How To Get Readers To Rave About Your Scenes

How to Write Scenes Your Readers Will Rave About

How To Get Readers To Rave About Your ScenesEver sit down at your computer, ready for the day’s writing session, only to wonder how to write scenes your readers will actually care about?

There are a lot of considerations when it comes to how to write scenes. But really, there’s only one that matters to readers: Is it interesting?

This is a totally obvious statement. After all, why would you even be writing a scene if it’s not interesting? And yet, this is one of those vital checks on the scene checklist you might sometimes lose sight of amidst all the other things you have to keep track of.

Today, I want to offer you a simple solution for how to write scenes that work on every level: plot, character, and wow factor.

What Is a Scene?

First things first. What is a scene? Simple question. Sometimes not-so-simple answer.

The term “scene” is used to apply to just about any breakdown of time, place, or POV within a story. But from a structural perspective, whether or not that latest chunk of your story is actually a “scene” depends on whether or not it follows the cause and effect pattern of proper scene structure.

The Basics of Scene Structure

I’ve written an entire series (and a book) on scene structure, but here are the basics:

You can break every scene down into two parts: scene (action) and sequel (reaction). These two halves can then be further broken down into three parts each:

Scene

  1. Goal (the character wants something)
  2. Conflict (the character’s progress toward that goal is met by an obstacle)
  3. Disaster (the conflict prevents the character from gaining the goal, in part or in whole)

Sequel

  1. Reaction (the character reacts to the obstruction of the goal in the disaster)
  2. Dilemma (the character has to come up with a new plan to get to the goal)
  3. Decision (the character decides upon a new scene goal–which, of course, starts the cycle all over)

These two little pistons–scene and sequel, action and reaction–are what drive your plot. These scenes are the building blocks of your entire story. Wielded correctly, they will ensure you never write an extraneous plot beat and that all your characters’ actions serve to power the story forward. Really, you could say scene structure is where plot and character come together to become a single entity that drives the entire story.

The Problem With Focusing Too Much on Scene Structure

If you understand scene structure, then you understand everything you need to write a solid plot from beginning to end. Follow this pattern and every scene you write will matter to the story. If a scene doesn’t fit into the scene/sequel pattern, then it’s not pulling its weight and you know to either fix it or delete it.

But here’s the thing.

All by itself, scene structure will not necessarily create an interesting plot. You can write a perfectly structured scene that still bores readers to tears. At the end of the day, which is the greater scene sin: random scene structure or reader boredom? It’s no contest.

Don’t Do This: Perfect Scenes That Are… Boring

Recently, I rewatched a movie from my childhood: Disney’s made-for-TV 1985 adaptation of Robert Louis Stevenson’s War of the Roses epic The Black Arrow.

I’d only watched the movie once as a kid, so I surprised myself by remembering just about every scene/plot beat in the entire movie. What surprised me even more was that everything I remembered was everything there was to remember about the story. As I watched, I kept thinking, This is it? Where’s all the good stuff?

Disney's The Black Arrow offers a crash course on how to write scenes the wrong way.

There weren’t any technical problems with how the story was set up. Every scene mattered to the plot. Something important happened in every scene that drove the story forward. And yet… none of it was interesting. There was no verve, no fun, no meat. It was all just a mechanical grinding of the story gears.

In short, all its good intentions of proper scene structure were totally wasted.

How to Write Scenes That Delight Readers

As a writer, creating the bones of your scene structure is just the beginning. After the bones are there, you must then find the heart. Look at every scene in your story. What’s special about this scene? What makes it interesting? What emotion do you want to elicit–whether it’s excitement, amusement, horror, or warm fuzzies?

Readers may be aware, on at least a subconscious level, when your scenes don’t make any sense because they’re not properly structured. But they will always know–and know emphatically–when a scene is so dry, it’s boring them to tears.

Today, sit down at your computer and write a scene that will ignite your readers’ fascination and excitement. How? Start by looking for the elements that delight and interest you as you’re writing them. Do that, and not only will your scene be awesome–but today’s writing session will be one of the most fun you’ve had in ages.

Wordplayers, tell me your opinion! When you’re thinking about how to write scenes in your work-in-progress, how are you balancing structure with the interesting elements? Tell me in the comments!

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About K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland

K.M. Weiland lives in make-believe worlds, talks to imaginary friends, and survives primarily on chocolate truffles and espresso. She is the IPPY and NIEA Award-winning and internationally published author of the Amazon bestsellers Outlining Your Novel and Structuring Your Novel. She writes historical and speculative fiction from her home in western Nebraska and mentors authors on her award-winning website.

Comments

  1. Splendid. I really want to know more about writing scenes so you’ve read my mind again. What interests readers is pretty broad. At least what interests us is a good guide as you said. Structure and interest level. Sweet.

    Could I implore you to write another book on scenes? Pluh-leezzee?? There’s more to be said about this subject. I’ve read and need to reread your current writings about scene structure. There I said my peace.

    My scenes? Right now there isn’t much structuring so far, it’s all interest. Question: In the first act, when the conflict isn’t high, how does the scene structure apply? In the first 25% of the story. Its a little different isn’t it?

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      You can’t please all the readers all the time. So if you’re looking for what will be interest readers in a scene, first ask yourself, “What interests me?” If you’re having fun writing it, chances are good they’ll have fun reading.

      I shall take your suggestion for another book on scenes under consideration. 😉 First up (hopefully) is the much-promised book and workbook on character arcs later this year.

      • This is true. I highly anticipated reading the popular read Neuromancer. But when I started reading it I was greatly disappointed, and even bored to tears, as you said. I thought it’s supposed to be a great book so I felt bad. Had a hard time following the dialogue and characters so I wasn’t working for me. Shelved it on good reads and undecided on finishing it.

      • Sweet molasses! I had no idea you were even working on books on character arcs. Nice. I’m gobbling up writing books right now like a phene out of rehab. Still working on Write Away, where George has me under a spell. Getting geared up for the course too. When does red carpet roll out?

        • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

          Still don’t have a official date, but it should be within the next couple of weeks, I would think. I finished up the last of the videos this morning. Yay!

  2. One thing to think of is the beginning and the end with regards to the emotional setting of the scene. The transition of the scene’s emotion is a background element that can have a lot of impact on a scene.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      Totally agree. The transition of emotion in a scene is what keeps it from feeling static. The last thing we want is our characters moving through scene after scene like robots.

  3. Kate Flournoy says:

    I have a question… What about when there is more than one plotline going at a time? Or more correctly, several different threads all contributing to the conflict and suspense?
    For instance, the MC of my WIP is currently trying to survive a nasty swamp while fleeing for his life from a band of enemy spies. At the same time he’s trying to figure out why four mysterious strangers keep covering for him, and struggling to deal with an annoyingly optimistic companion who popped out of nowhere and saved him, then insisted on accompanying him no questions asked. How do I figure out which thread to flow to scene to scene?

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      Instinct will tell you some degree. Cause and effect will tell you to another. Which makes sense at this point in the story? All the subplots need to tie into the main plot; all the subplots need to drive the main plot forward. So which subplot is pertinent at this point in the story to affect all the other subplots?

      • Kate Flournoy says:

        Okay, that’s great, I can do that. 🙂 I seem to have a much better instinctive grasp of storytelling than I have actual knowledge in so many words. 😛

        • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

          Great instincts are the starting place for great writing. It’s better to have great instincts than great understanding! But as we bring our instincts into our conscious awareness, the whole process gets easier and more powerful.

  4. When I first heard about scene structure, it seemed like a sure-fire way to squelch creativity. Now, I can’t get by without it.

    I’ve found, though, that some parts of the scene and sequel can be so small they’re almost invisible. The sequel’s dilemma, especially, can sometimes be left unstated. It helps me most to focus on the biggies: goal for the scene, reaction for the sequel. Without a strong beginning, your scene isn’t going anywhere.

    Question, though. Do you ever have scenes that aren’t truly scenes or sequels? Say it’s a dialogue scene, and the character is both reacting to previous events *and* crafting a goal or the conversation. Then, while they’re working through the dilemma, they run up against conflict. In which case the decision and disaster overlap. I’ve run into a few of these unclassifiable scenes in the first act of my WIP. Thoughts?

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      You’re right about some parts of scene and sequel being so small as to be invisible. Sometimes the sequel part of the scene will be a bare paragraph in which the character regroups and moves on to the next goal.

      As for scenes that are neither scenes nor sequels, there is indeed such a beast. Two of them actually: incidents and happenings, which I talked about in this post.

      • Ah! I have some of those and I pondered what they were. I was calling them bridge & setup scenes. I mainly restricted them to the few instances when I wanted to show a minor character’s POV, right before they encounter the protagonists.

        Good to know “incidents and happenings” are considered legitimate.

        • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

          Actually, I really like the names “bridge” and “setup” scenes. Little more intuitive.

      • Thank you, thank you. This somehow manages to be one of the few posts on the site I haven’t read.

  5. “Scenes….the most overlooked and least understood when it comes to the craft of storytelling” -KM Weiland, Structuring Your Novel

    I love the whole subject matter of scenes. I was reviewing scene structure in Structuring Your Novel, and its definitely on the cellular level. With the 3 part anatomy of both scene and sequel. This is awesome but I have a lot questions. They don’t have to be answered here but here are a few.

    1. How does scene structure (SS) apply within the 1st Act when there’s not much conflict and in introduction, setting, stakes mode?

    2. How does SS apply in the resolution? After the conflict is resolved?

    3. What is the dynamic relationship between
    Narrative, POV and dialogue according to, or when applying SS? This is my most pressing question, because I tend to compartmentalize things yet misunderstand the relationship between them.
    I think having a coherent understanding will make a better story. This is the nitty-gritty of it all IMO. Where the gears, screws, pistons are keeping the motor going. If one of them is misapplied, or misfires, it’ll sputter and the story will drag.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      Answer #1: Same difference. Even thought the conflict isn’t in full gear yet, the character still has goal from the very first chapter, which is being met by obstacles (conflict), which is leading him further and further into the main part of the plot.

      Answer #2: Sometimes the character will have a final small goal to tie off in the Resolution. But usually the Resolution is itself one big sequel to the Climactic Moment.

      Answer #3: Honestly, there isn’t any difference in how you apply narrative, POV, and dialogue in a scene vs. a sequel.

  6. Samantha says:

    When I grind to a halt in any particular scene it’s usually because I’m bored to tears. No brainer my readers would be too!

    Adding more emotion, and the character’s heart into each and every page livens it up.

    Great breakdown! Thanks.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      Whenever I find myself bored in my writing, I always take as a sign to stop and reevaluate. It’s usually because what I’m writing *is* boring. :p

  7. My challenge right now is writing setbacks/catastrophes and still keep the plot/character on track.

    I’m not sure if I have to make the character want something else than where I want the story to go, or if I’m supposed to give them what they want, but with a “but,” or what I am supposed to do to end each scene with a setback/catastrophe and still move the plot in the desired direction.

    It seems like the story spinns off on a tangent never to get back on track again (which usually happens when I try to seats-of-the-pants it, so perhaps one CAN in fact have too much impulsivity…)

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      “Yes, but…” disasters are scene disasters in which the character gains *part* of the goal he was pursuing, but not all of it. So he must try again in a new way, building upon what he already was able to achieve.

      The character can have many disparate scene goals throughout the story, but they must all tie into the overall story goal. Consider True Grit: Mattie’s overall goal is to catch her father’s killer. But her individual scene goals are things such as arranging for her father’s burial, finding a marshal, buying a horse, making sure she gets her money’s worth from Rooster Cogburn, etc.

  8. K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

    If you consider yourself your ideal reader, then in appealing to yourself you’re bound to appeal to the right audience–which is readers who enjoy the same things you do.

  9. You are always so spot on! Yes, sometimes my scenes do not fit the technical lingo of proper structure, but as long as my readers tell me how I hit the nail on the head in terms of pulling them in emotionally, then I feel I have done my job. My job is also to keep reading this blog so I grow as a writer:)

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      This is one of those things where when you have to choose between perfect logic and emotional impact, you always choose the emotional impact (even though, ideally, you strive for both).

  10. Enjoyed the one the links about the 5 BOREDOM BOMBS. aaAAAHHH! Lookout! BOOOMM. Whoops, just had some casualties. 🙂

    BTW You’re a super-de-duper bounding overarching-overachiever on steroids with supersonic turbocharged nitro boots! Whew. I feel bad because you’re doing so much for us that you’re going to burn out. Can we help out in some way?

  11. A great question indeed. Because I am writing a comedy, I’ve spent a lot of time first focusing on making sure the every single scene is structured and hits all the points with characters, goals, theme, etc. I feel that these are usually the weakest part of most comedies: the structure is terrible, or there is NONE!
    Now that I know I’m telling a “complete” story with a very specific argument at hand, I am now focusing on sanding all the rough edges; the structure or skeleton that isn’t presentable without some lovely ‘skin’ to go over it. The process of refining the structure down to the scene element, is where the fun comes in, in my book. This is where I get to experiment writing a scene over and over to try to make everything work and include all the funny stuff. To me, I envision writing to be a lot like sculpting the “David” figure by Michelangelo (ha! I’m probably the millionth person to compare writing to sculpting or something of that sort) You start out with a huge stone and you work your way down to the fine tools and really start making sure that every detail is exactly the way you want it. It’s hard… but it’s worth it!

    • Comedy, nice. I’ve often contemplated writing a comedy. Applying scene structure would be quite different IMO. I’ve got an idea cooking on one of my backburners; and I’ve got a looonnng list of backburners. Have fun!

      • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

        Actually, scene structure should be pretty easy to apply to comedy–since comedy is disaster ramped to the max, just with a different tone.

        • Cool. Sometimes when you add comedy to something it gives it a nice flair. Hancock was a great example. I totally wasn’t expecting or seen anything like it. A comedy about a superhero who isn’t goofy at all. Actually he’s quite the opposite.

      • Yeah, you should definitely explore it. Especially since there’s so many different flavors of comedy. What I think is funny, might not be funny to the next person. But I intend to have a little bit of everything in this story, so it hits all the basic types of comedy; so there’s something for everyone.
        Good example with “Hancock.” I think all stories need their light moments or their comedy, even the darkest dramas. It’s finding that balance between your genre and all the other elements which is so difficult.

        • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

          I didn’t realize Hancock was supposed to be a comedy (still haven’t seen it). That makes it more interesting.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      So smart of you! I am routinely disappointed by comedies. I love a good laugh as much as the next person, but I feel that most comedies (both books and movies) these days are so much fluff. I like even my funnies to mean something at the end of the day.

      • Yes! I feel the *exact* same way. In fact, that’s why I decided to explore my story in this genre. I feel like I understand a lot of current comedy movies weaknesses and feel I am stronger in those areas. Now the comedy itself, that is going to take a lot of work and drafts to get it where it needs to be, but just like any story, a comedy must mean something at the end of the day, just as you stated.

        • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

          Cool! You’re seeing a need and filling it. My favorite comedies are the screwballs from the ’30s and ’40s. They’re goofy as heck, but still have a lot of heart.

          • Garrett says:

            Haha, that’s awesome! Yeah, I want my comedy to have some throwbacks to the zany screwballs of that era, as well as a bit of slapstick.

      • Mirkwood says:

        I know what you mean. I’ve been watching the Andy Griffith show lately, and it’s definitely a case of they don’t make them like they used to. It’s a downright hilarious show, but it’s not pure stupid or pure fluff like the other modern comedies I’ve seen.

        • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

          I <3 The Andy Griffith Show so hard. I grew up with it–probably have most of the episodes memorized. But it’s *still* hilarious!

  12. Andy Lewis says:

    I thought this article was a really good read, and especially relevant for those of us who enjoying putting pen to paper, or at least fingertip to keyboard.

    For me when I learned to write with the characters in mind and I dropped my focus from the flowery prose, my writing became far more interesting as there was something to relate to more than just a beautifully described sunrise or morning dew.

    Learning the scene structure certainly helped too, as it did enable me to identify a scene (I’m sure there’ll be more) which was not pulling its weight, and so I fixed it by applying the cause and effect format. This in combination with a focus on character perspective, as I’m currently writing in deep 1st person, further added an element of interest. Yet it is good to have an article such as this bring the issue to the forefront of ones mind.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      Scene/sequel was a huge revelation for me when I first learned about it. It, more than any other technique, is what allows me to actually *do* something about those niggling senses that parts of the story just aren’t jiving or that they’re dragging. If I look at the scene structure, something there is almost always what’s at fault.

  13. “I’ve written an entire series (and a book) on scene structure, but here are the basics:You can break every scene down into two parts: scene (action) and sequel (reaction).” – I thought Dwight V. Swain wrote about it as well as MRUs.

  14. I came across an interesting dilemma in my first novel. My character went through a time of intense boredom and it was core to the story. I wanted my readers to empathize with how she was feeling, and yet obviously not to put down the book. Has anyone else come across this problem before?

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      Tricky! I read (and wrote about) a book that required a lengthy period, in which the protagonist was in prison and pretty much did nothing but shovel snow. Frankly, it was incredibly tedious, and had I been editing the book, I would have recommended the author cut it down to no more than single chapter. That’s enough to give readers the idea without boring *them.*

  15. Each scene has to contain something JUICY in it. And by juicy I mean that it makes the reader FEEL something. That’s the ticket. If you can get the reader to feel something, whether it’s repulsion, or scare, or excitement, you’ve got a juicy scene which makes the reader want to continue reading.

    The catalyst, however, doesn’t necessarily have to be conflict. It can be attraction, trepidation, or the mind-blowing wonder of entering a world your character has never seen before…

    but remember, it still does have to move the plot forward. 🙂
    HAPPY WRITING!

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      Storytelling is an incredibly logical process–and yet, as you point out, at the end of the day it *is* all about the emotional sensations and connection we create for the reader. That has to be there to sell the logic. And vice versa.

  16. Those are some good points. I never thought of that.

  17. Andy Lewis says:

    When I read ‘Crisis Four’ by Andy McNab, there’s a passage within it where the character, Nick Stone, was not so much bored but had to remain lying in a bush doing nothing but watching and waiting for days. Obviously this differs from your character being bored but I noticed how he had to keep the reader interested when there was nothing actually happening.

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  1. […] How to Write Scenes Your Readers Will Rave About on Helping Writers Become Authors […]

  2. […] lovely list of how-to’s to help you along on your journey to greatness!     1) HOW TO WRITE A SCENE YOUR READERS WILL RAVE ABOUT by K.M. Weiland   This is an amazing rundown of how to really tighten up those scenes. Without […]

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