide interest and move the story forward with its structure being: Goal — conflict — disaster. A sequel is defined as a transition unit that links two scenes and focuses on the main character’s reaction to the previous scene and provides him motivation for the scene to come. The function is: To translate disaster into a goal, To telescope reality, and To control tempo. Therefore ask yourself “what must happen in this scene,” and then decide what is the strongest way to start the scene and then, what is the most effective way to end it. A scene ending with a hook keeps the reader reading. Writing the scene’s opening sentence can trigger your creativity and help you devise interest immediately.

5. Some authors begin their scenes by writing the dialogue first. This keeps the scene on track moving the story forward. Then the author returns to the opening and adds the action, description and introspection. Writing a scene this way can help you to understand how a story is layered and it gives you time to put yourself into the characters so that their actions and thoughts can show their emotion and their growth.

These five steps can help you write scenes that are strong in purpose, deepen characterization, show change and growth, reveal emotion, and hook readers.

The basic idea for this blog came from professional counselor and freelance writer Rocky Cole is at .

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  1. Martha Ramirez June 15, 2010 at 10:44 am #

    Great post, Gail!

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