What makes a satisfying scene?

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    The Fledgling Artist

    Hello friends.
    Any general advice on how to make each individual scene in any given project feel satisfying? My question is pretty much summed up in the title. xD Any thoughts guys? What makes a scene feel satisfying? On the flip, what things should I watch out for that can make a scene fall flat?

    @ummm…. Anyone/everyone ? : D

    "Though I'm not yet who I will be, I'm no longer who I was."


    A satisfying scene to me as a reader is one that keeps me engaged. It has a purpose, it has a growing plot… while answering one question, gives me more, keeping the suspense and my interest. Each chapter should have it’s own small development, either of the problem, the characters, the situation, the world. It has interesting characters who interact, who each have their own motives and problems and hopes.

    I’m not sure if that was the kind of answer you were looking for… 😛

    Ariel Ashira

    I cant remember who said this, but i learned that the character needs to have a motivation in every scene.  It wont be so flat if the character has a purpose or reason for being there or doing whatever.  That has really helped me.  I’d suggest reading articles on the article catagories, too.

    "No matter how much it hurts, how dark it gets, or how hard you fall, you are never out of the fight."

    Sarah Inkdragon

    Okay, so there’s a few things I like to keep in mind when writing a scene, or reading/analyzing a scene from a book(or movie).

    1. What purpose does the scene have? Is it asking a question, resolving a question, creating conflict, introducing a character, letting us get to know an introduced character better, giving us the protagonist’s perspective on something, etc.? A scene must have a purpose. Where a lot of movies or books start to bore me is when they start to get bogged down with scenes that are cool, but don’t really add much to the story. That’s one reason I liked Avengers: Endgame so much more than Avengers: Infinity War, for example. In Endgame, we didn’t have time for extra scenes that were just popped in for humor. Sure, there were some scenes that didn’t seem to have much plot relevance, but there was always something happening in those scenes that added to the movie. Infinity War, while good, had a few scenes that began to lose me because they weren’t really adding anything to the plot or characters.

    The same goes for scenes that are character based. Look, we all love making our characters cry, or go through pain, but if you’re just adding in scenes of this throughout the book and they don’t have any specific purpose or effect on the character other than that one moment, they’re useless. They may invoke a small amount of emotion in your readers while reading them, but they don’t carry the emotional weight and relevance that a carefully built up scene has.

    Every good scene must have something happening in it–either physically, emotionally, or mentally that will effect the character or plot in some way. Even humor has purpose–remember, the characters aren’t aware they’re trying to also amuse an audience. Their humor is for themselves only in their minds, so there is always a reason for them to be cracking a funny joke or two. Marvel has worked humor in well to their stories by using it to both entertain the audience, but also relax tension in the characters and add personality. Think back to the last Avengers movie you watched–every character has a unique voice of humor and uses it for different purposes.

    2. New Ideas.  A good scene must introduce or build upon something that has yet to be introduced, is being introduced, or has been introduced and needs to be expanded. For example, you might be introducing a character, or introducing a character’s thoughts on a subject. You might be introducing a new turn to a mystery, or a new hunch the characters have. You might just simply be introducing a new action the character(s) are making. You might be building upon a character or thing that has already been introduced, giving us more information on them. You might be hinting at the introduction of a key plot point. Each scene much tell us something that we didn’t know before, or add some new dimension to something we already know.

    Think about it. In any good book or movie that you love, when does an action or scene ever really repeat itself? An author or character may say or do the same thing twice, but it’s rarely in the same context. He may remind himself of something, but be wary with constantly having the character remind himself of something. This is a method used to be sure the reader is clear on the subject, but people are incredibly good at remembering things that you previously hint are important. If you repeat it, you risk boring the reader with the incessant repetition.

    As a closing note, these aren’t concrete laws on how to make a good scene. These are just things I’ve observed while reading, writing, and analyzing books and movies, and I hope they help you!

    "A hard heart is no infallible protection against a soft head."

    - C. S. Lewis

    Ariel Ashira

    @sarah-inkdragon  good advise!  Im taking notes too!

    Aw, Fledging I love your signature!

    "No matter how much it hurts, how dark it gets, or how hard you fall, you are never out of the fight."

    The Fledgling Artist

    Haha, Thanks for all the thoughts! They are very helpful. I’m wondering if maybe my problem is more a result of writing random scenes that don’t actually string together for a larger story… Hence making it difficult to build up to anything? Mehaps it’s time for me to stop floundering around and crack down on a story. :’ )

    Thank you for putting so much thought into your answer! All very helpful. Though something you said reminds me of another question that’s been on my mind for a bit.

    How do you go about building up to an emotional scene? What does it look like to build up to the release of character/emotional tension? Maybe it’s just something I have to intuitively figure out, but I’ve been wondering about this for a while now. xD


    Aww thanks! It’s a paraphrase of something I read in a book recently..ish. It really resonates with me.
    I like your signature quote too!

    "Though I'm not yet who I will be, I'm no longer who I was."

    Kayla Skywriter

    Hi everyone. I am a novice and still learning so I won’t even attempt to even go into a long (yet helpful) rant.

    This is all I have to say.

    I see that everyone has mentioned that the scene must have purpose. The best way I have of thinking of this is asking yourself: Out of all the things that have happened to my character why am I sharing this one?

    If this is wrong please correct me, I’m just here to learn.

    How we chose to fight is just as important as what we fight for

    Edmund Lloyd Fletcher

    Necessity to the plot is important and all, but I struggle more with immersiveness (is that a word?).  What I mean by that is: how do you make the scene “come alive” or otherwise make the reader feel like they are “in the story”.

    My knee-jerk reaction is to shout “details!” and perhaps that’s a partial answer, but it has to be the right kinds of details, otherwise it’s just adding noise.  On top of that, there’s the emotional “feel” of the scene and how it plays with what you’re trying to convey — for example, what makes a scene “gritty” vs “pretty”?

    For better or worse, one strategy I tend to use is to make things messy – a toupee that doesn’t quite lay right,  a truck with a rusty fender,  a door that always sticks, litter on the sidewalk… Not sure whether this is clever or whether I need to trade my editor for a janitor. 😀

    I think it’s still on-topic with this thread, so I’d be grateful for more tips on how to make scenes more immersive??

    Homeschooling father of 10, writing Christian action/adventure novels from my home high in the Rockies.

    Taylor Clogston

    @the-fledgling-artist @edmund-lloyd-fletcher

    I got the following email from Daniel David Wallace’s newsletter this morning (minus most of the sales pitch buy one of his courses):

    The other day, I helped a talented writer improve a scene in her novel.

    The scene we were discussing was a simple one: the main character’s friend, a fellow journalist, was calling a hospital to get information about a recent admission.

    The dialogue was clear and the two characters were distinct and well-established, and the scene ended in a frustrating set back for the “good guys.” However, it still didn’t feel quite right. Even though it was a small moment in the novel, it felt a little TOO low stakes, a little too perfunctory.

    So the question was — how to improve this scene? As written, it verged on being a purely generic type of scene from that style of novel (the journalist calls a source and asks questions) — just as generic fantasy stories have scenes where an old man explains ancient legends, and generic literary novels need to have scenes where the protagonist walks around a city thinking about the past.

    As the group talked, the solution, we discovered, was not to change anything about the actual events of the scene. I don’t think we adjusted a single line of dialogue. And yet, by the end of the session, the scene had been transformed.

    The key was to get into the character’s head, and then to get what he was thinking / feeling on to the page. Step by step, line by line, as he tried to extract some information from the person on the other of the phone, this journalist had to be anticipating things, feeling things, deciding things.

    He would react with happiness or frustration to even small developments, and he would be picturing one future reality (while the scene seemed to be going well for him), and then, as things went wrong, another (“I’ve screwed this up.”)

    This is a small part of what it means to think of your plot “character-first.” It’s not necessarily about turning every scene into a screaming fistfight, although there’s nothing with those, either. Rather it’s about making every development feel REAL — to the main character.

    We can all remember moments, in our real lives, where something small happened to us, something outwardly minor and trivial, and yet it left us annoyed, enraged. Similarly, there are moments of happiness that descend in response to a tiny piece of good news.

    The more you can give your novel’s characters this same vitality, the more compelling your readers will find them.

    And one way to do that is to start inserting, into their scenes, quick lines that convey their intentions, hopes, expectations, reactions, re-evaluations, and plan-making.

    Here’s an example for you.

    Imagine you are writing a story about a teenager who takes fencing classes in school. She arrives in the gym one afternoon ready to practice with her friend. But he is cold, doesn’t look her in the eye, and when they spar, he is both aggressive with his attacks and clumsy in defence. He leaves early and she has no idea why.

    How could you break up the action of the scene with her internal commentary, her thoughts and feelings (or her actions that reveal her thoughts to the reader), to turn this rather perfunctory scene into a vivid one? -Wallace

    I don’t agree with everything Wallace teaches (though everyone should grab his “Write Better Sentences” booklet I reference in my forum signature), but this was worth sharing. -Taylor

    "...the one with whom he so sought to talk has already interceded for him." -The Master and Margarita

    Edmund Lloyd Fletcher

    @taylorclogston thanks for your input!  My family gave me a copy of The Emotion Thesarus  for fathers’ day (thanks to the recommendations of some others on this site), and it seems like Wallace’s response certainly tracks with what they’re saying as well.

    This way of thinking — letting the character’s emotions drive the scene — is new territory for me, so it’s probably a good portion of what I’ve been lacking.

    Homeschooling father of 10, writing Christian action/adventure novels from my home high in the Rockies.

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