Focus on Scenes

 I. The Art of Writing Great Scenes

Scenes are the basic building blocks of narrative thread. The ability to envision a successful scene and integrate it into a seamless and shapely whole is one of the writer’s most essential tools in any genre or medium.

Any writer who can write one good scene after another, choosing the appropriate scenes to tell the story and ordering and interlacing them well for maximum effect, can produce a good story or novel.

Good scenes utilize all the important aspects of storytelling, including setting, characterization and motivation, action, conflict, point of view, exposition, structure and style.

You can’t write a novel all at once, any more than you can swallow a whale in one gulp. You do have to break it up into smaller chunks. But those smaller chunks aren’t good old familiar short stories. Novels aren’t built out of short stories. They are built out of scenes.
Orson Scott Card 

 II. Master story by mastering scene craft

Whether or not you are an instinctive outliner or plotter, before you sit down to write your novel, you should have spent some time dedicated to developing your storytelling writing abilities by practicing scenes.

Some of the more successful novels have been composed of as few as 15-20 major scenes (though of course their might easily be up to 100, depending on length and genre). Whether you’re trying to tell a sweeping epic or even a short story, you will be writing your story as a series of scenes.

If you can craft a good scene, you can write a great story.

Once you break a larger project down into its constituent building blocks of scenes, it not only takes pressure off you and your writing by making your story goals more manageable, it also helps you keep your focus on creating compelling, well-crafted scenes.

 I like a chapter to have design of tone, as well as of form. A chapter should be a perfect cell in the whole book...
John Steinbeck

Writing a novel can be daunting, but every writer with a story to tell can apply themselves to writing a scene. By mastering the ability to write powerful scenes, you find that the rest of the writing grows easier, for what is your story but a series of scenes, piled one upon the other. Scenes may – and should - have greatly varied and different goals and approaches, some may merely add to what came before or some may challenge or change what came before. Nevertheless, the goal for all good scenes will be to succeed in moving your story inexorably and relentlessly forward, for each of them to come together to form an integral part of the whole.


Once you have the idea for your story, the characters, and the setting, it’s time to begin thinking about how you will tell this story – and essentially that will be through a series of scenes woven together with narrative and exposition helping to structure them and provide addition texture and dimension.

The scene is generally a smaller story of its own, a microcosm of the whole. Whether your scene starts a story and setting anew, begins in medias res or picks up where others have left off, each scene is a vital opportunity to engage your reader’s attention.

Just as most novels adhere to Aristotle’s basic three-act story-telling structure of beginning, middle and end, so should your scenes have their own structure.

Essentials of Scene Structure: Ask yourself:

  • Where does the scene take place?

  • ​What elements of setting can/should be selected to engage the reader’s sensory experience?

  • ​Have I made it easy for the reader to visualize this through the character's POV?

  • What happens in the scene?

  • What sort of time-frame does the scene encompass?

  • What is the most important piece of information that needs to be revealed in this scene?

  • ​What about this scene is vital and necessary to the overall story?

  • Do the characters' actions and reactions help to move the story forward or heighten characterization?

  • ​Are the characters and their interactions motivated by specific goals or desires and is this evidenced?

  • ​Is there conflict that will be heightened or resolved, tension, questions that are asked or answered?

  • ​​Are there elements of the scene that serve to bulwark themes or ideas explored in the story?

Good scenes give you an opportunity to portray your character’s goals and desires in an environment of your choosing, to show them dealing with an incident and interacting with their environment. Ideally, the driving motivations of your character will be somehow portrayed in a scene. If the scene and its outcome are not dictated and driven by the main goals of your character, his/her goals and motivation should be somehow evidenced or at least exhibited so that each scene serves to heighten characterization and/or as a stepping stone to the rest of the story.

While scenes may focus on small or large desires of your characters, always get some evidence of your character's motivation to drive interactions in a scene.

Scenes and their transitions should have some sort of strong connective tissue to help tie your story together.


Scenes are stories, good scenes contain all the elements of good stories: characterization and motivation, setting, dialogue, narrative arc, theme, conflict, tension, structure and style.

Powerful scenes are their own entities but also always part of a whole. Working together, scenes team up and connect with one another. Whether they change what came before or add to it, their duty is to draw the reader into the story but also make him want to know what happens next as they move the story forward.

The first goal of writing your story is to have an idea of what scenes will enable you to tell it best. The goal is to get your story – your series of scenes – on paper. Only then can you see how well they integrate and bolster the whole. Write your scenes as well as possible but do not worry about editing and revising them until you know how well they work to tell your story.

A great scene is a part of whole, working together. Scene-work is team work; great scenes work because of how they fit in with what came before and what follows.

The better your scenes come to life and synthesize with one another, the stronger your story will be.

The Art of Great Storytelling

Write Away Europe

How to Tell Your Story Your Way...

Read More

Creating Vivid Characters

Europe Writing Retreats

Creating and crafting vivid characters that come alive...

Read More

Choosing the Right Point of View

Writing Tooltips

Advantages & Limitations of Different POVs...

Read More

Writing Well-Crafted Dialogue

Writers Retreats Europe

Masterful dialogue is one of the writer's most important tools...

Read More

Structure & the Art of Writing Great Scenes

Write Away Europe

Scenes are the fundamental building blocks of story...

Read More

Time & Place: Make Your Story Setting Come Alive

Europe Writing Retreats

How to enhance and enliven your story's setting...

Read More

Why You Write Helps You with How You Write

Writing Tooltips

Feed your muse and you start to see the world in terms of story...

Read More

Why to Stray Away from Your Writing Routine

Writers Retreats Europe

Don't Get too Comfortable in Your Comfort Zone...

Read More