1. The time and place
This may seem obvious, but it’s crucial to know the setting of your scene before you can start writing it. How long has it been since the previous scene? What year is it? What time of day? These questions all affect how your characters act. If it’s late at night or a big battle has just happened, your characters are likely exhausted. If a character learned of her brother’s disappearance two years ago, she’ll act much differently than if it was two minutes ago. The timing of a scene changes the tone of a scene in nearly every way.
The same happens with the location of a scene. Dialogue in the library (hopefully) sounds different than dialogue at a football game. If a character has lived in the same castle for ten years, she probably acts differently in it than someone who is visiting the throne room for the first time. Setting defines what characters do, and what characters do defines the scene.
2. The emotional context
Think again about the preceding scene. Whether it’s written or simply understood from implication, the characters just came from somewhere. What actions have the characters just performed that might affect how they’ll continue? How are they feeling about what they have just done or what they are about to do? Emotion is what drives characters, and characters drive story.
3. The purpose
How do you determine whether a scene has purpose? These are the criteria I always use: the scene must develop either the character or the plot. If it doesn’t do either of those things, it needs to go. Yes, it might be cute for your protagonist to buy a puppy. But if the scene doesn’t show the reader anything new about the character and puppy doesn’t do anything in the rest of the story, you’re going to have to cut it at some point. Before you write the scene, know the purpose of it so you don’t waste your time on something you’re going to delete.
Take a moment to think about your favorite story. Chances are, when it pops into your head, you don’t remember every detail of the entire plot right away. You remember scenes: snapshots of the greatest moments of the story. Scenes are the building blocks of a story. To have a memorable story, you need those snapshots that your readers can grasp onto.
How do you prepare to write a new scene?
MEET THE AUTHOR
Megan Alms is a professional writer from Indianapolis. She publishes articles, short stories, poems, reviews, devotions, and scripts, and wants to help other writers find success in the publishing industry.