Whose scene is it?
What does the scene’s main character want?
The conflict in this scene is:
The conflict is difficult enough. YES NO
Is there a better setting for the scene? YES NO_
1. Who is the point-of-view character for this scene?
Note that every scene should be told through a POV character, although you can have more than one POV character in a book (but no more than you need). One reason for this focusing is so that we feel the character struggle with a scene goal. The struggle takes place through action and dialogue with little internalization/exposition.
A scene is a dramatic unit that includes scene goal, conflict (through action and dialogue) and resolution.
2. What does your protagonist want in the story?
This is what Jack Bickham calls the story question. It is your external plot, and it is as simple as: Will Jane find the killer? It is not something like: Will Jane find true happiness? That is internal conflict and may even be a subplot.
3. What does your POV character want in this scene; what is his/her scene goal?
Without a clear scene goal, you will not have a scene; you will have an event. “I want to give the reader some insight into my character,” may be the author’s scene goal, but it is certain to lead you to an event, not a scene. This is not about what you want but what your character wants.
4. What’s at stake? What will happen if the character doesn’t reach the desired scene goal?
A good way to up the tension in a scene is to up the stakes.
5. Where is the scene taking place?
Scenes on the telephone are weak, although it’s almost impossible to omit them. Scenes in most coffee shops and bars are weak. Take that scene in the bar and put it on a ski slope, a sailboat or in a factory that manufactures frozen enchiladas.
6. What time is the scene taking place and what month?
This will determine how the characters dress, and it will help you uncover additional details to make your scene more realistic.
7. Who is your antagonist in the scene?
Most scenes should have a clear antagonist, even if several characters are in the scene. If you find yourself suffering from the Robinson Crusoe Syndrome of one character alone, thinking, you are probably heading straight for a dreaded event, not a scene.
8. What does the antagonist want in this scene?
You don’t want conflict for the sake of conflict. The antagonist must have a goal, just as the protagonist does. The antagonist doesn’t always have to be the bad guy either. He or she might care deeply for the protagonist. They simply have different scene goals; conflict comes from that.
9. What is the emotional state of the protagonist?
You determine this by what happened to the protagonist in the last scene in which he/she appeared. This affects her/his emotional state and how s/he views everything in the scene, including the setting. It is the emotional filter of the scene.
10. What does the protagonist do in order to achieve his/her scene goal?
Win or lose, the protagonist must “protag.” Avoid wimpy characters who witness but don’t drive the scene.
11. Have you incorporated both action and dialogue in the scene?
You can’t have only talking heads or only narrative. Action and dialogue must be balanced. In order to make the scene more immediate to the reader, try not to paraphrase within the scene.
12. How is the scene resolved?