Scene Writing Do’s and Don’ts

Google+ Pinterest LinkedIn Tumblr +

As you dive into writing the substance of your novel, you’ll likely be working scene by scene. When you tackle these discrete sections of text, you’ll want to make sure each scene supports the overall development of your story. Here are some tips:

Scenes should propel the overarching goal of your work and flow in the same direction.

Do write each scene as though it could stand alone. Make it dazzling enough to inform your reader of necessary plot information, exciting enough to create interest, and interesting enough to cause the reader to keep going. However, these scenes shouldn’t be disconnected from the overall goal of your final piece. Hopefully, you have established this goal before you started writing. What do you hope to accomplish with your main character? This answer should be applicable to every scene. Each scene should platform on the previous scenes behind it, much like a journey down a river. The river should flow in one direction and there shouldn’t be any long excursions into the woods and beyond. Don’t let your reader leave the river behind. Diversions like rapids and menacing boulders are great for creating tension, but for the most part, flowing down-river should be where the reader stays.

Have a clear POV and stick to it.

This might be a writing 101 tip, but it needs to be said – don’t head hop. Choose first person, second person, third person limited, or third person omniscient and then stick with that POV for the entire scene. Do not ever deviate from this rule unless you want to look like a total newbie!

Fronts and backs should be shiny and the middle should compliment both ends.

Do make every effort to let the first part of your scene sing. You want to pique your readers interest immediately as you take them into the action. Don’t bore them with heavy back-story. That’s summarizing and not applicable to a scene. The end of the scene should feel the same way. Do leave your reader wanting more. Cliffhangers are a wonderful tool to aid in this goal. These are the bookends of your scene. Do make sure your middle doesn’t wander from your goal.

You’ve heard it once, you’ve heard 300 times–show don’t tell. Here’s your moment to apply this advice.

Do make the point of your scene clear through visuals, sounds, dialogue, and action. Don’t write something like, “She had decided that this life wasn’t for her. She was fed up and needed a change.” How did she arrive at this decision? What happened? Where was she? What time of day was it? Who was she with? Do ask yourself these questions and then answer them as you build your scene. Show the reader her disgust as she watches the world pass her by. Do show the reader her determination to move in a different direction as she packs up her things and looks at a door for the last time.

Leave your readers on a high note or a low note, but always leave them wanting more.

Is it a down moment? Is your character at a low point? If so, make it clear. Show us what your main character is dealing with, don’t tell us. Don’t endlessly keep your characters in one state too long either. Do try to alternate between highs and lows to keep your pacing consistent. This will keep the flow going and will eliminate boring lulls in your story.

If you can keep your own details sharp, your dialogue clear and consistent, and your goals in mind, you should be able to write a scene that keeps your readers coming back for more.

Homework: Do take the time to go back and reread scenes that had you flipping pages like a dieter who enters an all-you-can-eat buffet. See if you can break down the author’s scene goal and then think about the overall goal of the novel.


Do you have a topic you would like us to cover? Let us know about your suggestion. 


About Author

Heather Rigney is a fiction writer, blogger, journalist, and art teacher based in Rhode Island. Author of The Merrow Trilogy--a dark, historical fantasy novel that deals with homicidal mermaids, the colonial suppression of women, and a present-day alcoholic funeral director trying to make sense of it all. Her writing has been featured in Motif Magazine and Stone Crowns Magazine. By day she teaches art at an all-girls Quaker school and at night she tries to be creative while avoiding too many sweets. You can read more about Ms. Rigney on her website:

Leave A Reply