Scene Questions

We all can probably remember a particularly vivid and effective scene from a great story. The unmasking scene in Junot Díaz’s story “Ysrael.” The riot scene in Dagoberto Gilb’s book The Flowers. The opening scene in Mary Karr’s Liars’ Club. The death of Father in Peter Rock’s My Abandonment. Most scenes by Antonya Nelson. The ending of The Grapes of Wrath. Shakespeare’s classic Nunnery Scene. Haven’t we all thought—if I could write a scene like that, it would be a truly spectacular scene.
We came up with some questions to keep in mind as you write, and you can probably think of a lot more.
  • What is the story genre in which this scene will take place?
  • What defines the story world in which the scene dwells?
  • What are the writer’s rules for the story world?
  • What is the setting?
  • When does the story take place?
  • What is happening in the story world during the scene?
  • What in the story world might interrupt, affect, or react to the scene/dialogue/actions of the characters in the moment?
  • What is the plot point inherent in the scene?
  • What just happened?
  • What’s going to happen after this scene?
  • Who is in the scene?
  • What are they doing during the dialogue?
  • Is everyone in the scene engaged in the dialogue?
  • What is happening in the scene outside of the scope of the dialogue?
  • What does the main character need to learn—fail to learn? See or not see? Hear or no hear? Find or not find? Say or not say? Do or not do?
  • What’s at stake? What obstacles does the character face (physical, emotional, mental)?
  • What is the physical action of the character—walking, running—and what is the image?
  • How can the stakes be raised for the characters in this scene?
  • What actions cause reactions?
  • Are there smells?
  • What are the sounds? What does the character hear?
  • What physical sensations does the character experience?
  • What does the character see? Populate the scene.
  • What is the dramatic payoff? What has changed?
  • What is the outcome for the overall plot: how has the scene advanced the larger story?
  • What is the outcome for the character: what is the psychological result?
  • Finally, what is the outcome for the reader: what will keep them reading?
Happy holidays to all of our readers! Thanks for visiting the Dogpatch in 2012!
Image by Idea Go


Filed under Craft

3 responses to “Scene Questions

  1. Great checklist to go through.

  2. And something else my 3rd grader says when he gets home after writing at school: Be specific be specific be specific. I think his teacher is getting through to him. :o)

    My favorite scene of all time is the ending of Joyce’s story, “The Dead.” I highly recommend the analysis of the final paragraph at:

Bark back!

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