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Sensational Scenes

Premise and plot are important. Building strong characters with unique quirks, interesting traits, and appearance beyond mundane and predictable is crucial. Balancing prose and dialogue is fundamental to any story worth its salt in the literary world. All play a role in the drafting of an amazing story or novel, but the building blocks for any fiction tale, that are sometimes overlooked, are the beautifully crafted scenes that ultimately do the heavy lifting for any narrative.

The predicaments your darling characters find themselves in create the basis for scenes that hopefully help carry your story and make it a success. Authors need readers to keep turning pages. Crafting compelling scenes that captivate your audience is the cornerstone to strive for.

While nuggets of ideas probably swirl around the brains of most aspiring authors, turning those sparks into valuable scenes isn’t as straightforward as one might think. Can one draft a scene haphazardly with tidbits of action and basic dialogue? Sure. However, that method is certain to fall flat. One must consider the protagonist, their stakes, the conflict surrounding them, the plot of the narrative, and how the scenes drive the main character toward their goals. One of the jobs of every fiction author is to pack their book with convincing and gripping scenes that not only propel the protagonist forward, but the reader as well.

What to include in a scene is predicated on where that scene falls in the narrative. The first scene of any good book introduces the main character. Jam it with subtle sentences that hint at who the protagonist is in that moment and what they may be hoping to achieve, even if they don’t fully understand that yet. Throw in a few dots of appearance, some cleverly disguised traits, inner thoughts, and dialogue that distinguishes the character’s persona. Slip in premise and plot, and pepper in key elements of backstory. Less is more with backstory. Readers don't need to know nor do they want to know every minutia detail.

Scenes that enhance the magic in the middle warrant more complex writing with enhanced tension that leads toward higher stakes and climbing conflict. Sprinkle in twists and aha moments while staying true to plot and premise and advancing the protagonist and story. These shorter scenes require action and emotion to garner appeal and guarantee readers stay up late to find out what happens.

Falling action and resolution scenes can be more somber in nature with explanations and wrap-ups. These scenes do not need drawn-out soliloquies or boring prose. They deserve just as much attention as all the scenes before them. Compose them with short, interesting dialogue and witty style that shines like any other scene, but they usually contain less action and more insight.


8 Easy Steps to Writing Compelling Scenes

Purpose — What is your scene’s why?

The purpose of a scene is also the key to writing that scene. Find your scene’s purpose. Keep that purpose front and center as you draft. Carry that purpose, throughout the passage. In doing so, writers must also keep conflict alive, strive to show not tell, generate a sense of empathy for the protagonist, and maintain a steady and strong pace.

You say, “Wait, what? That’s a lot to remember.” I say, “Yes and no.” Trust me, this takes practice, but once you get the hang of it, lack of purpose is easy to spot and fixes are easy to manage.

Queries to ponder:

What is the purpose of the scene I'm planning to include?

Is it to introduce a new character or advance the plot in some way?

Is it to reveal or hint at a secret?

Is it a scene that kills one of my darlings?

Beginning ~ Middle ~ End

Just like your novel, each of your scenes needs to adhere to this beginning -middle-end structure. The start of any scene should grab the reader’s attention. My suggestion is to start in action and drizzle in description as the scene progresses. Stretch the tension in the middle of the scene by using micro interactions with concise dialogue, emotion through dialogue tags, more action, and reaction. This helps to shift the scene forward. The ending doesn’t always need a solid conclusion. It could serve to build further tension and lead readers to the next scene or hint at events to come.

Questions to ask yourself so your scene shines:

How might my protagonist feel at the start of the scene?

Does anything that happened change their perspective?

Have I written a scene ending that makes readers eager to proceed?

What do the characters learn at the end of the scene, if anything, and how do they feel at the scene’s conclusion?

Does this scene end on a strong emotional note that conveys a fresh perspective?

Is something bad about to happen?

Did something bad already happen at the end of the scene?

Does the end of the scene raise more questions than answers?


Characters and conflict fill the pages of every great novel. But conflict for conflict’s sake that falls short of pushing both character and story onward is a no-no and a waste of words, especially when trying to adhere to a specific genre’s word count. Instead make every scene matter. Insert conflict whether physical, verbal, part of the atmosphere of the scene, or thought-driven. Let the protagonist battle inner demons or contemplate inner struggles as the scene unfolds. Directly connect conflict and struggle to the protagonist is some way.

Ask yourself, as the author:

What stakes are involved here and how can I best convey that in a thoughtful, yet intriguing way?

What will this conflict achieve for the main character?

Does this scene convey what I promised in my premise?

POV — Whose scene is this?

This applies to books with multiple points of view. Take care in choosing the best character to portray the events of the scene you are drafting. Romance novels often relay the story by allowing the hero and heroine their own points of view. Some fantasy novels often have multiple points of view.

Ask yourself some integral questions:

Which character will benefit from this scene?

Is this the best character to advance the story and plot?

Who has the most to gain or lose?

Will the scene open this character’s eyes to new or different possibilities?

How will this character’s depiction of the scene change them?

Sensory Details

Readers want to experience scenes as if they are there and can truly picture what’s unfolding. Sensory details are important to any well-written scene. Providing these added features brings each scene to life and helps readers engage by imagining the scene with their five senses. I often go scene by scene as I edit my draft to give each one a little somethin’, somethin’ more. I insert sound, smell, taste, touch, and sight wherever the passage warrants the addition. This gives the scene a few sparks, and layers the passage with authenticity.

Questions to consider:

Does my scene contain at least a few of the five senses?

Can I add more sensory details in subtle ways?

Are there enough sensory details in the scene to allow readers to imagine themselves in the scene?

Make Every Word Count

After drafting a scene go back and evaluate it. Cut out any boring parts, excess words, uninspired, humdrum dialogue, and any precise fighting moves if the scene includes a physical battle. Keep it simple, even when writing a sex scene. Readers don't need to read about anatomically correct body parts. Make certain to start in action and build to climax, especially for sex scenes. This avoids extra fluff.


Am I adhering to my genre’s word count?

Do I need to trim this scene?

What busy words can I cut?

Is there too much fluff in this scene and not enough action?

Have I successfully created the right amount of conflict and does the conflict lead to an exciting climax?

Transport Yourself Into the Scene

The characters I create live in my head. I imagine their scenes, transport myself into their environment, say their dialogue aloud, and ask them questions. I take them to the doctor's office, the beach, the grocery store, and anywhere else I travel. I envision how they would react. What might they say? By playing all the character parts I get a true feel for the scene. Doing this allows me to get further into their heads and bring them closer to me. A sense of who they truly are resonates deep in my belly. I tweak dialogue to match the emotions of the scene and adjust the scene to make it as realistic as possible.

For your consideration:

Do I know my characters?

Do I fully understand the things they might say in a given situation so I can add that into the scene?

Have I described their reactions in a way that fits them?

Can I imagine the scene realistically with all the important elements and can I translate what I see into words?

Will readers be able to transport themselves into my scenes?

Keep Readers Turning Pages

To do this, sometimes an author must adjust the pace of a scene. Fashion scenes that include a balance of dialogue and prose. To pick up the pace, pop in quick dialogue exchanges. To curb the pace, but not stall it, weave in action beats through dialogue tags to show what a character is doing before, during, or after their dialogue. Character beats can be done through gestures, facial expressions, or motion.

Quiz yourself:

Does this scene lag?

Do I need to pick up the pace?

Did I strike a balance between dialogue, actions beats, and prose?

What do I need to add or omit to make this scene the best it can be?


Hi. I'm Liz Ambrico, freelance proofreader and aspiring author. I too am querying agents, editors, and publishers in hopes of becoming a published author.



Wordy is the get-in-the-know hotspot for writers. From grammar to publishing find info, tips, and inspiration to take your WIP (Work In Progress) to the next level.


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I co-founded and managed a successful author and writer group on Long Island for five years. During events with publishers and authors I learned what matters, what agents are looking for, and the benefits and pitfalls of traditional publishing vs. self-publishing.

I've gained a lot of tips and tidings on my writing journey and want to share what I know.

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