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3 Scene Essentials

Updated: Apr 17

Kristin Noland Speculative fiction editor Crime fiction editor

Scenes are crucial to reader enjoyment and readers’ expectations. But we don’t always know when they should appear.

They are the most exciting parts of a novel as it’s usually filled with action. It could be a physical fight, dialogue, or internal battle.

Scenes show the reader events, highlight information, reveal character, and anchor readers in the story through setting.

3 Scene Essentials

  1. Valuable information

  2. Character development

  3. Worldbuilding

We all know scenes should be in our novels, but where, when, and what they should reveal can be difficult to figure out.

But when you consider the three main purposes of scenes, you can identify where they need to be.

Valuable information

Scenes have your best real estate value. They highlight information, and your readers expect the most important things will be revealed in scenes.

To keep your readers interested in what happens next or the whys behind characters’ actions for a while, let them in on small pieces of information at a time.

These pieces could be character’s backstory, thoughts, emotions, or motivations.

  • Scenes can be a flashback to show backstory.

  • They can display internal battles or external battles.

  • The inciting incident is an imperative scene that pushes the character from their normal lives into a new reality that forces them to grow.

  • Scenes will include the character’s emotional responses to situations or dialogue.

Character development

Scenes should add to the reader’s knowledge about your characters.

Their response to the situations you place them in or the obstacles that test them will reveal their moral code and how much it takes to break that code.

In the beginning of the novel, the tests and obstacles will be easier for them to handle.

  • The first few trials establish their code.

  • The next few will make them question their code.

  • And the climax should be where they break the code they’ve held onto their entire lives.

You can show what makes them angry, terrified, disappointed, sad. Describing how these emotions physically affect them increases the reader’s ability to relate to them.


Each scene should have some setting described. Setting anchors the reader in the story and the character’s reality.

The objects around the characters can reveal something about their personality and preferences or explain what they are dealing with externally or reflect what is going on internally.


Having childhood toy in their apartment could represent them holding on to the past.


Old, broken-down furniture can show their financial situation, or their desire for frugality.

Modern, sleek surroundings could be to reveal how much value they put on keeping up appearances.

Reflection of internal battles

A flat terrain may indicate they are just beginning on their journey, where the trials are easier and they retain their morality.

A steep, frozen mountain could indicate their internal battle is increasing in significance.

These are just examples, and the setting could be the opposite of their personality to show their internal conflict or the setting could even be what pushes them out of their comfort zone.

Whatever scenes you create, they should have relevance to the storyline and move the story forward.

Placing a love scene in a story should have meaning. It should move the plot and add to character depth and growth. Having a love scene simply to add to the appeal of the book isn’t a good enough reason to include it.

In each scene, something should happen that advances the plot. A new trial, debate, decision, or action are great indicators a scene should be created.

How do you know when scenes are needed?

There is no formula. When important information needs to be shown, scenes should appear.

If you keep in mind the three details scenes provide, it will be clearer where they need to go.

Pacing is an important thing to take into account as well.

Having too many back-to-back scenes may exhaust the reader. Like your characters, readers need time to process events. These breaks are usually where telling takes place.

The narrator will give an overview of events or an explanation of something minor. They could reveal some setting or what a character is wearing.

Even having your character get from one place to another can provide this break in action. While they are still moving in some way, you give the reader a moment to think about the action.

So, a balance of showing and telling is key.

Remember what a scene should provide.

Valuable information

Character development


Need help with where your scenes should go or what to reveal and how in your novel? Contact me. I can help you.

Just looking for some more writing or editing advice? Sign up for my newsletter.

Happy Writing and Revising!

Kristin Noland - Speculative Fiction and Crime Fiction Editor

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