Tips and Tricks for Writing a Compelling Scene
What is the secret to writing a good scene? Whether you’re working on a novel, short story, play, or screenplay, crafting an effective scene is an important skill for every writer, regardless of your preferred medium. A strong scene can do a lot for the plot development and the pacing of a piece. However, it can be challenging to write one that not only engages the reader but is also economic and purposeful with word choice. Trust me, I’ve nursed my fair share of writer’s headaches after cranking out a scene or two. But no need to worry! Here is a breakdown of everything you need to know to write a compelling scene.
Before you even begin writing a scene, you should prepare by asking yourself a few questions. How will this scene function within the larger story arc? Perhaps this scene is going to serve as the inciting incident and needs to start us off on the right foot. Or maybe it’s the climax of your story, and thus the stakes should be pretty high. Another question to ask- What does this scene do for the development of the characters involved? It’s really important to know your characters’ scene goals before you start writing, as that is what will ultimately dictate how the scene plays out.
Know that a scene should function as a unit of a larger narrative. One scene can serve as a chapter, but you can also use a few scenes to break up a larger chapter. Regardless, a scene has its own beginning, middle, and end. It should have its own climax, even if it’s on a smaller scale than the larger narrative in which the scene takes place. Consider where that big shift is going to land. What will be the scene’s point of no return? And how do we get there?
Generally speaking, a new scene occurs each time we change location. New location. New scene. This means that it should have a strong sense of setting. It should be clear to the reader where we are and why that space is important to the story. The setting has the ability to increase conflict and deepen the tone. Let the setting of a scene be specific, and be sure to establish a setting that is visceral and intriguing.
Similar to changing location, we can also switch scenes if we need to check back with different characters. Characters are what drive a scene forward, so the readers should get a strong sense of the characters’ goals within the scene. The characters’ actions should directly correlate with said goals. Goals and actions serve the main source of conflict. For example, say two of the characters’ goals are in direct contradiction. A proper scene between the two of them would absolutely electric!
Recognize the power of dialogue. It’s a tricky thing to get right because it needs to do one of two things- or better yet, both at the same time! Dialogue should either move the plot along or teach us something new about the characters. If it doesn’t do one or both of these things, it gets the chop. It can be challenging to be this economical and practical with your writing, but doing so means that your scenes will be juicy, dense, and purposeful. And ask yourself- do the things my characters are saying align with the goals I set for them?
I’m sure you’ve heard it a million times, but the old adage is true. Writing is rewriting. Get the scene on the page. After that, the real work begins. It may take several revisions, but do not be afraid to let the scene turn into something entirely different. When revising, just as you did prior to writing the scene, ask yourself a few questions. Does this scene fit the tone and world building I’ve created in the larger piece so far? Does this scene accomplish significant plot or character development? Is it fun to read? Does it flow well? You get the idea.
And that’s the gist of it. I know for me, my writing process is much smoother when I think about the separate elements and take it one step at a time. At times, crafting a scene feels doing one of those 3,000 piece puzzles. Painstaking and laborious. But ultimately very rewarding. I hope you found these tips helpful and can keep them in your back pocket for the next time you sit down to write a scene. Happy writing!