How To Make A Scene

Building Your Novel One Scene at a Time

Scene Progression

State the goal of your Lead at the beginning of each scene. What does she want? What does he need? How does he plan to acquire the thing he wants? What will she give up for the thing she wants? This “want” is your Lead’s stake in the ground.

Promise pain through foreshadowing (tears, heartache, physical discomfort)

Deliver pain through action (show your Lead suffering)


Progress from goal to conflict, disaster, character development (how does she grow?)


Suspense is anticipation, so announce the reward for your Lead early in the scene


Restate your Lead’s goal as necessary (halfway through)



Never let your Lead relax for too long



Increase the risk of failure (towards the end of the scene add-to the penalties for failure)

Tension comes from unresolved conflict so leave your character’s world messy


Promise the payoff for that scene, then delay the payoff until later in the story.



Deliver a payoff, but not the thing your Lead sought




A Novel IdeaExcerpted from A Novel Idea.

From the Author

For ten years I’ve sat across the appointment table with authors who pitch me their project. When I ask:

“Who’s your main character?”
“What’s the inciting incident in Act One?”
“What is the main character’s call to action and how do they deny this call?”
I often get blank stares.

I wrote this book so authors could review their project and fix their story: or, in many cases, toss the story and begin a new novel.

I quote from successful authors and screenwriters because these individuals have mastered the craft of writing. There is nothing new in this book that you cannot find in a library full of writing books. I have simply compiled the essential elements of a novel into one book.

I teach from this book at writers conferences. Some authors say it helps them organize their novel. You decide if it helps you.

Creating Compelling Characters

From the book "A Novel Idea"

A Novel Idea - Learn How to Write a Novel in Under 60 MinutesWhat makes a character compelling? Simple. Something happens to them. Even if you despise your (_____), you enjoy telling others about his failures. “Did you hear what happened to my ex? He got busted for…” We love to loath, meddle in the affairs of others, and watch them fail. Our participation in their lives expands our world, which explains part of what fuels reality TV.


• Reveal heart
• Face obstacles
• Pick paths
• Make a discovery
• Reveal a secret

Characters Conquer Mountains

For your characters to be likable they should be witty, charming, wise, friendly, empathetic, authentic, encouraging, secure, or vulnerable. If your lead is perfect she’s boring, so give her both redeeming qualities and flaws so the reader can relate.

Give Your Lead Goals 
• What does she want?
• What is she willing to do to reach her goal?
• What WILL she do to reach that goal?
• What is she willing to sacrifice?
• What happens if the she fails?
• Is your Lead larger than life?
(Does he lay in the middle of highway, hang from a Ferris wheel, and rebuild an old house for the girl he loves?)

Want, Need, Motivation
If the reader questions why a character reacts in a certain way, then you’ve lost credibility. There are two reasons your characters act “out of character.”
1. There is no clear motivation for the character to perform the action.
2. The motivation provided isn’t sufficiently developed.

That’s the start of character development. Question: Is your character such that others cheer for you?

Dramatic Dialogue

Writing Dialogue for Scripts and Novels

Dramatic DialogueA scene is: Doing (Action), Thinking (Narrative), and Talking (Dialogue)

Obviously, we can’t know what others are thinking. We can see them moving, doing, and we find that interesting, but when they speak, we listen. The cell phone rings and we answer it. A loud speaker blares and we pause.

Talk is not cheap. Talk is tension.

A writer has a number of tools for story building: narration, action, description, and dialogue.

Description and narration will move it slowly, steadily, and easily along. Think literature.

Action and dialogue will speed it along—dialogue more so than action. When characters start talking, the story starts walking.

Dialogue reveals theme. “Sometimes the right course demands an act of piracy.” In the movie Pirates of the Caribbean, Jack Sparrow actually states the theme of the story in dialogue. When possible, allow your main character to speak the theme through dialogue.

Function of Dialogue

Dialogue reveals the character’s motives and opposing agendas. A dialogue scene propels the story into high gear. We love to eavesdrop; through words we reveal our heart. We introduce our characters through dialogue, expose their motivation, wants and needs.

Behavior is external; motives are internal. Dialogue presents both at once.

Elements of Dialogue

For dialogue to work it must:
Sound right for each character. There are four aspects to consider:

  • Vocabulary (words each character uses)
  • Words & Expressions unique to each character (establish a saying or phrase early in the story)
  • Regionalism
  • Dialect (accent)

Since dialogue is best when it is an extension of action, give your characters different agendas in a scene. Then the dialogue will take care of itself as your characters work through a problem in the scene.

Making a Scene Readers Will Remember

Making a Scene Readers Will RememberThe power of a scene is derived from the slightly claustrophobic feeling you get when you focus on the characters. They seem somehow trapped in a place, unable to leave. Through your writing you pan across the room, landscape, and set the context, before moving in for a close-up shot of the characters. Now reveal the pain, stress, hurt on your characters’ faces. In order to engage the reader’s imagination, your scenes must do one or more of the following:

  • Move the story through action
  • Characterize through reaction
  • Set up essential scenes to come
  • Sprinkle in surprise


  • Reveals information that moves the story forward with new goals, old secrets, and hidden motives
  • Shows conflict between characters (this adds tension)
  • Deepens the character’s development by exposing another flaw or strength
  • Creates suspense by introducing a new wrinkle that leaves the reader what will come next

Making A Scene

Making a scene is as easy as: ABCD !


Static settings will put your readers to sleep, so get your characters moving. Show the world around them spinning. It can be something as simple as snow falling on a patio railing or bullets piercing the sides of the limo, but you must show movement. Make sure the reader “sees” something is happening. If readers can feel movement, that’s better.


Open with action, then place the scene in context. Why are the characters in the scene? How did they arrive? What does your Lead want? Background IS NOT history. Background IS showing your Lead’s goal for that scene. Your character must want something. What is it? This is where you will state your Lead’s goal for this scene.


Who or what stands in the way of your Lead reaching his goal? Present the barrier. Include conflict on every page. Never let your Lead relax. Show the struggle! Increase the risk of failure. Tension comes from unresolved conflict, so let the scene devolve into a mess.


At the end of each scene, your Lead must choose a course of action. A scene moves from struggle, discovery, choice, and change. Character choice, not circumstances, should drive your story forward. At the end of each scene present your lead with two choices and force him or her to pick one. The rapids approach. Should your character: Reach for the branch overhead or try to swim for the rock in the middle of the river. High stakes decisions at the end of each scene force readers to turn the page to next chapter.

Scene Summary

When you finish writing a scene, ask, “Is this scene necessary?” Read the scenes before and after. Does what just happened deserve its own scene? Could the information be placed in a neighboring scene?

A great novel is made from a series of great scenes strung together. Do that and readers will beg you to write more.

Top Tips For Overcoming Writer’s Block by Marcela De Vivo

Top Tips For Overcoming Writer’s Block

Top Tips For Overcoming Writer’s Block

Writer’s block can sneak up on you like a dark cloud when you least expect it. It impedes your thinking and creativity. Experiencing writer’s block is a writer’s worst nightmare, because sometimes it is the singular thing standing between you and getting your words out onto paper. The longer your writer’s block continues, the harder it becomes to get rid of it. That is why it’s so important to take the necessary steps to get rid of writer’s block right away. Here are some helpful tips to beating writer’s block.

Free Writing Exercises

Free writing is when you start writing with nothing in particular in mind. You just write and write without stopping for however long it takes to get the creative juices flowing. Starting by writing about something as simple as your breakfast and keep going until your mind gets into the writing space. Eventually, you’ll beat the writer’s block by pushing through it.

Free writing is a helpful exercise to do regularly. Don’t just try it when you are experiencing writer’s block. Instead, make a habit of doing it every day, or at least a couple times a week. This helps your brain stay constantly moving and keeps you creative.


Riding a bike, taking a jog, or even just a brisk walk in the park can all be very helpful in fighting writer’s block. Exercise can clear your mind from all the cobwebs enough for a good idea to pop into your head. Sometimes it just works to hush the negative voices in your head. It can also raise your energy levels and send positive signals to your brain.

Put Away Distractions

If your writing space is filled with a hundred little distractions, you’ll never be able to rid yourself of writer’s block. Put away the knick knacks on your desk. Shut the shades of your window so you won’t stop writing to drool over the beautiful day outside. Lock away your phone so you aren’t constantly checking your text messages and taking Candy Crush breaks. Without those distractions, you’ll be able to focus on your writing.

Go to a New Location

change of scenery can be just the thing you need to start up your creativity. Staring at the same four walls every day may very well be what’s stifling you, so changing it up a bit can be helpful. Go to a coffee shop with your laptop or sit on a bench in a beautiful park with a notebook. Go anywhere that relaxes you enough to focus on your work.

Eating Healthier Foods

Your diet has a lot to do with your state of mind. When you eat junk food, your body begins to feel fatigued and heavy. By eating healthy foods that are rich in antioxidants, you can elevate your mood. With a positive mood and high energy, getting over the writer’s block will be a piece of cake.

It may even be beneficial to supplement your diet with an omega-3 vitamin. This will keep your overall health in good condition, and ensure that you’re not getting dragged down by a frustrating cold.

Keep a Notebook At All Times

One of the problems with writer’s block is that sometimes it only comes when you’re ready to write. If you always keep a small moleskine notebook with you, you can jot down ideas, phrases, lines, and other pieces of writing that come to you during the day. You’ll no longer forget the important writing moments that pop into your head during the day. Carrying a notebook keeps inspiration at the forefront of your brain.

Unplug the Internet

There’s a reason we love the internet. It has everything we could ever want: games, social media, and funny viral videos, among other things. When we’re writing, we tell ourselves that we need the internet for research or the online dictionary. However, in reality it actually serves as more of a distraction than anything. You can always go back to the internet to do research, but while you’re writing your focus should be on your words.

Writer’s block is the bane of most writers’ existences. If you try one or more of these tips while dealing with the block, you’ll be sure to defeat it in no time. Staying inspired will leave your writing fresh and always new.


Marcela De Vivo is a freelance writer and mother of three in Southern California. As a full-time writer and business owner of Gryffin Media, she has experienced her share of writer’s block, and finds that changing up her environment helps her stay focused and inspired. Follow her on Twitter for more tips like these!