How to Write Scenes That Matter

How to Write Scenes That Matter

Scenes PinterestOne of the single most important decisions in storytelling is one you make every day, maybe even several times a day. It all comes to: how to write scenes that matter to your story.

Imagine your story as a line of dominoes and each individual scene as a single domino. If you expect your line of dominoes to fall in perfect synchronicity, each scene must directly influence the scene to follow. If even just one scene stands out of its place in line with the other dominoes, the chain reaction will fail—and the story will stagger to a standstill.

What can you do to ensure you’re choosing the right scenes for your story?

How to Make Even Seemingly Random Scenes Matter

Flight of the Falcon Daphne Du maurier

The Flight of the Falcon (affiliate link)

In The Flight of the Falcon, Daphne du Maurier (of Rebecca and The Birds fame) exhibits a mastery of “the domino effect.”

Every scene in her story, no matter how seemingly innocuous or disconnected from the main plot, has a purpose in the story. She never wastes an opportunity. Walk-on characters, casual dialogue, random bits of description—they all tie into the web she’s weaving around her readers.

This is especially exemplified in a scene late in the book, in which the main character, during a ramble on the beach, stops to talk to nun who is minding several children. Their conversation is the noncommittal, relatively impersonal exchange we would expect from two strangers. A few pages later, the nun leaves the scene, her part in the book complete.

What Makes a Scene Matter?

At first glance, the nun’s scene might appear to be a useless intrusion into the plot, a filler while the main character awaits his appointment, or an attempt to introduce some local color into the description.

But as the story enters the Climax, it becomes clear that du Maurier made even this simple “filler” do double duty as a domino that would influence all the scenes to follow: it is the protagonist’s seemingly non-essential conversation with this random stranger that provides him the final clue in his conflict with his strange brother–and leads him to the story’s most powerful truth.

Follow her example in mastering this technique, and it will streamline your writing so your stories can power ahead at full steam, unimpeded by dead weight.

Wordplayers, tell me your opinion! How do you ensure you’re writing scenes that matter and not just random filler? Tell me in the comments!

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About K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland

K.M. Weiland is the award-winning and internationally-published author of the acclaimed writing guides Outlining Your Novel, Structuring Your Novel, and Creating Character Arcs. A native of western Nebraska, she writes historical and fantasy novels and mentors authors on her award-winning website Helping Writers Become Authors.


  1. You’re getting good at these. It takes extra talent to speak and smile at the same time. Great job! :O)

  2. Thanks, Diane!. Smiling, talking, inflecting… breathing – there’s a lot more to it than I ever imagined!.

  3. Good points, Katie. And good delivery too!

  4. Thanks, Sage!

  5. Good post and good delivery. (Yes, don’t forget to breathe. Very important.)

    I’m trying make every scene matter…but you’ll slap me back in line if you catch me wandering off track, right? 😉

  6. Oh, definitely. I’m always happy to slap. 😉

  7. Nicely done, and the “domino effect” is a great analogy to plotting. It makes me want to rush off to the library and study some Daphne D.

  8. I suppose the “domino effect” description has been around for a while, but the first I’d heard of it was in Elizabeth George’s Write Away. She gives an excellent explanation.

  9. Awesome post as always….Love the hair, the smiles and you look rested.
    Domino effect is how i write…each scene transitions into the next…i believe background characters bring a lively realism to stories.

  10. Sounds like you know what you’re doing! The domino effect actually isn’t that intuitive. It’s amazing the tangents we can get off on!

  11. I just stumbled across your blog and I love all the great posts you have on here! Can’t wait to poke through the archives.

    I’ll keep an eye on my WiP to make sure I’m implementing that domino effect. Not only does it make every scene count, but it helps with building tension and making sure your novel is properly paced! Great stuff.

  12. Great Vlog! You are getting great at these ;o)

    This is something I try to think about when I’m writing, is this importnant to the story? if not, it goes. I’ve been learning that the hard way, there were some scenes I loved that I cut out, but story is king ;o)

  13. @Kat: Glad you found me! Another analogy you could use is that books are like puzzles. If any of the pieces don’t matter, the reader will feel as if we cheated.

    @Erica: I’m killing darlings in my fantasy WIP at the moment. It’s amazing how much smoother the story flows without the weight of unnecessary scenes.

  14. This was my very first vlog! I appreciate the tips and it’s interesting getting to hear and see you as well.

    I must now examine my own draft for the domino effect. :o)

  15. Vlogs are lots of fun. They’re a different take to be sure – but they bring their own set of dynamics to the table. Have fun with your examination!

  16. Very engaging. I just watched several more videos and subscribed. Something worth revisiting, for sure.

    When I wrote my attempt at a novel during the November NaNo I found I had great ideas and a bit of a storyline only to lose it after such a short stint. I had problems tying in one scene with another. I’m thinking it’s time to read more, especially the stories that held me so captivated, and work on fine tuning these skills.

    Thank you for providing a wonderful resource for us wannabes. =)

  17. Something I’ve found extremely helpful in creating a solid domino effect is to outline scenes backwards. If I know where I want to end up, I know how the pieces need to fall to get me there.

  18. Will go check out the interview!

    and will listen to the vid too


    Last night I had a crazy thought (laugh) that I should try to outline something just to see what would happen….maybe not for the first draft, because I have to let it all just “vomit out” -but once it is written, try to organize it in some way….my brain argued with me, so I guess I’ll see if I can do it one day…just to see the structure I created out of chaos, if any.

  19. It’s funny how outlines make story writing so much easier for some people (*raises hand*) and totally destroys it for others. I definitely think outlining is worth a try for everyone, but I hate to hear about folks who lost the steam on their story because they outlined it first.

    • I’m not an outliner.
      I try… But usually I just waste a lot of time dithering over it, before eventually chucking it out and pantsing the whole thing.
      What I find works best is to brainstorm til you’ve got the plot points, pants a first draft, and then try and rearrange the think into something with proper structure and pacing.

  20. – there’s a lot more to it than I ever imagined!.
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  21. The deeper you get into writing, the more complicated it gets – but also the more challenging and fun!

  22. Seems like her work can be a treasure trove for learning a really important aspect of writing 🙂

  23. I’m on a mission to read every single one of your blog posts (I’ve started from the back and have made it to here so far), and this post has given me the most excited butterflies in my stomach. Thank you for your excellent posts and willingness to share your writerly wisdom. Everything you do is helping me more than you’ll ever know!

  24. Bibi Benderman says

    Thank you. As usual, what you have to say hits my desk at just the right moment. Despite 8 drafts — this remains my problem. I appreciate the referrals to others books to ‘view’ it done right. Maybe, one more book and the light will dawn!

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