Friday, 19 December 2014

Scene Stealing Scenes that Steal

We've all heard actors talk about stealing the scene but as a writer you want your scenes to steal.  Steal attention, steal laughter, steal tears, emotion, time, and, most of all, steal the will to put the book down and stop reading.  Nothing will kill enjoyment of a story more than a boring scene that wasn't well thought out.

Last weekend I held a follow up session for the SpecFicNZ members meeting in Auckland about planning your story before you write it and this time, we focused on scenes.

I like to have a complete scene by scene breakdown for a novel before I write it.  It's hard to do, but worth it when it comes to the actual writing.  Whether this is a strategy for you or not, what is important is that you think about how to make each scene engaging so that it steals your reader's attention and keeps it.  In order to do this, you need to consider:

Which characters are in the scene?  Is it told from the right point of view for maximum impact?  Do you have too many or too few characters present?  What are the relationships between the characters and how will they cause conflict or drive the story?

Is the scene set in an interesting place?  How can the location say something about the story, raise the tension, make things awkward for the characters, and drive the story?

Story goal of the scene:
What's the point of this scene?  If there isn't one, then you don't need that scene.  Can you achieve more than one story goal and make the scene more interesting?  A scene following a red herring is fine but throw in some action and character development because a scene that is nothing but filler because you want a longer book is not okay.

Characters’ goals within the scene:
The characters may well have a very different goal in this scene to what your story goal is.  That keeps it interesting.  Even more so when they have different goals to each other as well.

What actually happens in this scene?  Again, if it's just filler and waffle, you need to cut it.

Emotional events/impact:
It doesn't have to be physical action to be interesting. Emotional action happens too and keeps a reader interested in the characters.  How are they impacted by what's happening? Or by what they bring to the scene from their past.

What upcoming events do you need to hint about in this scene?  What clues need to be dropped so it makes sense later when your characters realise the truth?

Writers often think of a hook in terms of the beginning of a book or story but each scene also needs a beginning, middle and end.  The real page turners have hooks at the beginning and end of every scene that keep the reader wanting more.

Tension and Conflict:
How are the stakes being raised in this scene?  What doesn't go as planned?  How can things get worse before they get better?  Conflict and tension make a story exciting.  They can steal your breath away.


  1. G'day Darian, great post... D'Oh! I didn't know this meeting was on or I would have come. My bad - I'll try and get a handle on when the next meeting is. Looks like great info and I'll have a closer look when it's not lunchtime at work, and I'm struggling for enthusiasm. Merry (twisty) Christmas. :)

    1. No worries. I hope to see you at the next one. :)