How I Write My Scenes

“How do I write this story?”

Take a deep breath.

Writing a novel or short story starts with writing one word. Then one sentence. Then one paragraph. Then one scene.

Stop right there.

Let’s focus on the scene in fiction writing. Scenes are the basic building blocks of the fiction process, but how do I get from a blank white page to a black-and-white word sprinkled page?

I’m going to go step-by-step just to give some structure to anyone who may be looking for help. This is my way; it may not work for everyone, but just one of thousands of ways to develop a scene.

Note: This is a method to use whether you are starting from scratch (like for NaNoWriMo), or if you’ve had a nugget of a story idea in your mind and you haven’t fleshed it out yet.

Another Note: You might want to spend some time creating some characters, including your protagonist, before you go beyond this point. Don’t forget to give them flaws and goals. Add a description of their appearance, mannerisms and speech patterns. Keep it simple for now. You can develop the characters as you write and rewrite the story.

Here we go:

1. Make a list of scenes.

Do this while relaxing. Put on some music. Sit by the fireplace. Watch television. Or just sit quietly. Whatever helps. Don’t rush yourself.

As ideas for scenes come to your mind, jot them down on a notepad or type them on your laptop. Don’t edit yourself. Don’t worry if the list is in chronological order. Don’t fret if some of your entries sound dumb. Just expel your creativity.

Note: If you are participating in NaNoWriMo, this step can be done before November 1st as part of “Preptober”.

Once you get about twenty items, you can stop. Or go on if you’re on a roll. If you come to the conclusion as you brainstorm your scene list, great. If not, no big deal. Start with what you have and the ending will probably come to you later.

Now, as just an example, here’s a list of scenes I made up just now, as well as the title of the novel which is science fiction.

List of Scenes for Alpha Weeping

  • Circe working at the hologram shop
  • On the way home she encounters her older self
  • Back at her apartment, Older self says Circe’s future child will be a monster who initiates a galactic war killing millions across the galaxy
  • Older self vanishes; Circe contemplates what she has heard. Crazy? Drugs? Not this was real.
  • Argument with boyfriend
  • Circe tries to find her older self, but there is no trace.
  • Circe researches time travel.
  • Circe travels to government compound where time travel is being explored.
  • They turn her away.
  • Circe finds some academics who are trying to develop time travel
  • She befriends them and volunteers to help by going into the future.
  • She goes into the future for a short period. Sees the destruction her future child has indeed caused.
  • She returns to the present and decides she must never have a child.
  • Then she discovers she is pregnant.

And so on. Or I can stop here if I’m not sure where it’s going. In the spirit of NaNoWriMo, I can just start with this and jot down more scene ideas as they arrive to my subconscious.

Now, some of these entries may not be worthy of further development. You can just ignore them, come back to them later or develop them further so that they are worth a reader’s precious time. And that leads us to:

2. Pick a scene and write it as a complete sentence.

Note: If you are participating in NaNoWriMo, this is the step you can use to begin on November 1st.

This step has it’s origins in the Snowflake Method developed by Rangy Ingermanson. Pick one of the entries from your brainstorming list in step 1. It doesn’t have to be the first one on your list, but it can be if you want to write your story in chronological order. Otherwise, pick the scene you are most eager to write.

Now, write a title for this scene.

Next, if it’s just a phrase, write the list entry as a full sentence.

From my example above, I decided to start with my protagonist getting into an argument with her boyfriend. I also threw in a title for the scene (or chapter):

The Future Dynasty

Circe’s boyfriend, Ace, stops by and they argue when she mentions she’s decided she will never have children.

To develop the scene further, move on to . . .

3. Turn the scene sentence into a paragraph.

Take a deep breath and exhale. Skip a couple lines and rewrite the sentence summary into a minimum of a three sentence paragraph. The final paragraph should be around five to seven sentences.

Again, don’t rush yourself. Sit in front of the television or listen to music while you do this. Include details to flesh out the sentence into the paragraph. Be sure to think of obstacles, conflict and suspense to build into the scene. If possible, structure your paragraph with a possible beginning, middle and ending for the scene. If you’re not sure about any of these, just write what you know so far. The rest will come to you later.

Note: Don’t delete the sentence from step 2. If you are doing NaNoWriMo, you’re allowed to keep both the sentence and the paragraph to reach your 50K word goal.

Here’s what I did for step 3:

Future Dynasty Interrupted

Circe’s boyfriend, Ace, stops by and they argue when she mentions she’s decided she will never have children.

Circe feeds her pet fletamander. She thinks of giving it away to someone else. Ace stops by after work. Circe casually mentions she doesn’t want to have children. Ace is shocked because he loves kids. They argue. He breaks up with her and storms out.

First, I decided to change the scene name. Then I ended up with seven sentences with a beginning , middle and ending for this scene. However, it’s okay if I didn’t know how Ace would react. I can always change it later.

Also, to add a little symbolism, I decided to open the scene with Circe feeding her pet fletamander and then thinking of giving it away. Getting rid of her pet foreshadows giving up having children because of what she learned from her future self.

Moving on . . .

4. Turn each sentence of the paragraph into paragraphs.

Keeping all your creativity from the previous steps, flesh out each sentence of the paragraph into paragraphs of their own. This is the time to start turning exposition into something more akin to narrative. Show don’t tell. Show action. Include sensory details, like smells and sounds. Create the mood you want the reader to feel.

Keep in mind this step doesn’t have to be perfect. Just write: one word; one sentence; one scene. Repeat step 4 over as many times as needed, including more details as they come to you. Don’t throw anything away. Just skip a line and start rewriting. For NaNoWriMo, this will build up your word count.

Here’s my first draft:

Future Dynasty Interrupted

Circe’s boyfriend, Ace, stops by and they argue when she mentions she’s decided she will never have children.

Circe feeds her pet fletamander. She thinks of giving it away to someone else. Ace stops by after work. Circe casually mentions she doesn’t want to have children. Ace is shocked because he loves kids. They argue. He breaks up with her and storms out.

Before she even turned on the light in her apartment, Circe opened the cabinet storing the bag of munch and pulled it out. Her pet fletamander, Chichi, scampered into the kitchen. The clicking of the pink reptiles’ claws echoed across the tile until they stopped at Circe’s ankles.

“Hey, Chichi. Did you miss me?” She lay the bowl of munch on the kitchen floor.

Usually, Circe always giggled when Chichi gobbled down the munch. Today she just sighed. The plastic bowl clanked against the cold tile as Chichi greedily finished her meal. Circe just stared out the window at the darkening of the evening over the city street.

The fletamander returned to Circe’s ankles and flapped its wings up and down a couple times.

Circe crossed her arms without looking at Chichi. “You do this every day. You know you can’t have any more. You’ll get fat.” She sighed again.

I should give Chichi to Zip. I know he wants one of his own.


Circe whirled around. “Oh, hey.”

Ace held the knob of the front door into the apartment. “You left the door half-way open.”

She rolled her eyes. “Ugh. I got in a hurry to feed this little piggy.” She glanced down at Chichi who was now puffing a small spark of fire.

Ace closed the door and walked over to Circe. He wrapped her into a tight embrace and released her, but kept his hand on her arm, stroking it. “What’s wrong?”

And so on.

No rule exists for going in order. If you want to stop at step 2 for a scene and work on another scene, it’s okay. You can come back to the unfinished scene later.

Doing NaNoWriMo? Just writing a story for the heck of it? Feel free to use these steps if you aren’t sure how to flesh out your scenes.

Here are some articles from past blog entries on writing a scene.

And here are some links to other blogs on writing a scene:

Photo by Monica Silvestre


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