Self-Evaluating Scene Openings and Novel Structure

There are times when a person has the luxury of sitting down and reading a novel in one session. Wouldn’t that be nice if we could all do that? However, most of us read a novel in multiple sessions.

When you’re rewriting your draft, dreaming of creating a novel readers will love, it’s critical to think about how readers read.

Many writing books talk about the importance of the first line, first paragraph and first page of a novel. If you don’t grab the reader then, you might lose them for good. There is a lot of pressure on a writer to produce an extraordinary first line for a novel. If your reader has put your book aside for a while and picked it up at a new scene, that scene opening has to have all the things the opening of your novel does. So much pressure…but we have a process to help you.

When your readers start a new scene, they must immediately be engaged in the scene. To ensure this happens, work through your revision as if you are the reader.

Review each scene opening without reading the entire scene. Read only the first two or three paragraphs of a scene and then fill out the following key elements of fiction:

  • Scene Number
  • Scene Opening Hook
  • Scene Opening Type
  • Scene Anchoring: Point of View, Setting, and Timing

If you can’t fill out one of the above key elements of fiction, you can either rewrite your scene opening while you’re creating this list, or you can leave the element blank and rewrite once you’ve completed this process for every scene in your novel.

You should be able to go through each scene fairly quickly if you stick to only reading the first 2 or 3 paragraphs.

How Do You Get The Reader’s Attention With A Great Scene Hook?

When creating a scene opening hook, consider:

  • Starting in media res (opening in the middle of action)
  • Foreshadowing trouble
  • Using a strong line of dialogue
  • Raising a question
  • Not wasting words on extraneous description.


Don’t Bore Your Reader with Repetitive Scene Opening Types

You have four choices for scene entry type.

  • Dialogue
  • Thought
  •  Narrative
  • Action

Starting each scene with the same type will become repetitive and hence, boring to your reader. Try to vary the scene entry types throughout your novel, while still taking into consideration the goal of your scene. If your scene is a high action scene, start with action.

If your scene is your character reacting emotionally to a previous event, start with thought. If the setting is driving the scene, start with narrative. If two characters are going to have an important discussion, start with dialogue.

Anchor Your Reader, And They Won’t Put Your Book Down

Anchor the Point Of View:

Check whether the reader will know who has the point of view within the first paragraph or at least within the first couple of paragraphs. If not, the reader might find this frustrating. If you write your entire novel from one point of view, like many first person novels, then you don’t need to worry about this.

Anchor the setting:

“Where your character is” fits under setting. You know where the character is because your wrote the scene, but does your reader? If the reader can’t figure out the setting within the first couple of paragraphs you may lose them – the reader I mean and not the character.

There are exceptions to this. If your scene is about a character waking in a dark place and confused about where she is, then it’s okay for the reader to be confused about where she is, too. This will add to the tension. The reader does need to understand the lack of setting is done on purpose.

Anchor the Timing:

The timing of the scene can mean:

  • Time of day
  • Time passed since the previous scene
  • A particular date


If several years or several seconds have passed in a character’s life, then the reader needs to understand that. If you are jumping back in time or forward in time the reader needs to understand that, too. The quicker the reader gets the timing, the quicker they will be drawn into the scene.

How will Fictionary help with scene opening?

Fictionary will give you a quick method for evaluating each scene opening.

The creativity is yours. Fictionary will guide you through your manuscript, illustrating weak scene openings. With a guided approach, you’ll know which scenes you’ve addressed and which you haven’t. This will speed up your rewriting process by enabling you to focus only on areas that need revision.

Fictionary will save you money on future editing. If an editor works on your novel before you’ve finished addressing structural issues, the editor will spend time on changes you could have already made. By doing this work yourself, you’ll learn how to write better fiction and you’ll receive higher quality comments from an editor.

Why not check out Fictionary’s free 14-day trial and turn your draft into a story readers love?

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