5 Tips for Writing Scenes

Every writer has a different method to their madness. There’s no right or wrong way to weave a story from beginning to end. Of course, I believe every writer should study the craft, learn as much as they can about fiction-writing basics--but then, ultimately, each writer needs to pull it all together in a way that works for them.

All that to say, what works for me, won’t be a fit for everyone. Nevertheless, if I had to pick one way to describe how I write my books, I’d have to say “I write by scenes.” From start to finish, I build my entire book with one scene upon another.

I know many writers use the technique of scene-writing. There are even writing books that go into detail about writing scenes. So, I don’t claim to be the expert. In fact, I’m still learning with each book that I write what works and what doesn’t.

With that said, here are just a few of the scene-writing techniques I incorporate into my books:

1. Plan out the scene before writing it.

Not everyone is a planner—I completely understand that. But . . . there’s something to be said about being intentional with the blank page that sits directly in front of us. Maybe we won’t map out the entire book, but when we carefully make decisions about a scene before writing it, we have the potential to make it richer and fuller. Here are the things I plan out before writing a scene:

Time and Date: Keeping track of this will come in handy later during in-house line-editing

POV (point of view): Whose POV would have the greatest impact for the scene? Whose POV haven’t I used lately? Whose POV can best move the plot along?

Setting: How can I alternate the setting so that I don’t have too many scenes in the same room or area?

Sensory Details: What sights, smells, tastes, textures, and sounds can bring the scene alive? What other details can help set the mood of the scene?

2. Set scene goals carefully.

We should be aiming to incorporate only those things into our stories that have a purpose, whether to move the plot along, enhance our theme, build our characters, or foreshadow what’s to come. I make bullet points for everything I hope to accomplish within the scene that I’m about to write. As I sit down to do the actual writing, things often change, but the goals keep me on target. Whatever I don’t end up including in the scene, I circle so that I can try to remember to include that “goal” in a later scene.

3. Let the scene play out like a movie.

Once I have my scene planned out, then I write it, letting it play out in my mind like a movie, keeping the action moving, showing what’s happening. But of course, I’m also in my POV character’s head. So I make sure to show what’s going on inside her head, her reactions, emotions, conflicts, and eventually her growth.

4. Decide how much transition (or sequel) is needed.

Some writers use transition or sequel to move to their next scene. Others (like me) jump-cut to the next scene without the filler. When we cut off one scene and then move directly to the next, we often still need to weave in transitional information like the passing of time or anything significant that’s happened between the scenes. Not everything is important enough to include, so we have to decide what the reader must know for the story to make sense, and then thread those things throughout the scene (usually the early paragraphs).

5. Begin and end the scene with hooks.

If possible, we should look for ways to draw our readers immediately into a scene (similar to the way we want to hook them with the first paragraphs of our books). And likewise, we should try to end our scenes with a ROP (read-on-prompt)—something that urges the reader to keep turning the pages to find out what’s going to happen next.

There you have it. My method through the madness! What’s your method? Do you write by scenes or some other way? And if you write by scenes, what other techniques do you use to bring it to life?


  1. Great post. I definitely build my stories using scenes. In fact, I'm a psychotic outliners and outline every scene prior to writing the book. Of course, things change while writing. Scenes get added, delelted, or squished together into one. But I like having my road map.

    For every scene that I outline, I have this:

    POV character:
    Extra notes:

    Writing the outline, for me, is one of the longest steps in writing. My rough draft never takes as long to write as my outline.

  2. It's nice to get a clear look at what works for you. I like picking and pulling from others to figure what works for me.

    Happy Birthday, Jody!

  3. Excellent post. Yeah, I write by scenes. And I find the best way to create a hook at the end of a chapter is to finish in the middle of an important action. Which is what you did so brilliantly in The Preacher's Bride. Man, that book is going to linger in my mind for months ...

    Also, before I start writing the first draft, I write chapter summaries for the entire book, so that when I stop and start, I don't have to think too much. All I have to do is read the summary and the plot points I need to focus on, without worrying about whether I've missed something important. Of course, they change sometimes, but when they do I update the following summaries. Anyway, my two cents!

  4. Yes, I've fine tuned the outline I use as I've written and rewritten my current manuscript, and it's very similar to what you talk about and what Katie mentions above. I'm constantly tweaking what works for me as I learn more and more about the craft.

  5. I love this and tucking it away for reference.

  6. Congrats on your great review at My Friend Amy!

  7. I write in scenes too. Also, I find that having a minimum word count helps me with pacing.

    Thanks for this very informative post.

  8. Love that #5. It's my favorite part to craft and to read in books as well.
    ~ Wendy

  9. Great post, Jody. I really like your planning process and thoughts on sequels. Have a great day!

  10. Wow! You guys are so organized you make me feel quite messy. But I gues you're right. Even though not all of us write down bullet points, we always have some planning in our heads, we're always wondering how it could be better, how we can achieve our goals.
    Great post, Jody!

  11. Great advice, especially the setting. My first draft had way too many scenes in one spot, so I had to change way too much.

  12. I totally agree with all of these tips. I write my book by scenes and go about it as if it's a movie. The last tip especially is crucial to keep your reader reading. I love being hooked at the end of scene when I'm reading so I make sure I have that in my writing!

    Great post as always!

  13. I write in scenes too. I used to write in order but when I got stuck my writing stalled. Now I write scenes out of order, but your list is definitely things I keep in mind -- especially #5.

  14. I'm still finishing (finishing seems to take a lot of time) my first novel. From reading your method of moving along by writing scenes, I realize that this is what I do, also. It plays out in my head like a movie, as you point out. I think going from scene to scene is a great way to keep moving as long as the shift text is short and sends the reader into the next scene prepared to enjoy.

    I subscribed to your blog once before but somehow the connection broke. I don't know how that happened. This time I hope the subscription will carry through. I intend to read your book whether I win it or not. I came here from Christi's blog featuring you because I wanted to "get connected again". My novel is Christian fiction, but I want it to crossover the lines, of course. Blessings to you, Jody...

  15. Wow, thanks, Jody! I like writing by scenes but I always feel very unorganized and disjointed when I do it. This really helped me! :)

  16. Thanks so much, Jody. I've been really trying to learn about plot and structure over the past few months, so I'm always thrilled to come upon a clear, here's-what-works-for-me post like this. I took notes, and will for sure put your ideas to use! Thanks! :)

  17. Plotting must be in the zeitgeist, LOL. I wrote a blog about it on Monday.

    I think a writer needs at least a general outline, much like an artist uses charcoal to trace the general idea of a painting before he ever squeezes paint from a tube. A general outline keeps perspective and offers guideposts to keep the writer on track.

    As an editor I can tell in ten pages if an author understands narrative structure. There is a lot more to a novel than pretty prose. When I teach I advise writers to never ever leave a logical place for a reader to put a bookmark.

    When I teach my novel writing class, I require students to be able to tell me in one sentence what the book is about before they are allowed to proceed. If they cannot boil the concept down to a 1-3 sentence log-line, that is often a sign of a HUGE plot problem. Then we plot major narrative points. We then progress on to a system I developed called 3-D plotting, but that is just the requirement of the workshop. You are right, every writer has unique methods that work. I still recommend the logline and major plot points be roughly established before beginning a work. It will cut down on bunny trails and will help make sure the right amount of action happens at the right time.

    Thanks for a great blog again!

    Kristen Lamb

  18. I write scene by scene, chronologically. I don't put as much forethought into mine, but I do start and end on hooks, and I also keep in mind the conflicts I have going on and try to use them to move the plot forward.

  19. I like the idea of writing scene by scene:) I also like to leave a hook at the end of each one to pick up at the next scene.

  20. Love this post!

    I write in scenes, also. I don't like to outline every detail of the story - but once I've established the story's theme, beginning, and ending, I usually create a "time line" and write a description of every scene. If I wrote without having some kind of "scene outline", my plot would be most likely be everywhere.


  21. Jody, I write in scenes too. I typically know about five scenes ahead of where I'm writing, and I plan each scene out right before I start writing it.

    So later I have to put them in chapters and deal with the transitions needed--and it's always a struggle! I'd love to hear how you handle that aspect.

  22. I didn't realize it, but I guess I do write in scenes! This is great information, Jody. Thanks.

  23. Hi Sally,

    I'm a plotter. So I have the general plot laid out before I start. Then I plan my scenes more specifically once I sit down to write them. I generally have about two scenes per chapter or maybe three--rarely more than that. But that's just how I do it. I also try to weave transitional info. into the early part of the scene. I think that we probably err on the side of including too much transition. Usually the reader can figure out the "in-between" stuff without us having to spell out all the details. I try to include only the details that will help the scene make sense. Since I write historicals, I have to find a way to include those details too. It's tricky and I'm definitely still learning how to do it! :-)

  24. I printed this one and put it in my file of favorite writing stuff! :-)

  25. I'm the exact opposite. I love planning and outlining but only on the big-picture level. I do plan chapters but never scenes and never those details you and the commenters mentioned.

    What I do plan excessively, are my characters. I know them inside out, they're living with me every day and I use a lot of techniques to let them drive the story. But then I sit back, start writing and then see where it goes.

    And then edit, and change the chapter orders, and then re-edit and delete and extend and... I can't imagine I can ever think that now this story is perfect. :)

    (Yeah, I've never finished a novel yet...)

  26. I too write scene by scene, within the context of a loose plan. A lot of the times characters surprise me, its a bit more like improvisation rather than a scripted movie. I give the characters an idea and they sort of roll with it. Then the next scene emerges from that...and so on...

    This is a great post, Jody! What I especially like is your gentle tone, offering suggestions rooted in your own experience. I've come across some writer tip sites that are somewhat pompous and very 'thou shalt, thou shalt not...' and if you don't do it one way, you'll never get published! Reading those is a great way to have an anxiety attack...whereas reading yours makes me go: oohh, great idea!

    Many thanks,
    Juile Johnson

  27. Hi Jody -

    As a SOTP writer, I'm not that intentional. I've absorbed a lot about writing craft, and most of it gets incorporated into my plots.

    Thanks for the tip about varying settings. LOL! I seem to gravitate toward kitchens. I'll have to do some corrections.

    Susan :)

  28. I don't put that much effort into my scenes. Not quite. I mean, when I outline, I lay out what I need in the scenes.

    But mostly I take my outline and do it on the fly while writing.

    I do tend to end on a hook, or catch, or just something to make the person go to the next chapter.

  29. Great post. I am tucking it away for future reference.

  30. This is really helpful. I'm breaking down scenes in my WIP today, and this is a great guide. Thank you!

  31. I'm very deliberate about planning my scenes, but often when I'm writing a first draft, I have to add scenes I didn't plan on. For me that's the fun of actual writing!

  32. I love this post -- I bookedmarked it when I first read it, and now I've used it as part of a discussion on my own blog. I think one of the most useful things about this approach is that you can use it whether you're a plotter or a pantser, because you can ask yourself these questions right before you begin writing the scene.


© All the articles in this blog are copyrighted and may not be used without prior written consent from the author. You may quote without permission if you give proper credit and links. Thank you!