Structuring Your Story’s Scenes, Pt. 12: Frequently Asked Questions

Once authors grasp Scene* structure, their whole approach to storytelling can become clearer and more refined. At first blush, it can be a subject that takes a while to fully grasp and, as a result, can spawn all kinds of questions. But all you clever Wordplayers seem to have caught on without so much as hitch. When I sent out a call for any final questions on Facebook and Twitter, I received only two.

One asked for info on character arcs in a sequel, as compared to a previous book. This, of course, refers to the “sequel” as the term applies to follow-up stories in a series, and not to the sequel as the second half of the Scene. But it’s a good reminder that this often confusing term pertains to two totally separate aspects of storytelling.

The second question asked for examples of scenes and sequels from popular stories. In answer to that, I’ll direct readers back to the previous posts in the series, since practically every one demonstrates Scene structure from well-known books and movies.

In lieu of any other official questions, I thought I’d share a few that were asked in the comments section at the end of previous posts in the series. If you have a question that isn’t addressed here, please feel free to ask it below!

“Plot” Scene or “Character” Scene?

Q. I try to stick to the mission-driven scene concept, trying to build each scene around the things my plot (or my character) needs to happen. But I have noticed that there are moments when certain scenes are meant to give an insight of the scene (the character-driven scene) and, in my experience, readers don’t usually get it and find those scenes unnecessary. I’m still wondering how to avoid that!—Meryl

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A. Speaking generally, “plot” Scenes are usually scenes and “character” Scenes are usually sequels. Scenes drive the action forward; sequels allow characters and readers alike to absorb and react to what’s happened. That, of course, is a gross generalization, but suffice it that a story can’t exist without both. Plot and character, when done right, can never be extracted from each other.

How to “Show” Scenes

Q. How would you actually go about showing a scene instead of telling the scene?—JustSarah

A. Showing is all about dramatization while telling is all about summarizing. You may find this post helpful.

Scene “Premise Sentences”

Q. When structuring scenes, would it be considered tacky to give each scene sort of a premise sentence?—JustSarah

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A. When outlining, I recommend doing just that. If you can plot out each scene’s arc—goal, conflict, disaster—as well as each sequel’s arc—reaction, dilemma, decision—you’ll be way ahead of the game in constructing a solid plot from beginning to end. As for stating the Scene’s “premise” in the text itself, that’s rarely a bad idea, since you always want readers to understand any given Scene’s focus.

Scenes Breaks and Head Hopping

Q. When I read about your POV change in the same scene my brain went berserk! Hauntings of don’t head hop played through my mind. I guess if you know the rules and break them, it is okay. When I wrote my first novel, I did many POV switches and was reprimanded constantly because of it. It had a similar feel to what you wrote.

So why in some cases is it acceptable and at other times it isn’t? Is it only acceptable in the occasional scene? Or can you do it throughout a novel? I’d really like to know your view.—Michael Di Gesu

A. What you’re seeing in the Scene I quoted from isn’t head hopping. Head hopping occurs when you’re switching POVs (usually multiple times) within a single Scene without any indication of a Scene break. If I had jumped into the second character’s head without using the three asterisks to signal a Scene break, that would have been head hopping. The key to successful POV switches is giving each POV a large chunk of time. In the Scene I’ve quoted from, both characters’ POVs each received half the chapter. If, on the other hand, I had switched back and forth every few paragraphs, that would have been way too much hopping around, even with asterisks to signal the Scene breaks.

Opening With a Sequel Scene

Q. I wanted to ask about where to place a sequel. Is it generally considered wise to open a book with a sequel? I’m contemplating opening this one character arc this way, but I’m not sure if it would leave them wondering, “Ok, so what are the characters reflecting about?”—JustSarah

A. In most stories, it will be best to start with your character in action, hook readers in, then slow down to reflect. However, when a story does open with a character’s reaction, it’s often because something huge just happened. The narrative will then likely use a flashback to show at least part of the situation.


And that brings us to the end of our series! I hope you’ve enjoyed the last twelve weeks and found this journey into the finer points of story structure to be enlightening and even empowering. Solid stories are built on the minutiae of solid Scenes. If you can put together a Scene, you can write a whole book!

*For the purposes of this series, “Scene” with a capital S will refer to the scene in general (which can include in its definition the sequel). I’ll use a small s and italicize scene and sequel to refer to the two different types of Scenes.

*For the purposes of this series, “Scene” with a capital S will refer to the scene in general (which can include in its definition the sequel). I’ll use a small s and italicize scene and sequel to refer to the two different types of Scenes.

Complete Series:

Wordplayers, tell me your opinions! Do you have any questions about scene structure? 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. Thank you, Kathryn. I enjoyed this great summary of the series!
    It’s been a great one 😀

  2. Glad you’ve enjoyed it!

  3. Great post as usual! I love your series, especially the podcast format. I can listen to them on the way to work or home.

  4. I am currently reading Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie. He didn’t try to make up separate scenes. He made transitions through several scenes in a single paragraph. So he didn’t have to use any scene breaks as such. What do the rules have to say about this?

  5. This has been a great series on a complex subject. Thanks so much for sharing!

  6. @Elke: Glad you’re enjoying the podcasts!

    @hariprasad: I haven’t read the book, so I can’t comment on it specifically. In all likelihood, Rushie did use the scene/sequel structure; he just didn’t separate them with breaks. This would fall under the notion of experimental fiction (which is almost always literary). If you do it extremely well, readers won’t mind. But you’ll likely be better off following a more conventional layout.

    @Christine: You’re welcome! I’m so glad you’ve found it useful.

  7. Hi K.M.

    Great post as usual. I have nominated your blog for the very inspiring blogger award:

  8. Thank you so much!

  9. I’ll leave my question here, too: What is the difference between the planning portion of the dilemma, the decision portion of the sequel and the goal of the new scene? My brain is wanting to interchange them! Thanks!

  10. In practice, they often *are* interchangeable. One can lead right into the other without the reader ever realizing they’re three separate things. Also, the fact that an obvious goal often negates the need for an explicit decision (and sometimes vice versa) contributes to the inherency each part of the scene has to the other. It’s important for authors to be able to pick apart the differetn pieces, but they don’t necessarily have to be obviously distinct within the story.

  11. dennis fleming says

    I went through all twelve weeks in two days and feel I’ve learned much. Tell me if I’m wrong, but I see the large S scene as encompassing a scene and a sequel. I’m trying to see that in terms of hook/development/climax.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Yep, you are spot on. It’s regrettable these widely accepted terms are so confusing. But, yes, Scene includes both scene and sequel.

      • Hi K.M

        I’n trying to get my head around scenes and chapters. My editor made a comment recently, saying ‘you can’t start a scene with a sequel’. I’m still confused by this.


        • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

          If you’ve read the earlier posts in this scenes, you’ll know that the overall big Scene is broken into two halves: scene (action) and sequel (reaction). Therefore, the big Scene always begins with the action, not the reaction. This doesn’t, however, have anything to do with chapter breaks. You *can* begin a chapter halfway through the Scene with the sequel/reaction part.

  12. I’ve just read through this in a few hours and know I will have to refer back to it. It’s given me a very different approach to planning my book, which I would otherwise have done as a chapter by chapter account, but now I see that a Scene by Scene account makes more sense and allows me to consider the pace. How Scenes break down into chapters is almost secondary, so long as there is enough content and interest to sustain enough chapters.

    Really useful and very interesting. Thank you.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Good approach. Scenes are the building blocks of stories, whereas chapters are really more just arbitrary divisions.

  13. I’m a getting confused over MRUs and how they apply across the scenes and sequels. I’m missing something.

  14. Hi K.M.,
    First I’d like to say how great this series was. I learned a lot from it, as I do from all your posts. I’m always so interested in how so many of us ignore structure when we’re starting out, and yet how obvious these concepts are once they’re pointed out. Everything I learn from you, I’m always like “Why didn’t I already know that!?”
    On another note, I’m interested in your thoughts: On your character arc series, I made a comment about arc structure in short stories. I’ve been searching for a definitive method of structuring short stories, and I haven’t come up with much. Your comments then were helpful, but after reading this series, it occurs to me that the model for a short story might well exist in the model of scene and sequel. You have some of the essential elements of a complete story built into the Scene (conflict, disaster, personal growth through decision making…), and I’m beginning to think that a well-structured short story might be just 1-2 trips through the scene/sequel model. Any thoughts on this?

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      It depends greatly on the type of short story. Unlike novels short stories come in a huge variety of flavors. Some will hold up under a complete three-act structure. Some will be more of a vignette/snapshot that serves to capture a single emotion or observation. Others will be a series of snapshots, presented primarily as sequels. Still others will work as you’ve indicated here, as a bare handful of completed scene/sequels. There’s more room for experimentation in the short story world, so what it really comes down to is what would best serve the story?

  15. Good stuff – thank you! Here’s my dilemma. Can’t anything good ever happen to my character? I would get depressed reading about someone who doesn’t accomplish anything until the end. I would think for the benefit of the pacing there need to be some victories to give us a break from the failures. What am I missing in the scene/sequel structure?

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      That’s where the “yes, but” disaster–discussed in this post–comes into play. Keep in mind your character *will* be steadily advancing and making progress toward his overall goal throughout the story. He gets closer and closer to that goal throughout, but he won’t *reach* it until the end. There always needs to be an obstacle pushing him one step sideways for every two steps he advances forward–otherwise he reaches the goal unimpeded and the story ends.

      Keep in mind, too, that “disaster” is hyperbolic. A disaster doesn’t have to be literally disastrous. A scene disaster is simply the character meeting a new obstacle instead of gaining his overall story goal right away.

  16. Thanks so much! That makes sense! I’ve been very much enjoying your posts about prepping for Nano as well. 🙂

  17. I have a question about setting the Normal Wotld near the beginning of the story and establishing the characters. My story takes place in a boarding school. It starts with the arrival of a new teacher, and the headmistress shows him around, and then he meets the rest of the staff. Now I can see the potential for conflicts of one form or another with the meet and greet, I guess, but what about the tour? The headmistress is proud of her school, the new teacher is eager and excited (him being anything else would be out of character for him.) So – what can I do? Does it really need a conflict?
    And since I fear the answer is yes, what could I possibly do? Have them bicker about the school uniforms?
    I’d really appreciate some advice on this. Thanks in advance!

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      At the least, it needs to be presenting a question that readers want answered. What is the purpose of the tour? What’s the undercurrent? Maybe think about what the school symbolizes within the story.

      • Yes, good advice, thank you! The school does symbolize something for the new teacher. I’ll have to see how I can make that evident, since he’s nor a POV character.
        I thought the tour might be important to the reader, so he can envision the setting. Various rooms can be described more in detail when a scene takes place there, but they should get a general idea of the layout from the beginning. I thoought the tour would make it more interesting than simply describing it.

  18. Sandy Stuckless says

    Here’s a question I didn’t see address in the series (or maybe I just missed it).
    Do you typically put sequels after every scene?
    In my current WIP, I think I have three ‘scenes’ with no opportunity for the ‘sequel’ part.
    Would it be advisable to have one ‘sequel’ for those three ‘scene’ bits?

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Short answer: Yes. Every scene needs a sequel.

      However, a sequel can sometimes we only a paragraph or two, indicating the character’s reaction, dilemma, and decision. It isn’t advisable to do this often, since it will destroy any opportunity for character development, but it’s definitely feasible in certain situations.

  19. I found this series very interesting. I’m still a bit “shocked” to learn that the whole Scene structure should (ideally) be applied to each and every scene of a novel. Thinking of my current plot, I find it difficult to identify specific goals for the main character in the first act, as the actual goal only comes clear with the key event; I figured everything before that should be more “static” (i.e. introducing a rather complex setting with normal life events, until the key event occurs). Are static scenes necessarily boring? Should I try to turn these “normal life events” in “action-reaction” patterns (maybe by considering the key event as a “goal”, even if this key event is information still unknown to my character)? Any little piece of insight would be welcome. 🙂

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Even though your protagonist won’t find his specific story goal until after the First Plot Point, he will still *want* something in the beginning. This want will drive his early scene goals as they are obstructed, leading him up to his first bump with the main conflict at the the Inciting Event.

  20. Ms. Albina says

    I am co-authoring a mermaid book. Do you keep track of the scenes? I mean such as the mermaid who is also a healer also needs to go to a village to help the people who are very sick. How many scenes would you write or jot down as notes for the scene. Do you also do long descriptions in your book of what the scene looks like if you are in a palace library or swimming in a pool or ocean?

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      I outline according to scene structure and usually go into as much depth as I feel I need to make sure I clearly understand the scene. I probably tend to err more on the side of more details, just because I like to known exactly where I stand when I start drafting the actual scene.

  21. Ms. Albina says

    Okay, Thank you. Do you have any worksheets for writers for scenes or the story structure?

  22. Thank you for this! I only recently came across your series on scene structure and have found it invaluable. You’ve managed to lay out this topic in a way that I found incredibly easy to follow and that has made outlining my novel that much easier. I really appreciate you sharing this!

  23. Aaron McMahan says

    Firstly, I am beyond grateful for all the hard work you’ve put in to making this project excellent. It has helped me tremendously. With that said, I have a question: together,
    scenes and sequels make a driven Scene. On a smaller scale, the motivation/reaction units act as a cog and wheel to pull the story along. Is there a proper way to write on the scale between scene/sequels and motivation reaction units? Should we write using MRU units in a goal/conflict/disaster/reaction/dilemma/decision pattern inside of each scene/sequel?

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Short answer: yes.

      Longer answer: I wouldn’t stress out about this too much. It can end up getting really anal. :p But if you ever feel that a sentence, paragraph, or scene isn’t working, this is a good formula to fall back on in order to achieve realism through a solid chain of cause and effect.

  24. This series has really helped me! One question though: Do you always have to have a scene break between the Scene and the Sequel? Or is it possible for one to flow directly into the other without a break?

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      No, you can definitely flow from one to another. Scene and chapter breaks are just arbitrary divisions for the sake of pacing.

  25. Great sound advice as always. I’m wondering if you address the “linking” of scenes to scenes, sequels to scenes and so forth. My muddly process is that I usually plunge in and write several dozen scenes and sequels that don’t automatically build a narrative, and I have to go back and work the “which leads to” part of each one. Is there a word for that? Not sure I’m making 100% sense but I’m grateful for the forum to explore these questions!

  26. Only recently discovered your website and have found it so helpful. Thank you. This series has been especially enlightening as for some odd reason given their importance, scenes don’t seem to get much coverage in How to books or blogs. For the first time I really get it. Out of curiosity is there a typical wordcount for a scene (ignore sequels as you said before they could be half a sentence or stretch across chapters)? I read somewhere 1500 max was a rule of thumb.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      I average between 2500-3500 for my scenes. There really isn’t a standard, although it’s good to shoot for consistent lengths within the same book.

  27. My good friend Madison recently recommended I read through this whole series, and I did! it helped me SO. MUCH. I ended up taking a ton of notes and now I understand Scenes much, much better! Thank you SO much for all of the hard work you do. Us beginner authors couldn’t do it without you!!


  28. Please help! So I am really struggling with this concept for my book in particular. It’s a contemporary story with a romance subplot. I’m struggling with making everything end in a disaster. It feels like that would only work in action/thriller novels.

    For example, when my character goes to work one day she gets served with divorce papers. She didn’t necessarily have any goals… this was something that just happened to her. (Can a goal be to “have a good day at work” lol)


    I have one scene ironed out to where she’s trying to get a job to show her husband she’s “trying” and when she scores 2 interviews and lets him know via text he sends her a “thumbs up” emoji. As if he really doesn’t care. (Can that be a disaster?!) Or does it need to be something bigger…

    Thank you so much for any insight!

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Disasters can be comparatively very small. Both of the instances you mentioned here are perfect–as long as they influence the need for a new goal in the following scenes.

  29. Chris Hollier says


    First I wanted to say thanks for creating all of these learning tools. I first ran across your work looking for a book who’s protagonist struggled to overcome a really dark secret (Behold the Dawn – amazing book by the way) and after googling for novel advice I randomly ran across this website. Since then I’ve been binge listening to your podcasts over the past few weeks. It’s a lot to take in but I do really appreciate what you’ve done.

    I’m working on my first novel and, unfortunately, I’m also completely new to writing. About how many “Scenes” do you average per novel and about how long are they? The novel I’m currently working on is right around 75 Scenes (About 35 scenes, 35 sequels, and 5 incidents – what the writing software I’m using refers to when a protagonist accomplishes a short term goal without any setbacks) and so far I seem to be averaging about 1500 words for the scenes and about 1000 words for the sequels.

    Thanks again!

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Glad you’re enjoying the info! And it’s especially nice to hear you enjoyed Behold the Dawn. 🙂

      My scenes usually run around 3,000 words. I write mostly fantasy these days, so aim for around 45 scenes and usually end up with around 60 :p

      You might enjoy this post on calculating the length of your book.

      • Chris Hollier says


        Thanks for the fast response. Just for clarification because of the terminology used, does that mean that your “scenes” and “sequels” are 3,000 words each? Or if you added your “scene” and “sequel” together that they’d total about 3,000 words? Whichever the answer, does that also apply to your 45-60 scenes? Is that 45-60 scenes and 45-60 sequels, or 45-60 scene/sequel combos?

        Sorry for the confusion, whoever created these terms should be forced to answer all these questions!

        • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

          Sorry for not clarifying. Usually, I combine scenes and sequels into single chapters. So I’m referring to each as 3,000 words.

  30. Hi. Really enjoying your website. You said that the goal in a scene can be someone elses goal. How does this actually work when their goal services the plot but is completely opposite of the protagonists goal? Do I write a conflict and disaster for the scene goal in mind? Does the disaster be the accomplished goal of that other person?
    The point of the scene is to reveal the secret aristocratic background to other characters which the protagonist desperately doesn’t want. This is the 1st plot point in my story.
    Regds, Kirsi

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      The protagonist should still have a goal. In this instance, it sounds like perhaps the goal is to stop the info from getting out, which would neatly end with a scene disaster when it does.

  31. Hello K great series. My question is this: let’s assume you are ending your story with an happy ending, would you omit disaster of the last scene or is disaster of the last scene is the climax and following sequel is the denoument?

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Yes, in a happy ending the outcome of the final scene will show the main conflict being resolved positively.

  32. Molly Stegmeier says

    I’ve generally found that the strongest endings for my chapters happen just after the disaster. But I have three POV characters, so I don’t usually get to the sequel until a chapter later, after some time has passed within the story. Sometimes it’s understandable that they would still be reeling/reacting days later, but other times not. I don’t want them to seem like automatons, unaffected by the events of the story, but my sequels in those latter cases feel either tacked on (if I put them at the beginning of the next chapter from that POV) or rushed (if I try to fit them into the end of the previous scene). Do you have any ideas how I could get around that?

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      As long you’re not “skimping” on the reaction scenes–which are often powerhouses of character development–it’s fine to remember that a sequel doesn’t have to be a full scene or chapter, but can be observed in as little as a sentence where necessary.

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