Setting the Scene

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by Carmen Peone

You know how multifaceted writing a novel can be.  

Not only do writers have to create 3-dimensional, compelling characters who pursue high-stake goals, you have to do it using enough tension and conflict to keep readers turning every page until the end    

For a full-length novel, all of that needs to be tucked into well-developed scenes that keep the pace moving forward. To stall is death to a reader.  

How do you do this? By making sure each of your scenes has a purpose.  

For example: 

Your opening scene needs to be filled with character, place, and time, especially in the first few pages. And not by backstory infodumping. The best way to add backstory is to sprinkle it in as needed, one crumb at a time, leaving readers hungry for more.  

The middle scenes are the bulk of conflict. This is where your main character dodges twists and turns and where stakes are continually raised. Your main character will know her story goal and fight for it, no matter the cost, doing things she swore she’d never do.  

Ending scenes tie all loose ends together and give readers satisfactory conclusions based on genre 

What is step one? 

Find your scenes purpose. Who is the main character and what does she want? Then decide what obstacle will keep her from her goal?  

Step two: write an action scene. 

Every action scene has three components: goal, conflict, and disaster.  

Step three: write a reaction scene. 

Every reaction scene has three components: reaction, dilemma, and decision. 

Repeat, raising the stakes at each turn.  

Even though these steps seem easy, these are simple patterns that have been proven to work for thousands of novelists.  

Let’s take a moment to expand on each one 

Goal is what your main character wants at the beginning of the scene. The goal must be specific and definable, and your character must fight for it. The struggle must be real.  

Action scene’s three components: 

Conflict is what your main character climbs over to reach her goal. Tension and conflict must be in every scene in various degrees 

Disaster is when your main character fails to reach her goal. Make your character struggle. This way, the reward will be that much sweeter. Ending chapters with cliffhangers keep readers turning pages 

Reaction scenes three components: 

Reaction is your main character’s emotional reaction to the previous scene’s disaster. Show your character struggling to make sense of what happened. Show her reactions viscerally, mentally, in action, and dialog. This is a time to weep and wallow and react to the pain.  

Dilemma is when there are only bad options. Your character needs to work through new options, choosing the lesser of several horrid ones 

Decision is when your POV character has to make a choiceallowing her to come alive again and be proactive. This will catapult her into the next action scene.  

Your turn. 

Pick a scene from your work-in-progress. Decide if it is action or reaction and get to work.

About the Author:

Carmen PeoneCarmen Peone has lived in Northeast Washington and on the Colville Confederated Indian Reservation since 1988. She had worked with a Tribal Elder, Marguerite Ensminger, for three years learning the Arrow Lakes Language and various cultural traditions. She owns and trains her horses and competes in local Extreme Challenge and Mountain Trail competitions. With a degree in psychology, the thought of writing never entered her mind, until she married her husband and they moved to the reservation after college. With the love of history and western woman lifestyle, she brings stories of hope, family, relationships, and faith to her novels.

These books were a labor of love, especially the second edition of the True to Heart Trilogy. Thank you to my cover model, Shayna Palmanteer of the Colville Confederated Tribes, for your willingness to be a part of this adventure. Visit my website for information on the workbooks that go along with my young adult books at

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