6 Expert Questions to Improve the Quality of Your Scenes


I hate editing.  HATE IT SO MUCH.  I'm not going to sugar-coat it, folks.  Editing is not NEARLY as fun as writing the first draft for me.  Editing means I have to be a responsible adult + face all the mistakes I made in that first draft!

If you hate editing...this post will probably not make you stop hating it.  I still hate it.  But HOPEFULLY IT WILL HELP THE PROCESS.  Because all of us who hate editing are secretly looking for a lackey to foist this task off on.


Credit goes to Go Teen Writers.  |  I came across an excellent post by author Stephanie Morrill breaking down the six questions to ask while editing scenes.  It was so helpful that I

  • wrote down the list
  • the list survived my massive konmari house purge

Yeah.  That helpful.  And in case you never saw that post (from November 2014), I'm going to reproduce it here for you so that you, too, can feel a glimmer of hope in the darkness.

1.  "How does this scene impact the plot? (Also: if I cut it, would it matter?)"
My comment  |  Rule number one!  DOES THIS SCENE EVEN NEED TO BE HERE or is it just pure fluff.  I care...but at the same time I don't care if your heart-strings are tied to it + removing the scene will tear your heart out because I HAVE DONE THE SAME THING + THIS IS FOR THE GOOD OF THE NOVEL.  Think about it.  Think about it CRITICALLY.

(i'm looking at you, bombadill)

2.  "Can I make this scene work harder for me?"
My comment  |  Foreshadowing?  Character development?  Strengthening the reader's emotional attachment to all involved?  Can this scene beef up + look butch?  OFTENTIMES PROBABLY YES MAYBE LET'S BE HONEST.

3.  "Am I telling it from the right point of view?"
My comment  |  Poooooooop.  There is nothing worse than getting well into a story + realizing THIS IS ALL WRONG I NEED TO WRITE A DIFFERENT CHARACTER.  Believe me, I know.  I KNOW.  But if the novel is fighting you, this is a legitimate question to ask.  It is a prickly, bitter pill to swallow (has that phrase been commandeered to be suggestive?  i hope not.  sorry.) but you have to do it.

(i'm looking at you, cruxgang)

4.  "Did I arrive late (enough)?"
My comment  |  One of the bedrock rules of modern storytelling is to drop the reader in with a bang.  Just like Gandalf basically hurls Bilbo out the door before Bilbo can muster a good excuse NOT to go, throw your reader into the novel running, and they won't have time to look back.  Never start static.

(this doesn't always mean PHYSICAL action, but there should be at least MENTAL...momentum.  momentum is key.  that's the take-away.)

5.  "Do I help provide context for my readers?"
My comment  |  Does the scene do one or more of these things?

  • exhibit WHO IS THERE

Basically, help provide the setting for the reader's mind to anchour in.  As readers, we're pretty good at Inception-izing the scenes we're in, but a good writer is one who helps along the way.  Otherwise it's just endless dialogue.

(i'm sorry but i'm look at you, dorothy sayers)

6.  "Do I leave early + give my readers incentive to come back?"
My comment  |  Have you ever been so bored by the time you elbow-crawled to the end of a chapter you're reading that you decide you don't even care anymore, it's not worth your time?  NOT WHAT THE WRITER WANTS TO DO.  The scene needs to leave the reader


Wrangle those positive emotions!  Keep the reader coming back for more!  No, this is not an abusive relationship!  (All my genuine sympathy goes out to people who have been in such, not joking.)  Basically, you want the reader to care.  You want the scene to matter.  You want the scene to evolve the story in such a way that the reader can't wait to see what's coming next.

These are Stephanie's 6 questions to guide you through the (hateful) process of editing your scenes.  Please, if you have even more tips, share! share! share!  And thank you so much!

image via pinterest  |  original go teen writers post here

10 ripostes:

  1. "(i'm sorry but i'm look at you, dorothy sayers)" I legitimately read the "endless dialogue" line and thought, "Huh, yeah, Sayers kind of does that a lot -- oh, look, there she is." XD I think maybe it's a hallmark of older mystery novels or something, because Christie did it too. I don't know; I'm trying to be positive here.

    These are all excellent points. I often struggle with knowing whether each scene does enough, and with making sure I don't start too soon. Arriving too early is super boring. :/

    1. I'm sure plenty of dialogue has its place so you aren't constantly giving the reading a line of speaking and then smacking them with a pillow of narration...a bit of talking - BUNCH OF NARRATION...a bit of talking - BUNCH OF NARRATION. But I just like to know what things look like sometimes, ya know...??

  2. In a blog post you wrote a year or two ago, you talked about including 'extra' material that wasn't necessarily going to drive your plot line along, but would give your readers a little breathing space to process the book. At least...that's what I took away from your post...I wouldn't remember for sure what you actually said without hunting it down and rereading it. Anyway, this concept of including what others would probably consider 'unnecessary' material is something I saw you doing when I read (and reread) Plenilune. So I'm interested to hear your thoughts about balancing that with point number 1 on this list.

    1. Ooh, that's a really good point to unpack! I firmly agree that "ma," as Miyazaki put it, the moment of breathing, of simply being, between action and action, is necessary. It is a kind of scene which DOES have purpose: the purpose to relax the reader's mental muscles so that they aren't overstrained by action-action-ACTION. But I think there's a big difference between scenes which are just fluff or superfluous, and scenes which provide "ma."

    2. Ma! MA! I knew there was a special word that I was forgetting.

      I guess it just requires discernment and practice (probably lots of practice) on the author's part to really get it right.

      Isn't that what we're all about, anyhow?

  3. Oh gosh, this is a FANTASTIC list, thanks Jenny!

    I kept snickering over your 'looking at you' comments. ALSO, I THINK YOU'RE ONLY THE FIRST PERSON I KNOW WHO ISN'T ENTHRALLED WITH BOMBADILL. *high five*

    1. I am maybe (question mark??) one of the FEW people not totally enamoured with Tolkien. Yes, he was fantastic and inspiring and an amazing writer...but he had his flaws too. Lots of them. And I am just done. I am so over that phase. Sorry, Tolkien. XD

  4. These are AWESOME questions. Thank you for sharing! (And thank goodness SOMEBODY called out Bombadil.)

  5. Definitely some helpful advice! I'll bookmark this for later reference. Hopefully, I'll need it soon. :)

  6. No! Don't you diss Bombadil! Bad Jenny! lol Actually most people I know *don't* like Bombadil, poor fellow. Yeah, he does go on with the songs but I think he's a good character, and he has something more to his personality, that intriguing question that is never answered, that makes him far more than just comic relief.
    Also, just for the record, I will never be over Tolkien #Tolkienforevuh!
    Anyways, I liked this list and your comments were hilarious. I should copy it up to keep an eye on. Because I, too, hate editing. Why can't our stuff just be perfect the first time? Why must I write in passive voice so often, and then come back and bore myself to tears rereading it? Why do my characters 'look' and 'turn' more than they do anything else? WHYYYYY???