How To Write Scenes for Fictional Novels

Structure a scene can be similar to the difference of a skeleton and an attractive woman

Scenes are probably the most important (and difficult) aspect of story you need to master when studying how to structure your novel.

Each scene is linked through the constant cycle of cause and effect that a character goes through.

Think of a scene as a mini story with a beginning, middle, and end. As one scene ends, it sends the characters on a new journey or direction that begins with the next scene.

In every scene, the audience learns something about the characters, setting, or plot. By the time you are finished writing, your story will look like a chain of scenes categorized into chapters that fit within your story’s structure

There must be a literal and emotional occurrence. The external what happens, and what they mean on an internal level.

Scenes structure

A scene is like a mini story within a story.

Each beginning must start with a hook and the ending with a cliffhanger or attention keeper. Scenes are divided into scene and sequel. A fiction novel must create a powerful world that fills the reader with emotion. 

Alpha Point: Each scene must have some overarching point in the plot that furthers the story towards the ending Aha! moment. The alpha point is the scene’s summary explaining its purpose. 

Subplot: Woven into the scene are other minor plot points related to the main plot.

Scene Structure : Acclaimed author Dwight V. Swain created an amazing outline of how to put a scene together. By following this format, your scene with have a satisfying flow that keeps readers hooked.

It may be a bit confusing, but every scene should be divided up into a SCENE and a SEQUEL

The basic outline looks like this:


  • Goal: What does the character want?
  • Conflict: What prevents your character from getting it
  • Disaster: What complicates things further


  • Reaction: What is your characters emotional response to the disaster?
  • Dilemma: Considering the disaster, what are the options to choose from, and which is less awful?
  • Decision: Which option does you character choose?

The scene turns into the sequel, and as the sequel comes to a close, it will force the character into a new goal, and the story another step forward.


Every scene is designed to keep readers interested by making sure the story keeps moving forward.

To accomplish this, a scene is made up of three parts before turning into the sequel. They are goal, conflict, and disaster


This is what your POV character wants at the beginning of the Scene. The Goal must be specific and it must be clearly definable.

Give the character stakes to lose and a prize to win.

The reason your POV character must have a Goal is that it makes your character proactive.

It’s a simple fact that any character who wants something desperately is an interesting character.


Conflict is the series of obstacles your POV character faces on the way to reaching his Goal. You must have Conflict in your Scene!

If your POV character reaches his Goal with no Conflict, then the reader is bored.

Your reader wants to struggle!

No victory has any value if it comes too easy. So make your POV character struggle and your reader will live out that struggle too.


A Disaster is a failure to let your POV character reach his Goal. Don’t give him the Goal! Winning is boring! When a scene ends in victory, your reader feels no reason to turn the page.

If things are going well, your reader might as well go to bed.

No! Make something awful happen. Hang your POV character off a cliff and your reader will turn the page to see what happens next.


This is the time to slow down and relax a little. The action is over and now it is time to process what just happened and to decide on what actions to do next.

To summarize, a sequel always comes after the scene and is comprised of three parts


A Reaction is the emotional follow-through to a Disaster. When something awful happens, you’re staggering for awhile, off-balance, out of kilter.

You can’t help it.

So show your POV character reacting viscerally to his Disaster. Show him hurting. Give your reader a chance to hurt with your characters. You may need to show some passage of time.

This is not a time for action, it’s a time for re-action.

A time to weep.

But you can’t stagger around in pain forever. In real life, if people do that they lose their friends. In fiction, if you do it, you lose your readers. Eventually, your POV character needs to get a grip. To take stock. To look for options. And the problem is that there aren’t any . . .


A Dilemma is a situation with no good options.

If your Disaster was a real Disaster, there aren’t any good choices. Your POV character must have a real dilemma.

This gives your reader a chance to worry, which is good. Your reader must be wondering what can possibly happen next. Let your POV character work through the choices. Let him sort things out. Eventually, let him come to the least-bad option . . .


Decision is the act of making a choice among several options.

This is important, because it lets your POV character become proactive again.

People who never make decisions are boring people.

They wait around for somebody else to decide. And nobody wants to read about somebody like that.

So make your character decide, and make it a good decision.

Make it one your reader can respect. Make it risky, but make it have a chance of working. Do that, and your reader will have to turn the page, because now your POV character has a new Goal.

Types of Scenes

The following information was found on this website:

The following list of scene types are not all, but the most common kinds of scenes found in screenplays today. And oftentimes, a scene may be a combination of two or more scene types.

1. Setting – Where are we?

2. Atmosphere/Mood – What is it like there?

3. Introduction – Who is it we are dealing with here?

4. Exposition – Necessary information. Quick and Clever.

5. Transition – getting from one place to another. Fast.

6. Preparation – What will it take to prepare for the task at hand?

7. Aftermath – How does the character feel about what just happened?

8. Investigation – Gathering information.

9. Revelation – The reader/audience finds out something important.

10. Recognition – The character finds out something important.

11. The Gift – Using a prop with emotional investment and turning it into a weapon, emotional or otherwise.

12. Escape – The character is trying to get away, avoid, or hide.

13. Pursuit – The character is trying to follow, capture, or secure.

14. Seduction – Someone must convince someone else.

15. Opposites – Two characters from seemingly opposite poles are forced together.

16. Reversal of Expectations – A character expects a certain, very clear outcome, but another character surprises him, influencing him to reverse his intention and do something else – practically the opposite of what he planned to do.

17. Unexpected Visitor – Someone unexpected shows up. Problems arise.

Scene Length

Average around 1500 words

Short: 500-1000

Medium: 1000-2000

Long: 2000-Chapter length

Alternative methods for writing a scene

10 Point scene plot: (scene breakdown)

Focusing only the parts where ‘something happens’ in one clear and simple sentence – make sure it has an action word. It could look like this:

  1. Nik convinces Jade to let him go to Chrome Bar.
  2. At bar, Jade has to deal with a nosy journalist.
  3. She thinks the bar is too crowded and insists they return to suite.
  4. Just then a Kim Kardashian-lookalike model arrives at the bar. Nik offers to buy her a mojito.
  5. To annoy Jade, Nik openly flirts with ‘Kim’
  6. Nik whispers to Jade that he and ‘Kim’ are going up to his suite.
  7. She follows them up to the penthouse and does a security check.
  8. While ‘Kim’ is in the bathroom, Jade checks her purse for any cameras or listening devices.
  9. In the adjoining suite, Jade is restless but eventually falls asleep.
  10. The next morning, she opens Nik’s door and finds him naked and dead, with a bullet hole in the middle of his head. ‘Kim’ is gone.

Now, all you have to do is take each plot point and write 100-150 words on each and you’ll have your scene written before you know it. This is where you can have fun with character development, dialogue, etc., knowing your ‘story spine’ is in place.

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