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9 Scene Revision Checklist Tips


This is what I created to use as a guideline during the editing/revision stage. 

At the top of every chapter, I list these questions/reminders to help me to make sure each scene is compelling and relevant. I leave them there until I feel everything has been answered and/or accomplished. 


While I do not follow strict plot rules, nor firm character journey ARCs, I do realize that every scene in a story must serve a purpose and more.


Feel free to use this “scene checklist” into your own WIPs if you think they might work for you. I realize there are many different scene checklists that a writer can use, but I like these because they are simple enough for me personally to encourage me to write a more engaging scene. I usually just write a short sentence for each question listed below. 



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Add something unexpected in this scene.
 
Make sure the dialogue is not too predictable.
 
What is the scene purpose?
 
What is the MC’s goal in this scene?
 
Is the setting description included? (5 senses)
 
What is the opposition (obstacles or conflict)?
 
If no opposition, what important information did the reader learn?
 
What is each character’s agenda?
 
What questions were left unanswered? Or what new ones are created?
 

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First one listed: Add something unexpected in this scene. 


Now I can’t remember where I read this advice, but it is golden. Having something expected happen in a scene/chapter will keep a reader on their toes and flipping pages, and it doesn’t mean a big plot twist. It could be something small, but interesting. It doesn’t even need a connection to the plot or subplot. 


I’ll give you an example. In my novel, Demon Dreadful, the heroine is arguing with her father in the kitchen. In the middle of the scene, I have the basement door slowly creak open behind her dad, but only the heroine notices. A shadowy hand reaches out to grab her father’s neck and the heroine rushes across the room to shut the door. It is scary, weird, and unexpected. In Slayers & Spells, I have the heroine and her friend find a tree decorated with hanging dolls without any eyes. Super creepy and unexpected.

 
While this can seem bit a challenging for some scenes, it can also be fun. So I encourage writers to throw in an expected “happening” into most scenes. Obviously, a high tension or fast-paced action scene won’t need an extra “unexpected event,” so I would skip it. 

 
Advice from author Chuck Wendig, “I suggest trying to outguess your readers. They think you’re going somewhere with the story. I suggest trying to figure out what they would guess—or better yet, engineer it. Then? Go the other way.”

Which means, try to add something unexpected. 

 
Second on the list: Make sure the dialogue is not too predictable. 

 
This one, I strongly recommend writers should always strive for. To me personally, predictable dialogue is the kiss of death for most dialogue scenes. So my advice is to include at least two lines of unpredictable dialogue into every scene. For example, whatever would be a normal reply from your character, flip it on its head, and have the character say something else. 

 
Like when a character asks another one, “Are you okay?” And the typical response is, “I’m fine.” Which is boring, right? What if instead of “fine” the character said something unanticipated like, “Doing well, unless you have plans to kill me. Then not so good.” A lot more intriguing and fun!

 
A great example of unpredictable dialogue is the movie, “Liar, Liar,” starring Jim Carrey as an attorney and habitual liar who is forced by his son’s birthday wish to tell the truth for twenty-four hours. This is one of my favorite comedies and a great illustration of my point. In the film, once his son’s wish comes true, he says all kinds of hilarious and unpredictable things. 

 
I recently read a traditionally published book that a few readers had recommended. The book had no plot progression, no character agency, and the dialogue was just painful to read; predictable, a little forced, and super boring. Most readers tune into dialogue, so make sure it is captivating and interesting. 


I recommend going through the entire manuscript and rewriting any dialogue that has a typical, expected response and find fun ways to spice it up. I’m not saying every line needs to be written, only the obvious ones. I challenge you to try to revise at least one to two lines of dialogue in every scene. And if you can find ways to add unexpected humor—and this works for every genre—the more intriguing the dialogue will become. 

 
A wonderful example of unpredictable dialogue and having something unexpected happen is the novel, "The Unfortunate Importance of Beauty" by Amanda Filipacchi. The first half has some dark undertones, yet the middle takes an unexpected turn with a murder mystery, which becomes suspenseful and ridiculously hilarious. I was laughing aloud at the outrageous situations and the unpredictable dialogue during a scene where the characters invite someone over to protect them from the killer. It was also an amazing way to avoid the dreaded “sagging middle” that most novels suffer from.

 
Third on the list: What is the scene purpose? 

 

Each scene must serve a purpose. It must have a reason for being there and a scene goal. Every scene must advance the story or reveal new information, and then pull the reader forward. If you are writing a romance, then it must enhance it or throw a wrench into the lover’s storyline. If you are writing a mystery, the MC must discover a clue or a new suspect, or the opposite and they hit a dead-end (obstacle.) 

 
I suggest writing out a sentence on why this scene is vital to the storyline. If you can’t justify it, then it needs to be heavily revised or omitted. And I realize the latter can be hard to do.

 
Advice from author Chuck Wendig, “If you’re taking too long to get somewhere in the story, stop now and figure out how to get there faster. Stick a rocket booster on the scene and light the fuse.”

 
To help you answer the question above, try answering the next one on this list.

 
Fourth on the list: What is the POV character’s goal in this scene? 

 

Let’s face it, passive characters are boring. They drift through scenes without being active or having any character agency. She/He’s a victim of circumstances, or they have no real stakes in the scene.

 
One way to make a passive character more active is to give them goals and new stakes throughout the narrative. For example, a writer could create conflict through other characters and events that serve as obstacles that cause (push) the character to take action. In every scene jot down a sentence about what the POV character’s goal is, and then have them actively trying to pursue it, even if they can’t achieve the goal. 

 
Goals are vital for characters and plot progression. Goals can change throughout the narrative, but each POV character in your story needs them. A writer really doesn’t have a story without them. So ask yourself: What is the character’s goal in this scene? Are they successful in achieving it or do they fail? List the goal and write the scene around it.

 

 Advice from author Chuck Wendig, “Characters do not act according to “plot.” They don’t know there’s a plot. They only know what they want and what they’re willing to do or lose to get it. Full stop.”

 

 Fifth on the list: Is the setting description included? (5 senses). 

 

This is a great reminder! So many times, I will edit a manuscript for a writer and there is no mention of the setting. I have no idea where the characters are or what circumstances surround them. 

A writer doesn’t have to get too detailed with setting descriptions; I feel a short paragraph will do fine at the beginning of the scene. But try not to info-dump, and include just enough details so that your reader can visualize the setting. And then every page or so mention the setting again to remind the reader where the characters are and anchor them to the scene.

 
For instance, let’s say your scene takes place in a coffee shop. Describe the interior, the other patrons, and then include the sounds, smells, taste, etc. 

Even I forget to add setting details to some of my scenes and this reminder helps me to go back through a scene to add a description to make sure my settings are tangible and visual for my readers. 

This includes characters. Descriptions of characters are vital for readers to visualize the people inhabiting your story-world.

 
Sixth on the list: What is the opposition (obstacles or conflict)?

 

This one can be tougher to answer since some scenes can be a reflection scene or a resolution scene. However, I challenge and encourage writers to add some tension in every scene. Or at the very least, make sure the chapter ends with a new piece of the puzzle or new information or new conflict. 

Cliffhanger chapter endings are awesome. Find a spot in your scene to end it abruptly on a cliffhanger and I bet readers will be flipping the page to find out what happens. 

Seventh on the list:  If no opposition, what important information did the reader learn? 

 

This ties in with the scene purpose. If there is no real conflict or opposition in the scene, it must reveal something new to the reader. For instance, a new piece of the plot puzzle, a hint at more conflict to come, show a side of the character never seen before, a shifting of viewpoints, a new unanswered question that compels the reader to want to keep reading, etc.

Something MUST happen to push the story forward. If you're stuck, you can always rely on the best question to enhance any scene: "How can I make things worse for my POV character?"

Eighth on the list: What is each character’s agenda? 

 

This one will help to add tension and conflict in any scene involving more than one character. Jot down what each character’s agenda is, even if you write first-person narratives. For example, let’s say the POV character visits his old mentor to get advice on what to do about his marriage. However, the mentor doesn’t want to get involved. See? Now you have clashing agendas. 

 
Awesome advice from author Chuck Wendig, “Characters operate with or against each other. Parallel or perpendicular. Characters who run parallel to the other characters may change and run perpendicular. This is how drama and conflict is born. Opposing desires, motivations, needs. Characters in competition and conflict. I suggest while doing revisions to think, Cause and effect. Action and consequence. This is the blood and bone of storytelling. Character wants something, does something, and then something happens. Character discovers character is not the only character in the world and is in fact in a universe dominated by many other characters who want something, too.”

 
Ninth on the list: What questions are left unanswered? Or what new ones are created? 

 

You can have both or just one in your scene. But these are vital to almost every scene in a novel. Especially if you end a scene on a gripping cliffhanger. 

Author Chuck Wendig has great advice pertaining to this: “Every scene, every chapter, every part of the story, please make sure to be answering questions, and then asking new ones. Mystery is an open door that we cannot help but walk through. The question mark is shaped like a hook for a reason.”
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Okay, so I hope this checklist and my explanations help you with your own revisions!😊