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How strong are your scenes? Use this checklist to find out

Have you ever started reading a book and felt like nothing really happened? I saw a TV show recently where several characters set out to “save one character’s wife and baby from the bad guy,” but ended up bumbling around, seemed to give up or forget what they went out for, got sidetracked, and then went back to camp. This went on for awhile. It was boring. And annoying.

It’s not as if nothing happened, but those things had nothing to do with the initial goal of the scene. I wanted to scream at the characters, “Hey, what about the mom and baby?!”

When this happens in a book or TV series, I don’t want to keep reading or watching. I’m probably not the only one.

So how can we avoid this problem of, “nothing happening?” Check out my checklist:

Before diving into the writing, create a rough outline and sense of where the story is headed. Yes, things change, but a general road map can help maintain a sense of direction about what you’re writing and why.

Create big stakes. Something significant must be at stake physically or emotionally for the characters. And that need should create energy that carries through to the scene’s end. If something big is at stake, is the issue resolved in a satisfying way?

Who are the key characters? They should change in some significant way by the end of the scene.

Check how the scene and its outcome will affect the direction of the story. Could it amplify the story problem and set the stage for more action and conflict?

Make sure the scene is necessary. Has your story gone off the rails? In the TV show I watched, it felt like the storyline had run its course and needed to be done.

If you’re in the revision stage with your story, consider how you can create a reverse outline to revisit your scenes’ strengths.

For more ideas, read Carol Despeaux’s post, How a reverse outline can make your story stronger.

3 Comments Post a comment
  1. Last night I wrote a scene that seemed to drag. I’m going to apply your checklist and see if I can cut some stuff to make the scene stronger. Thanks for the advice!

    August 16, 2013

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  1. Creating a Setting for your Story | Nicoles Voice

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