Tuesday Writing Tips – Developing Scenes

As I mentioned in last week’s post, I’ve been developing the scenes in my YA work-in-progress, and identifying what needs to be there and what doesn’t.

Revisiting the Plot Arc

I tried something that I think has identified some major problems with my story structure.

I went back to my plot arc and listed the important scenes from memory.

Next I looked at the plot arc/diagram to see if there was rising tension in my scenes.

You can have as many scenes or events as you like on your plot arc, but there must be rising tension

You can have as many scenes or events as you like on your plot arc, but there must be rising tension

From examining my plot arc, this is what I learned:

It’s not that I don’t have enough action, it’s just that it’s in the wrong places.

I have some big action scenes, but they are basically all over the place so ‘rising tension’ is missing from my novel.

I had to go back to my plot arc and rearrange the scenes – change what happens when – and I think it works so much better.

Sometimes you need to be able to take a step back and look at a snapshot of your manuscript. It works for me:)

Conflict in Scenes

Now that I have the order right, I’m looking at each individual scene to see if there’s enough conflict.

I’m asking myself the following questions:

  1. What physical obstacles have I placed in my character’s way?
  2. How has setting contributed – how has it made things worse for my character?
  3. What happens in the scene to make things worse for my character?
  4. Based on what has just happened, what new decisions will my main character have to make?
  5. Why will this scene make the reader keep reading?
  6. Do I really need this scene?
  7. Is this scene in the right place?Do you have any tips on how to develop scenes?Please feel free to share them in the comments section of this post.I hope you’re having an inspiring writing week.Happy writing:)



At the moment, I’m deeply immersed in my YA thriller trilogy, The Chat Room. I have written the first draft of the first book, The Secret Life of Mindy Palmer and a rough outline for Book 2, In Too Deep and Book 3, Beyond Truth.

What I’ve realised recently is that I need to know exactly what’s happening in Books 2 and 3 so that I can drop the appropriate clues and foreshadowing into Book 1. It’s not enough to have a rough outline for each book, I have to know what’s happening in each scene.

A scene is basically a piece of conflict, a snapshot of an event that impacts the character’s life and consequently, their story. It has to either move the character towards their overall goal or demonstrate how that goal has changed.
As the book progresses , the scenes should show increased conflict for the main character – this is what is meant by ‘raising the stakes’.


So what I’m doing now is going back and doing a scene by scene breakdown for each of the three books and here are the steps I’m following to try and create a trilogy with continuity, rising tension, high stakes and well placed clues.

1.    I have written each scene on a separate system card.

2.    I have written the scenes for each book in a different coloured pen to differentiate them from each other

3.    I have laid all the scenes out on the dining table so that I can follow the progress of each book and monitor tension, slow spots and where I need to put in more clues and foreshadowing, or perhaps another twist or alternative point of view.

4.    I have looked at the scenes in each individual book to make sure they are active, appear in a logical sequence and have rising tension.

5.    I have organised the scene cards in sequence for each book so that I can look at the overall shape of the plot (the plot arc).


These are the things I look for in my scenes and they form the basis of the summary I write on each scene card:

  1. My main character’s goal and motivation in the scene
  2. What stands between them and their goals – obstacle/conflict
  3. How will they overcome this obstacle
  4. What changes in this scene for the character?
  5. Why does this scene need to be there?
  6. Deeper layers of meaning – eg character’s emotions and attitude, foreshadowing, clues, themes, subplot


Once I have my scene cards worked out and the order of events, I type everything up on a scene summary. This is just an A4 sheeti/sheets where I list the scenes in order.

The scene summary also contains any information I might need to add like secondary character reactions and sub-plots, setting information etc.

The scene summary is more portable than a stack of scene cards or a computer, so it’s something I can take with me and mull over while I’m waiting at the dentist, the school etc – wherever I have time to do some extra thinking, but not necessarily writing.

Scene summaries and scene cards are easy to add to.

If you have Scrivener, you can do this process on the computer, but I must admit, I like to see all the scene cards laid out in front of me and be able to physically move them around.

If you’d like to delve deeper into scenes, you might want to check out this link to a post about Writing the Perfect Scene. Thanks to my good writerly friend, Sheryl Gwyther for sending this great information my way so I can share it here.

Happy reading and writing:)


P.S. Don’t forget to check back here for Friday Feedback. 


I used to think that flashbacks were boring. They took me out of the story and sometimes I couldn’t work out why they were there.

Lately I’ve realised that the reason I felt this about those flashbacks is probably that they weren’t very well done. But particularly with suspense and thrillers, flashbacks have a definite place in fiction.

I’m currently reading Love You More, a thriller by Lisa Gardner. It’s a great read and I think that one of the things that has hooked me into this book is that the reader knows more than the main character and this is all done through flashbacks and POV changes.

In the story, state police trooper, Tessa Leoni claims to have shot her husband in self-defence.

For Boston detective, D.D. Warren, it should be an open-and-shut case. But where is their six-year-old-daughter?

Part of the tension is created by the fact that I as the reader, know some of the facts about the case that the person investigating it doesn’t, and I’m wondering when she’s going to find out…and if she’s going to find out before it’s too late to save the little girl.

I’ve been reading thrillers for a while, but I’m really taking a good look at how they’re constructed at the moment because I’m in the middle of rewriting one of my own, and one of the things I’ve realised is that my plot is too linear and that by drip feeding the reader information through what the main character discovers, I’m losing some of the tension. I need to use flashbacks to give the reader more.

As Nancy Kress mentions in an article for Writer’s Digest,  3 Tips for Writing Successful Flashbacks, flashbacks if done well can

1.            Make a character’s motives plausible

2.            Fill in events

3.            Present crucial information in a way that doesn’t involve an info dump.

I’m currently working on my thriller, The Secret Life of Mindy Palmer which I wrote for my May Gibbs Fellowship in 2010. My goal for 2012 is to have this book polished to an irresistible sheen by the end of the year. (Wish me luck:)

In The Secret Life of Mindy Palmer, you know from the first page that Mindy is dead and that the book is going to be about Lia Palmer trying to find her sister’s killer. I’m toying with the idea of bringing Mindy back to life, not in a literal sense, but through flashbacks where things that happened in the past start to make sense to Lia as the facts unfold. There may be some flashbacks that just involve Mindy.

I think this will give the reader more insight into Mindy and why she did the things she did, and it’s going to allow me to present the reader with new information that the reader will know, but Lia won’t. Lia will need to discover this information in order to find the killer and save her own life.

Do you use flashbacks in your writing? I’d love to hear your tips on why they work or don’t work for you as a reader and a writer. Feel free to leave your comments at the end of this post.

Happy Writing


P.S. Don’t forget Friday Feedback here at this blog where we provide constructive feedback on your piece of writing. If you have 150 words of a novel that you’d like feedback on, send it to Dee*at*Deescribe*dot*com*dot*au


Before I start writing, I mind map to work out who my characters are and what's going to happen to them.

I’m a plotter. I work out who my characters are before I begin writing. I decide what’s going to happen to them, and how it’s going to happen. I’m not one of those people who starts with an idea and then meanders towards the end.

I’m currently working on the first book in a YA psychological thriller trilogy, and as I headed towards the end of my first draft, I realized that I had perfectly followed the map I’d designed before I started.

I had taken my MC to all the places I intended to take her, but my story still seemed to lack dramatic tension.

That’s when I realized that I had lots of interesting things happening in the story, but it lacked two major ingredients that were kind of related.

1.            It lacked a strong climax; one where my character had been placed in extreme danger, where the stakes were so high that the reader would wonder if she’d survive.

2.            I had threatened danger, but I hadn’t put my character in harm’s way enough.

Your story can having engaging characters, powerful themes and an interesting story line but if it lacks dramatic tension, it loses the reader.

To build dramatic tension, you need to put important questions in the readers mind. Will the main character survive this event? How will they survive it? You must lead your reader to the brink, make them think there is no way out for the MC; that they can’t possibly survive this. Then it’s up to you, the author to work out how they do.

So after discovering that my story was ‘interesting’ but not mind blowing, I went back to look for dramatic tension.

If things aren't working in your story, go back and re-plot. Using sticky labels allows you to add things and change the order of events.

To do this, I returned to my original plot diagram and realized that although I had increasing action, I had hinted at danger, but not put the character in a situation that she might not survive.

I don’t think it’s ever too late to go back and re-plot parts of your story. Or to look at each scene and decide whether it really moves the story forward. Does it put your main character even further in danger? Does it make the risk of failure more deadly?

After going back and asking myself the sorts of questions I wanted to be in the mind of the reader, I re-plotted the climax of my story and raised the stakes for my character. The result was, more dramatic tension into my manuscript.

Happy writing.



On today's walk, I was fascinated with this house built into the rock cliff face.

Okay, it is really day 23 today. I got so caught up with time zone issues yesterday that I got ahead of myself. As you can see, Maths is not my strong point. So I might confine the rest of this post to news about writing.

Today I reached 55,000 words and the end of draft one is just a hare’s whisker away, or is that a bunny’s? I have resisted the urge to sprint to the finish, and I think I’m going to end up with a much stronger ending as a result.

It was another great day for walking and writing. I am constantly grateful for the number of bus stop seats around Brisbane that provide refuge for the walking writer.

They are just what I need when I am looking for somewhere to stop and write down the whirl wind of ideas in my head.

I’m hoping to finish my ms mark 1, after I’ve done this blog post, then celebrate with some sleep.

Out for dinner at a chinese restaurant.

Seeing as it’s my last week in Brisbane, I haven’t been wasting social opportunities and tonight I dined at a Chinese restaurant in the mall with Karen Webb Collum and her mother, Collene. Another fun night with great food and good company. I confess that we were asked to leave the restaurant, but not for rowdy behaviour, the staff wanted to go home.

And now I’m off to check my emails, finish my manuscript, then bed.

Happy writing.


Tomorrow’s Tuesday Writing Tip is all about increasing dramatic tension.

News Flash:    Draft One of manuscript written during May Gibbs Fellowship has just been completed.