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SCENE IT! Types of Scenes

Monday, March 11, 2013

AFTER you finish your first draft and you’re in the revision process, it’s time to start making sure you’re including a variety of scenes in your story. Let’s look at a few key scene types.

First Scenes
The opening scene of any novel is the hardest to write. And it’s the one you should spend the least amount of time on when writing your first draft—because it’s going to change by the time you get to the end of your manuscript.

A first scene must:

  • Kick-start your plot.
  • Introduce at least one of your main characters and provide a glimpse (hint) at his/her internal and external conflicts.
  • Establish your setting.
  • Start building dramatic tension that hints at the conflicts and consequences to come.


Suspense Scenes
Suspense can (and should) be found in every genre of fiction. A suspense scene should:

  • Throw your character immediately into conflict/trouble.
  • Raise the emotional, physical, or spiritual stakes for the character.
  • Increase and sustain the emotional intensity for the character.
  • Use events or other characters to exert pressure on your viewpoint character to change or act in some way.
  • Delay conclusions to scene events and thwart character intentions.
  • Either break the suspense at the scene’s end (reward) or end on a cliffhanger (leading to a consequence/sequel scene).


Dramatic Scenes
Dramatic scenes are the vehicle for emotional content in your story. These are the scenes in which you deliver the consequences (from joy to tragedy) of what’s happened before. The goal of the dramatic scene is to elicit an emotional response from the reader by:

  • Using action/dialogue to focus on the characters’ emotions/feelings
  • Emphasizing relationship-oriented interactions (the deepening or breaking off of relationships)
  • Moving the character into a better understanding of his/her own internal life or self-awareness
  • Putting characters into situations in which they will have intense (but not melodramatic) reactions
  • Indicating the character (and, thus, the plot) is moving toward a decision/turning point


Contemplative Scenes
When a character contemplates, time slows down, or even disappears; and the scene zooms in tightly and intimately onto the character’s perceptions. Use these types of scenes sparingly in genre fiction. A contemplative scene typically:

  • Has a higher percentage of interior monologue (thought) than action or dialogue.
  • Moves at a slower pace to allow the reader to get a deeper, more intimate look into the character’s inner life.
  • Shows the character interacting with himself and the setting more than with other characters.
  • Allows the character time to digest actions, events, and epiphanies that have come before and to decide what to do next.
  • Gives a pause before or after an intense scene so the character can reflect and the reader can take a breather.

These scenes are better left to later in the book—once the action/drama of the plot has already been established. And too many can make the story drag.

Can you think of any other scene types that should be included in this list?

One Comment
  1. Tuesday, March 12, 2013 10:05 pm

    Great break down of scenes. What about Closing Scenes?


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