Showing posts with label writing scenes. Show all posts
Showing posts with label writing scenes. Show all posts

Making Scenes Work


Contributed by Karen Cioffi, Children's Freelance Writer

One of the best descriptions I’ve read on what a scene is comes from James Scott Bell’s blog, Kill Zone. In an article on strengthening scenes, Bell explains that “scenes are the bricks that build the fiction house. The better the bricks, the better the house.” (1)

This gives a visual of how scenes work. Building one on top of the other to create a strong story.

Masterclass describes a scene as “a section of a story that has its own unique combination of setting, character, dialogue, and sphere of activity.” (2)

This description gives more details, but I like Bell’s visual better.

The Masterclass article also explains that scenes are one of the “most valuable writing skills an author can possess.”

This makes scenes even clearer. They’re essential to a ‘good’ book. Going back to the brick house, the better (stronger) the brick, the stronger the house.

A scene has a beginning, middle, and end, just like the story.

When the location changes, another character enters the scene, or something else significant changes within the scene, that’s usually an indication that it’s the end of that scene and the beginning of the next.

An example of this is from my middle grade book, Walking Through Walls.

The protagonist, Wang is trying to walk through a wall but just can’t do it. He’s fearful of getting hurt. It takes him ten tries.

Finally, he passes through it. That’s the end of that scene.

The next scene has Wang ecstatic. He’s thrilled. He can’t contain himself.

So, how do you make scenes work?

1. The first thing a scene needs to do is achieve something.

Think of the brick. It’s solid. It’s its own entity.

Each scene has a story to tell.

The scene may be a chase scene, a fight scene, the inciting incident, a romantic scene, or a scene establishing the setting.

Using Walking Through Walls again, at the beginning of the story, Wang is seen sweating and complaining while working in the wheat fields. This scene establishes the type of work Wang is doing and also establishes his attitude toward it.

2. A scene should be the foundation for the next scene.

Scenes are like building blocks. They provide information the reader should know to move forward in the story.

Going back to Wang and his attitude toward hard work, it allows the reader to understand why he desperately wants a way out of his life.

The scene can also provide more information, such as backstory, or a look into the character’s family life, friendships, strengths, weaknesses, and so on.

It can be anything of value that helps move the story and characters forward.

3. Every scene should have a point of view.

As a children’s ghostwriter, most of the stories I write have one point of view.

But I also work on upper middle-grade where there can be two points of view and young adult where there can be multiple points of view.

When working with more than one point of view, each scene should be specific to only one; otherwise, it can get confusing and weaken the strength of that brick.

4. Each scene should contribute to the world you’re creating.

The period of Walking Through Walls is 16th century China. This meant a lot of research.

I incorporated tools of the time period, clothing, and even food within the scenes to build the world the characters lived in.

I also used dialogue to build the world. I eliminated contractions and flavored the dialogue and actions with respect, especially toward elders.

5. As your story should be shown and not told, so should your scenes.

It doesn’t matter whether you’re a new writer of an experienced writer, it’s easy to fall into the ‘telling’ mode when writing.

Showing a scene means using dialogue, action, sensory details, and internal thoughts.

Using showing enables the reader to be absorbed in the story. It connects the reader to the character and brings the reader into the story.

Telling keeps the reader at arms-length. The reader won’t be able to make as strong a connection to the character or the story.  

Hope these five tips on writing a good scene help you strengthen your story’s scenes.





Karen Cioffi is an award-winning children’s author, ghostwriter, rewriter, and coach. If you need help with your story, visit Writing for Children with Karen Cioffi.

Karen also offers authors:

A guided self-study course and mentoring program.

A DIY book to help you write your own children’s book.

Self-publishing help for children’s authors.

How to Write Vivid Scenes: Cause and Effect, by Chris Eboch

Check out Chris's Haunted Series:
The Ghost on the Stairs, The Knight in the Shadows,
The Riverboat Phantom,
 and The Ghost Miner's Treasure

We welcome prolific author for children and adults, and editor, Chris Eboch, who is known has Kris Bock for her adult novels, has graciously agreed to share her three-part series of How to Write Vivid   Scenes, from her book Advanced Plotting. Part 1: How to Write Vivid Scenes, Part 1, and Part 2: How to Write Vivid Scenes: Connecting Scenes, appeared in the last two months. This month we present the last of the series: Part 3, "How to Write Vivid Scenes: Cause and Effect." 

One of the ironies of writing fiction is that fiction has to be more realistic than real life. In real life, things often seem to happen for no reason. In fiction, that comes across as unbelievable. We expect stories to follow a logical pattern, where a clear action causes a reasonable reaction. In other words, cause and effect.

The late Jack M. Bickham explored this pattern in Scene & Structure, from Writer’s Digest Books. He noted that every cause should have an effect, and vice versa. This goes beyond the major plot action and includes a character’s internal reaction. When action is followed by action with no internal reaction, we don’t understand the character’s motives. At best, the action starts to feel flat and unimportant, because we are simply watching a character go through the motions without emotion. At worst, the character’s actions are unbelievable or confusing. 

In Manuscript Makeover (Perigee Books), Elizabeth Lyon suggests using this pattern: stimulus — reaction/emotion — thoughts — action. 

  • Something happens to your main character (the stimulus)
  • You show his emotional reaction, perhaps through dialog, an exclamation, gesture, expression, or physical sensation
  • He thinks about the situation and makes a decision on what to do next
  • Finally, he acts on that decision. 

This lets us see clearly how and why a character is reacting. The sequence may take one sentence or several pages, so long as we see the character’s emotional and intellectual reaction, leading to a decision.

Bickham offered these suggestions for building strong scenes showing proper cause and effect:

The stimulus must be external — something that affects one of the five senses, such as action or dialog that could be seen or heard.

The response should also be partly external. In other words, after the character’s emotional response, she should say or do something. (Even deciding to say nothing leads to a reaction we can see, as the character turns away or stares at the stimulus or whatever.)

The response should immediately follow the stimulus. Wait too long and the reader will lose track of the original stimulus, or else wonder why the character waited five minutes before reacting.

Be sure you word things in the proper order. If you show the reaction before the action, it’s confusing: “Lisa hurried toward the door, hearing pounding.” For a second or two, we don’t know why she’s hurrying toward the door. In fact, we get the impression that Lisa started for the door before she heard the pounding. Instead, place the stimulus first: “Pounding rattled the door. Lisa hurried toward it.”

If the response is not obviously logical, you must explain it, usually with the responding character’s feelings/thoughts placed between the stimulus and the response. Here’s an example where the response is not immediately logical:

  • Knocking rattled the door. (Stimulus)
  • Lisa waited, staring at the door. (Action)

Why is she waiting? Does she expect someone to just walk in, even though they are knocking? Is she afraid? Is this not her house? To clarify, include the reaction:

  • Knocking rattled the door. (Stimulus)
  • Lisa jumped. (Physical Reaction) It was after midnight and she wasn’t expecting anyone. Maybe it was a mistake. Maybe they’d go away. (Thoughts)
  • She waited, staring at the door. (Responsive Action)

In some cases the response may be logical and obvious without including thoughts and emotions in between. For example, if character A throws a ball and character B raises a hand to catch it, we don’t need to hear character B thinking, “There’s a ball coming at me. I had better catch it.” But don’t assume your audience can always read between the lines. Often as authors we know why our characters behave the way they do, so we assume others will understand and we don’t put the reaction and thoughts on the page. This can lead to confusion. 

In one manuscript I critiqued, the character heard mysterious voices. I assumed they were ghosts, but the narrator never identified them that way. Did he think they were something else? Did he think he was going crazy? Had he not yet decided? I couldn’t tell. The author may have assumed the cause of the voices was obvious, so she didn’t need to explain the character’s reaction. But it just left me wondering if I was missing something — or if the character was. Err on the side of showing your character’s thoughts.

Link your scenes together with scene questions and make sure you’re including all four parts of the scene — stimulus, reaction/emotion, thoughts, and action — and you’ll have vivid, believable scenes building a dramatic story.

Chris Eboch is the author of over 60 books for children, including nonfiction and fiction, early reader through teen. This essay is adapted from Advanced Plotting, available for the Kindle, in paperback, or in Large Print paperback. Chris is the also the author of You Can Write for Children: How to Write Great Stories, Articles, and Books for Kids and Teenagers. Learn more at or her Amazon page, or check out her writing tips at her Write Like a Pro! blog,

How to Write Vivid Scenes: Connecting Scenes

Check out Chris's Haunted Series:
The Ghost on the Stairs, The Knight in the Shadows,
The Riverboat Phantom,
and The Ghost Miner's Treasure

We welcome prolific author for children and adults, and editor, Chris Eboch, who has graciously agreed to share her three-part series of How to Write Vivid Scenes, from her book Advanced Plotting. Part 1 appeared last month: How to Write Vivid Scenes, Part 1. This month we present Part 2, and next month: How to Write Vivid Scenes: Cause and Effect.

Each Scene is a Mini-story with its Own Climax

Each scene should lead to the next and drive the story forward, so all scenes connect and ultimately drive toward the final story climax. 

A work of fiction has one big story question — essentially, will this main character achieve his or her goal? For example, in my children’s historical fiction novel The Eyes of Pharaoh, the main character hunts for her missing friend. The story question is, “Will Seshta find Reya?” In The Well of Sacrifice, the story question is, “Will Eveningstar be able to save her city and herself from the evil high priest?” 

In Desert Gold (written as Kris Bock), the big story question is, “Will Erin find the treasure before the bad guys do?” There may also be secondary questions, such as, “Will Erin find love with the sexy helicopter pilot?” but one main question drives the plot.

Throughout the work of fiction, the main character works toward that story goal during a series of scenes, each of which has a shorter-term scene goal. For example, in Erin’s attempt to find the treasure, she and her best friend Camie must get out to the desert without the bad guys following; they must find a petroglyph map; and they must locate the cave. 

You should be able to express each scene goal as a clear, specific question, such as, “Will Erin and Camie get out of town without being followed?” If you can’t figure out your main character’s goal in a scene, you may have an unnecessary scene or a character who is behaving in an unnatural way.

Yes, No, Maybe

Scene questions can be answered in four ways: Yes, No, Yes but…, and No and furthermore…. 

If the answer is “Yes,” then the character has achieved his or her scene goal and you have a happy character. That’s fine if we already know that the character has more challenges ahead, but you should still end the chapter with the character looking toward the next goal, to maintain tension and reader interest. Truly happy scene endings usually don’t have much conflict, so save that for the last scene.

If the answer to the scene question is “No,” then the character has to try something else to achieve that goal. That provides conflict, but it’s essentially the same conflict you already had. Too many examples of the character trying and failing to achieve the same goal, with no change, will get dull.

An answer of “Yes, but…” provides a twist to increase tension. Maybe a character can get what she wants, but with strings attached. This forces the character to choose between two things important to her or to make a moral choice, a great source of conflict. Or maybe she achieves her goal but it turns out to make things worse or add new complications. For example, in Desert Gold, the bad guys show up in the desert while Erin and Camie are looking for the lost treasure cave. The scene question becomes, “Will Erin escape?” This is answered with, “Yes, but they’ve captured Camie,” which leads to a new set of problems.

“No, and furthermore…” is another strong option because it adds additional hurdles — time is running out or your character has a new obstacle. It makes the situation worse, which creates even greater conflict. In my current work in progress, tentatively titled Whispers in the Dark (written as Kris Bock), one scene question is, “Will Kylie be able to notify the police in time to stop the criminals from escaping?” When this is answered with, “No, and furthermore they come back and capture her,” the stakes are increased dramatically.

One way or another, the scene should end with a clear answer to the original question. Ideally that answer makes things worse. The next scene should open with a new specific scene goal (or occasionally the same one repeated) and probably a review of the main story goal. Here’s an example from The Eyes of Pharaoh:

Scene question: “Will Seshta find Reya at the army barracks?”

Answer: “No, and furthermore, she thinks the general lied to her, so Reya may be in danger.”

Next scene: “Can Seshta spy on the general to find out the truth, which may lead her to Reya?”

Over the course of a novel, each end-of-scene failure should get the main character into worse trouble, leading to a dramatic final struggle. 

Next time: Cause and Effect

Chris Eboch is the author of over 60 books for children, including nonfiction and fiction, early reader through teen. This essay is adapted from Advanced Plotting, available for the Kindle, in paperback, or in Large Print paperback. Chris is the also the author of You Can Write for Children: How to Write Great Stories, Articles, and Books for Kids and Teenagers. Learn more at or her Amazon page, or check out her writing tips at her Write Like a Pro! blog.

How to Write Vivid Scenes, Part I, by Chris Eboch

Prolific children's and adult author, Chris Eboch

Author/editor Chris Eboch has her foot in two worlds: children’s literature, as Chris Eboch and M. M. Eboch, and as Kris Bock, in adult literature. Chris has written over sixty books for children, including nonfiction and fiction, early reader through teen. Chris’s books on writing, You Can Write for Children, and Advanced Plotting, and posts on her blogspot, Write Like a Pro! A Free Online Writing Workshop, are chock full of down-to-earth advice for authors interested in honing their craft. Chris has been a member of SCBWI-NM for many years, has served as Regional Advisor, and currently serves in a new capacity as Published Authors Coordinator. Chris takes an active part in helping fellow authors succeed. We are very fortunate to have her. Read more about Chris in my WOTM February 2019 post: "Writing Tips from Author Chris Eboch", and in my June 2020 post, “Felany Melanie: Prequel to the movie Sweet Home Alabama.

During the next three months, Chris will be sharing her expertise on “How to Write Vivid Scenes,” information that has helped me personally with my craft.  

How to Write a Vivid Scene

In fiction writing, a scene is a single incident or event. However, a summary of the event is not a scene. Scenes are written out in detail, shown, not told, so we see, hear, and feel the action. They often have dialog, thoughts, feelings, and sensory description, as well as action. 

A scene ends when that sequence of events is over. A story or novel is, almost always, built of multiple linked scenes. Usually the next scene jumps to a new time or place, and it may change the viewpoint character. 

Think in terms of a play: The curtain rises on people in a specific situation. The action unfolds as characters move and speak. The curtain falls, usually at a dramatic moment. Repeat as necessary until you’ve told the whole story.

So how do you write a scene?

  • Place a character — usually your main character — in the scene. 
  • Give that character a problem.
  • Add other characters to the scene as needed to create drama.
  • Start when the action starts — don’t warm up on the reader’s time.
  • What does your main character think, say, and do?
  • What do the other characters do or say?
  • How does your main character react?
  • What happens next? Repeat the sequence of actions and reactions, escalating tension.
  • Build to a dramatic climax.
  • End the scene, ideally with conflict remaining. 

Scene Endings

Scene endings may or may not coincide with chapter endings. Some authors like to use cliffhanger chapter endings in the middle of a scene and finish the scene at the start of the next chapter. They then use written transitions (later that night, a few days later, when he had finished, etc.) or an extra blank line to indicate a break between scenes within a chapter.

Give the reader some sense of what might happen next — the character’s next goal or challenge — to drive the plot forward toward the next scene. Don’t ramble on after the dramatic ending, and don’t end in the middle of nothing happening.

A Scene Can Do Several Things

  • Advance the plot.
  • Advance subplots.
  • Reveal characters (their personalities and/or their motives).
  • Set the scene.
  • Share important information.
  • Explore the theme.

Ideally, a scene will do multiple things. It may not be able to do everything listed above, but it should do two or three of those things, if possible. It should always, always, advance the plot. Try to avoid having any scene that only reveals character, sets the scene, or explores the theme, unless it’s a very short scene, less than a page. Find a way to do those things while also advancing the plot. 

A scene often includes a range of emotions as a character works towards a goal, suffers setbacks, and ultimately succeeds or fails. But some scenes may have one mood predominate. In that case, try to follow with a scene that has a different mood. Follow an action scene with a romantic interlude, a happy scene with a sad or frightening one, a tense scene with a more relaxed one to give the reader a break. 

Don’t rush through a scene — use more description in scenes with the most drama, to increase tension by making the reader wait a bit to find out what happens. Important and dramatic events should be written out in detail, but occasionally you may want to briefly summarize in order to move the story forward. For example, if we already know what happened, we don’t need to hear one character telling another what happened. Avoid that repetition by simply telling us that character A explained the situation to character B. 

Avoid scenes that repeat previous scenes, showing another example of the same action or information. Your readers are smart enough to get things without being hit over the head with multiple examples. If you show one scene of a drunk threatening his wife, and you do it well, we’ll get it. We don’t need to see five examples of the same thing. Focus on writing one fantastic scene and trust your reader to understand the characters and their relationship. For every scene, ask: Is this vital for my plot or characters? How does it advance plot and reveal character? If I cut the scene, would I lose anything?

Next month: How to Write Vivid Scenes: Connecting Scenes, by Chris Eboch

Visit Chris at: www.chriseboch.com; and her Amazon page: .

Tall Boots by Linda Wilson,
illustrated by 1000
Storybooks, will be
available on Amazon
next month
Linda Wilson, a former elementary teacher, has published over 150 articles for children and adults, several short stories for children, and her first book, Secret in the Stars: An Abi Wunder Mystery, which is available on Amazon. Publishing credits include biosketches for the library journal, Biography Today, which include Troy Aikman, Stephen King, and William Shatner; PocketsHopscotch; and an article accepted by Highlights for ChildrenSecret in the Mist, the second in the Abi Wunder series, is coming soon. Follow Linda on

Never Write an Unnecessary Scene Again

Thank you to longtime writing friend K. M. Weiland for sharing her essay that helps you identify unnnecessary scenes in your fiction. 
By K. M. Wieland

When you think of the important moments in a story, you probably think about the big scenes in which stuff happens. Characters are taking action—or having action taken against them. Somebody’s doing something that matters. There’s conflict; there’s nail-biting; there’s huge stakes on the line.

But what if I told you these are not the most important moments in your story?

The most important moments are always those that take place after the big scenes. Yes, you heard right. As crucial as character actions may be, they pale in comparison to the importance of character reactions. This is because character reactions are the measuring stick readers use to determine the true importance of a big scene

Consider this: Let’s say the volcano under Yellowstone erupts. That’s big, gosh darn it. So of course it’s important to your story. ’Nuff said. Especially if, say, your protagonist’s brother is missing in the disaster area. But then, let’s say, your protagonist hears the news and then just goes about his daily life as a mailman. He doesn’t do anything about his missing brother. He doesn’t even seem that concerned beyond his initial, Oh my, that’s horrible. Poor Samson.

Suddenly, readers are confused. Maybe Yellowstone blowing up wasn’t such a big deal after all. Maybe the missing brother isn’t important. Maybe we misread all the signs. Maybe the author just stuck in this seemingly “big” scene for kicks, even though it obviously isn’t going to have any impact on the story.

Every big action in your story needs to garner an equally big reaction from your characters. Otherwise the action, no matter how impressive, simply doesn’t matter.Readers will always look to your characters to gauge the importance of any scene—and if the characters aren’t reacting in appropriate measure, the readers will, at best, count that big scene as inconsequential. At worst, the jarring disharmony between their understanding of events and the characters’ response will frustrate them to the point of abandoning your book. Now just think how you’d react to that!

K.M. Weiland lives in make-believe worlds, talks to imaginary friends, and survives primarily on chocolate truffles and espresso. She is the IPPY and NIEA Award-winning and internationally published author of the Amazon bestsellers Outlining Your Novel and Structuring Your Novel, as well as Jane Eyre: The Writer’s Digest Annotated Classic. She writes historical and speculative fiction from her home in western Nebraska and mentors authors on her award-winning website Helping Writers Become Authors.

Lazy Ways to Keep The Reader Hooked - The Dan Brown Secret

Guest post by John Yeoman

‘My life began when I murdered my grandfather and was arrested for improper behaviour with an ostrich.’

How can we fail to read on? When we write a story, it’s not difficult to hook the reader in the first line. Any intriguing puzzle, high moment of drama or magical touch of wordplay will get them started. The challenge is to keep the reader enthralled in our story beyond the first page.

Try this simple strategy to engage your reader from start to finish. It’s also a tested way to gain a cash prize in a top writing award.

Many a story starts with a thunderclap and ends with an earthquake but it has a long dry desert in the middle. Elizabethan dramatists didn’t bother too much about this. Ben Jonson once remarked that his audience would slip out for an ale after the first Act and only return in the last Act to enjoy the traditional bawdy jig. So there was no need to work hard on the middle, he said.

You can’t afford such complacency in a modern story. Readers will put your story down and never come back. They’ll not buy from you again.

1. Inject Uncertainty

Every episode of your story, and certainly every chapter, must end with a gentle scene hanger. It doesn’t have to be lurid. But it must tempt the reader to turn the page. It’s also a sure-fire way to impress the judges of a story writing contest.

The simplest scene hanger is to maintain a tone of uncertainty at all times. (The term ‘suspense’ literally means ‘to hang, suspended’.) Nothing is ever quite completed. At the end of every scene, the circumstances beg for explanation. The future seems always ominous or, at least, unpredictable.

If the main plot-line appears to be emphatically finished, the reader will simply put down the book.

2. Use Foreghostings

A simple way to achieve this tenor of uncertainty is to drop in ‘foreghostings.’ These are more subtle than ‘foreshadowings.’ They’re hints of future events that the astute reader will spot but the principal characters might not.

Dan Brown has mastered this trick of suspense. His success suggests that maintaining suspense is what readers principally demand of commercial fiction.  The Dan Brown secret is very simple: he incessantly shifts the scene to another scene just before the first scene reaches a climax. And in the prior scene he foreghosts each scene to come.

Scene, in this sense, means a single unit of action. To ‘change a scene’ usually means changing the characters and/or location. In Dan Brown’s The Lost Symbol, there are no fewer than 133 chapters. Each is a major scene. Within those scenes there are often several minor scenes, short episodes that switch back and forwards between characters or locations.

For example, the novel starts with Prof Langdon having been called to give an important lecture at the Smithsonian Institute. He’s racing to get there by 7pm when the lecture begins. The lift is slow. Will he make it?

The question acts as a foreghosting. We know that something odd is about to happen.

He gets to the door at 7pm exactly, straightens his tie breathlessly and walks in with a smile. And he stops. The scene closes with his thoughts: ‘Something is very, very wrong’.

What could be wrong? The reader has to wait for an answer.

The novel then cut to another scene, a teasingly long description of the Smithsonian’s architecture. Meanwhile, the reader is lusting to know: what was so wrong about the lecture room?

3. Cut A Scene Before the Climax

Just when the reader’s patience is at a breaking point, Dan Brown’s story cuts back to Prof Langdon. He’s still looking at the room. It’s empty. His invitation to the conference has been a hoax. But who is the hoaxer? And why has he done this?

Brown’s gambit is to cut a scene just before a moment of high tension, switch to a long episode of dry description or seemingly irrelevant dialogue to tease the reader, and then return to the moment of high drama. It’s like a tango: one step forward, three steps back.

The reader soon learns to expect this formula. Brown’s skill is in persuading the canny reader that, nonetheless, the revelation will be worth the wait. His revelations are usually unpredictable and even more interesting than the reader expected.

Of course, there are many ways to sustain suspense in a story but the Dan Brown tango is a proven formula. Apply it to a story that’s even better written than The Lost Symbol and you’ll have a winner.

What techniques do you use in your story to keep the tension high?

Dr John Yeoman, PhD Creative Writing, judges the Writers’ Village story competition and is a tutor in creative writing at a UK university. He has been a successful commercial author for 42 years. A wealth of further ideas for writing fiction that sells can be found in his free 14-part story course at:

Dr John Yeoman has 42 years experience as a commercial author, newspaper editor and one-time chairman of a major PR consultancy. He has published eight books of humour, some of them intended to be humorous.


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