Seven Scene Purposes You Don’t Wan’t To Miss

Part of the How to Craft Killer Scenes series

Every scene must have a purpose. Otherwise, the story will wander and feel as if it is not building (because it’s not). Purpose drives your story’s momentum and holds your readers hostage. Which is a good thing!

Do not leave purpose out.

Before writing a new scene, jot down the purposes you need to include. This will guide your action, dialogue, pacing, and more. If you use scrivener, the handy-dandy Inspector panel is a great place to do this so you can easily reference your strategy while writing.

The possible purposes for your scenes are only limited by your imagination. But the seven listed below are essential to your novel’s success.

1. Develop characters

funky photo

When choosing your scenes, keep in mind what situations will bring out the best—or the worst—in your characters.

You can reveal a great deal of their innermost workings when you reveal how they respond when under extreme stress.

The type of stress matters, too, because different stressors can produce widely different reactions in people.

Consider your characters’ past, their motivations, their strengths and weaknesses. When planning a scene, brainstorm how each characters would respond. This can be a great chance to inject humor and to contrasts their talents and flaws.

Also keep in mind that our strengths are also often our weaknesses. What pressures in the scene could turn one of your character’s strengths into a hindrance? How will they react when their normal coping pattern backfires? What happens when their coping mechanisms are removed?

Test friendships and family relationships. Examine group dynamics. How can this scene cause a shift, especially a shift that reveals more about who your character really is?

2. Develop themetheme

Many writers plan their novels with a theme already in mind. But we may not recognize all the themes at the outset. As you identify your themes and keep them in mind, they will enrich your writing.

You will find that you unconsciously weave the theme into the scenes using setting details, metaphors, and foreshadowing. While this often happens serendipitously, it is also effective if you’re aware of your themes.

In rewriting, look for opportunities to enhance the theme without beating your reader over the head with it. Subtlety allows the reader a chance for epiphanies as they come to understand the theme and grapple with its implications themselves.

3. Introduce essential objects or skills

Everything the protagonist needs to succeed at the end must be planted earlier in the novel. If a vital skill or object appears too close to when it’s needed this can feel contrived. And when something doesn’t feel real, it pulls the reader out of the story.

Plan ahead so you can weave the needed details into the story in unobtrusive ways. If you’ve forgotten one, go back and add it in. But it must make sense. It must be believable.

This applies even in sci-fi or fantasy worlds. Skills cannot suddenly appear. Neither can magical objects. They must follow the rules of the world you are writing. If you’re unsure of the rules of your world, brainstorm them. Write them down. Do not violate your world’s laws of physics/magic/etc. (World-building, magic series to come in later posts!)

4. Plant cluesclue photo

Clues are just important to include as skills and objects. But you need to be tricky about it. This can mean leaving a clue out in broad daylight, but mentioning it only in passing. Or disguising a clue as something else.

One effective way to hide a clue is to write it in the middle of a list. Readers are most likely to remember the beginning and the end, but the middle tends to get foggy.

5. Plant misleading cluesconfuse photo

Misleading clues can send readers down a rabbit hole. Then when you reel them back in with the truth, they’re in for a delightful surprise—as long as your true clues were also planted well.

Misunderstandings by the POV character can be great ways to mislead your reader. The details you choose to have your main characters focus on can serve the same purpose.

A great example of this can be found in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by J. K. Rowling when Harry, Ron, and Hermione believe Snape is trying to jinx Harry at the Quidditch match. Hermione (the authority on magical rules) states that eye contact is necessary to jinx someone. She overlooks the fact that it is also necessary for counterjinxes. Thus the trio suspects Snape instead of the true culprit.

Use the limited or inaccurately applied knowledge of trustworthy characters to lure your reader into believing a false clue.

6. Show characters struggling climb photo

In every scene, your characters should face some sort of conflict such as barriers to their goals or internal dilemmas. They must struggle toward their objectives, whether superficial and pragmatic (finding the house they’re looking for) or more meaningful (saving a loved one from certain death).

The barriers they face can be in the form of a clear-cut enemy or can arise from friendly sources such as allies with slightly different agendas. Include pressures from nature, health, or countless other circumstances to maximize your characters’ struggles.

Struggle is a vital aspect of every scene, whether an action scene involving external conflict or a more introspective scene where characters struggle with decisions and battle their inner demons.

Readers live vicariously through the stories they read. They need to be invested in the characters’ struggle to overcome their problems. That is the only way they can experience the emotional catharsis that comes when your character triumphs or fails.

7. Illuminate character arc, beginnings of change, show shifts in goals or motivations str photo

Change is an essential part of scenes throughout your book. If you establish your characters well in early scenes, then you have the great opportunity to show them changing, shade by shade as the book progresses.

Don’t make the change too early. It must be believable. Lay the groundwork for a gradual, but meaningful change. Any dramatic changes in your character must be preceded by extreme pressures or events that can upset their worldview.

If you plan your purposes in advance, you’re much less likely to write scenes (or chapters!) that you’ll just have to kill off later. Find out more about how to craft killer scenes here.

Next time, we’ll be exploring tips and tricks for scene timing. Be sure to tune in. And don’t forget to sign up for our newsletter for free stories, updates, and writing tips!