Monday, February 20, 2017

Writing a great scene

It doesn't matter how long we've been writing, it's always good to go over guidelines you may have forgotten.

So I chose to follow Randy Ingermanson's hints for writing scenes. Basic stuff, yes, but if we don't at least write with some structure then we're going to do some awful rambling.

I have been checking & rewriting my latest manuscript and it has lifted the whole tone.

Goal: A Goal is what your POV character wants at the beginning of the Scene. The Goal must be specific and it must be clearly definable. The reason your POV character must have a Goal is that it makes your character proactive. Your character is not passively waiting for the universe to deal him Great Good. Your character is going after what he wants, just as your reader wishes he could do. It’s a simple fact that any character who wants something desperately is an interesting character. Even if he’s not nice, he’s interesting. And your reader will identify with him. That’s what you want as a writer. (Note he's taken it from the male perspective.)

Conflict: Conflict is the series of obstacles your POV character faces on the way to reaching his Goal. You must have Conflict in your Scene! If your POV character reaches his Goal with no Conflict, then the reader is bored. Your reader wants to struggle! No victory has any value if it comes too easy. So make your POV character struggle and your reader will live out that struggle too.

Disaster: A Disaster is a failure to let your POV character reach his Goal. Don’t give him the Goal! Winning is boring! When a Scene ends in victory, your reader feels no reason to turn the page. If things are going well, your reader might as well go to bed. No! Make something awful happen. Hang your POV character off a cliff and your reader will turn the page to see what happens next.

Now let’s look at Sequels . . .
The Sequel has the three parts Reaction, Dilemma, and Decision. Again, each of these is critical to a successful Sequel. Remove any of them and the Sequel fails to work. Let me add one important point here. The purpose of a Sequel is to follow after a Scene. A Scene ends on a Disaster, and you can’t immediately follow that up with a new Scene, which begins with a Goal. Why? Because when you’ve just been slugged with a serious setback, you can’t just rush out and try something new. You’ve got to recover. That’s basic psychology.
 Feel like you've hit a brick wall yet? Just keep practicing! It'll come second nature in time.

Reaction: A Reaction is the emotional follow-through to a Disaster. When something awful happens, you’re staggering for awhile, off-balance, out of kilter. You can’t help it. So show your POV character reacting viscerally to his Disaster. Show him hurting. Give your reader a chance to hurt with your characters. Eventually, your POV character needs to get a grip. To take stock.
Dilemma: A Dilemma is a situation with no good options. If your Disaster was a real Disaster, there aren’t any good choices. Your POV character must have a real dilemma. This gives your reader a chance to worry, which is good. Your reader must be wondering what can possibly happen next. Let your POV character work through the choices

Decision: A Decision is the act of making a choice among several options. This is important, because it lets your POV character become proactive again. People who never make decisions are boring people. They wait around for somebody else to decide. And nobody wants to read about somebody like that. So make your character decide, and make it a good decision. One your reader can respect

Randy Ingermanson is a theoretical physicist and the award-winning author of six novels. He has taught at numerous writing conferences over the years  He's worth listening to....

Currently Rita co-presents a Christian radio program with her husband, George. This is broadcast Australia-wide on Christian & secular FM stations. She has written five historicals & contributed to several US anthologies. She blogs at & Facebook.


  1. Great post Rita. Thanks for sharing so beautifully. Apart from being a good writer, Randy Ingermanson sounds an excellent teacher. Well done on having 5 novels under your belt already and all the best with the next one!

    1. Thanks Anusha. Miss Kate's Great Expectations should be appearing soon. After seeing the ruins of an English castle in Malaya, I knew a story needed to be told.

  2. Sounds good, Rita! I don't think I've ever thought it through so clearly in my writing, but there you go. Always learning something.

  3. The funny thng is Jo, most readers wouldn't worry too much as long as the story gets them. Still, these guidelines make for sharper writing, so the author isn't embarrassed knowing she/he could have written it better.

  4. Note the admin correctly asked me if I had permission to use Randy's quotes. I did not and hurriedly asked him after the fact. He thanked me and said as I was merely quoting pieces already online it was OK. Permission granted. But it pays to be sure.

  5. Thanks Rita. I've got his email newsletter for some time now & was first introduced to his Snowflake method. Some good pointers about character motivation and the need for conflict.