By Jeanne Marie Leach

All fiction books are written in a series of scenes. In a novel, a scene encompasses the place where an action or event occurs and how the story is divided into units of continuous, related activity.

A scene must always move the story forward; otherwise it is useless and should be eliminated. It should include tension or conflict, no matter how slight.

An example of this would be a scene in a suspense thriller where two characters are sitting in a house, discussing what they want to have for dinner that night. They come to the conclusion to have Chinese delivered, so one character orders their meals over the phone. Then the story switches to another scene the next day with the same two people searching an abandoned warehouse for stolen plans that have fallen into the wrong hands for a nuclear ship with stealth capabilities.

The Chinese food has nothing to do with the story and never comes up again. In this case, the scene was unnecessary and did not help move the story forward. The supper scene can be deleted, and the story will be tighter after getting rid of it.

Make sure each scene is written from only one character’s POV. If you want to show two character’s POV in a particular scene, you need to write it in only one person’s POV at a time, and separate the two distinct voices with a soft break. The best rule of thumb in deciding if a scene’s POV works is to determine what the purpose of the scene is, and make sure the POV character is the one with the most to lose or gain in that scene.

Of course, this advice is for third person stories. First person remains in one POV throughout the entire book.

Reasons for a scene:

  • To show progress toward or change in a character’s goal
  • To show a character facing conflict in attaining his goal
  • To show a character’s motivation for a change in goal

It is important that each scene address at least one main character’s goal, motivation or conflict, which often changes throughout the book. Both internal and external goals should be developed for each main character. This strengthens the plot.

Some common reasons for a scene to be included in a book are, but not limited to:

  • Establishing a character’s goal, conflict, and/or motivation
  • Comic relief
  • Introduction of a new character
  • Foreshadowing
  • Clues/red herrings
  • Revealing a secret
  • Faith dilemma
  • Tension between two characters
  • Creating empathy for a character
  • Develop a romantic interest between two characters

Scenes can be considered mini-stories, and should have an interesting opening hook, and an ending cliffhanger of some sort that will keep the reader wanting to read more.