How (& Why) to Write a Scene List for Your Novel

We writers have to hold a lot in our heads! Characters. Backstories. Places. Plot. And that’s before we get into the nitty-gritty of each scene. I personally found writing a scene list to be a big help!

Benefits of a Writing Scene List:

1. Organisation

Pretty much the number one reason to write a scene list: Organisation. Some writers have programs like Scrivener to organise their work – so this is mainly for those who prefer writing by hand or those who don’t have a similar program.

2.  The plot is outlined (?)

Okay, so not everyone outlines. Some of us are plotters, pantsers, or plantsers and some of us don’t get why those terms are even a thing. Wherever you happen to fall, a scene list can help outline the scenes you already have. It doesn’t need to be complete – it’s a tool to writing, not a to-do list.

3. Memory

Ever had a great idea and then forgotten it? Enough said.

4. Clear progression of the plot

It’s all well and good to have a bunch of ideas and exciting scenes, but if those scenes don’t lead into each other in a way that feels natural, they’re not going to work. Scenes can’t exist in a vacuum – something has to cause that scene to happen. Writing a scene list helps us see where these things are happening – or help us get an idea for which scenes can link.

5. Helps us figure out what’s important

Not all ideas can go into a story: A scene list can help us figure out what’s working and what isn’t, what needs to go, and what needs to stay. It can also show us where the gaps in the story are so then we can work on filling them.

6. Helps track details that carry over

This is relevant if a character needs a McGuffin for a specific scene, or gets injured, or something else that carries over. In my WIP, knives and firearms are frequency used and exchanged. It’s important to know who has what and when.


Tips for Writing a Scene List:

  • Number your scenes

Pretty simple, but make sure you number your scenes in order. This allows you to organise your notes and drafts accordingly (so make sure you keep your scene list nearby!).

  • Summarise the scene in a few words

What is the main purpose of this scene? How does it effect the next scene? Spare the details, really narrow it down to the main aspect of the scene – the thing that tells us that without this scene, the story can’t move forward. If this isn’t possible, then the scene shouldn’t be in the story.

  • Consider cause and effect

How does each scene lead to the next? The scene before should always have an impact on the scene after. Get things in order.

  • Remember conflict is the key

All scenes need conflict. Conflict is what keeps the story moving. There’s a problem, the character reacts, which leads to another problem, and another reaction… This keeps going, leaping from scene to scene until the novel ends.

  • Consider cliffhangers

If you don’t know what the exact ‘key event’ of a scene is, consider a cliffhanger. What dun-dun-dun moment can happen here? Note it down in your list, you might be able to build a scene around it.

  • Be open to change

Your scene list won’t be perfect. As you write, there will be things taken out, put back in, switched around, and changed completely! This isn’t about getting it right first time. It’s about providing direction and focus. Get the foundation down, fill in the gaps as you go.

If you liked this, be sure to comment, like, and share.

Photo by Natalie B.

Published by

J.H. Dixon

What's this? An author's brand? You mean I have to boil down my complex human personality into something marketable? That's a lot of pressure. Where would I even begin? I have many facets. Many hats, if you will. One second I'm scribbling down heart-stopping thrillers, the next I'm writing a rhyming poem about a rabbit stealing eggs. What I'm writing could change any minute. No writer should have to stick to just one hat.

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