Scene Not Working? These 10 Questions Will Fix It.

Very often a writer can feel a scene is not working, but can’t figure out why. This checklist can identify the problem.

What is a Scene?

A scene is a continuous sequence of action in a book, play, movie or short story. It is the building block of a play or movie and is the parts of a chapter in a novel or short story. If one is not working, it can be detrimental to the entire piece.

Think about the scene in question and go through the following list. You will find the problem.

Scene Checklist

  1. What are the previous circumstance? What happened just before the scene that the audience or reader didn’t see?
  2. Is the scene a pressure cooker situation?
  3. Are the characters in different feeling states?
  4. What breaks the routine?
  5. What do the characters want in the scene?
  6. List the ways each character goes about getting what they want. Do the change throughout the scene? The should. (Tactics)
  7. Surface action. What are the characters physically doing?
  8. What do the characters have to lose? (Determines stakes.)
  9. Is there a clear line of action that leads to a culminating event?
  10. What obstacles are in the way? They should be concrete — how does audience know who wins?

About the checklist

I created this list to help critique scenes in writers’ workshops, but it acts like a diagnostic checklist often finding the strange noise by number five.

Number three has been the most useful for me. It is funny how many good writers don’t realize they have two characters in a scene in the same feeling state agreeing with each other. I do this all the time in my rough drafts.

Need More Information?

If you would like more information about any of these points, please let me know in the comments.

4 responses to “Scene Not Working? These 10 Questions Will Fix It.”

  1. Yes, Yes and more Yes. Thank you! I’m gonna print that list out and slap it on my board. Great way to help focus in on what is and isn’t working.


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