A 50-Item Checklist You Won’t Want to Leave Your Scene Without

“Scenes are capsules in which compelling characters undertake significant actions in a vivid and memorable way that allows the events to feel as though they are happening in real time.”

—Jordan E. Rosenfeld (Make a Scene)


Scene Checklist


[  ] Has 3 reasons the scene should exist. Possibilities:

  • Progresses or changes character’s goal
  • Moves plot forward
  • Adds conflict between opposing characters
  • Introduces a character
  • Develops a character
  • Foreshadows
  • Raises stakes


[  ] Clear beginning, middle, climax (disaster), and end. 

[  ] Opening hook – lines that grab reader.

[  ] Opens mid action – not description or explanation.

[  ] Action scenes – goal->conflict->disaster. 1

[  ] Reaction scene – response->dilemma->decision. 1

[  ] Point of view (POV) character – character with the most to lose in the scene – reveal immediately.

[  ] Reader immediately grounded in who, what, where, when, why.

[  ] Setting – revealed through what POV character reacts to, sees, hears, does.

[  ] Something’s at stake, or story stakes are raised or reinforced – make situation worse, or stakes matter more.

[  ] Fear hovers – character might not meet her scene goal.

[  ] Actions –interesting; advance plot or exhibit character; performed in real time. 

[  ] Pace – appropriate for what’s happening.

[  ] Mood, tone, or author’s voice – realistic for scene, and the book’s genre.

[  ] Obstacles – people, events, emotions, secrets get in the way of characters meeting their goals.

[  ] Climax (disaster) – relevant to the plot or characterization.

[  ] Element of suspense, surprise, twist, or foreshadowing – creates anticipation; delivers a worthy payoff relevant to plot or characterization.

[  ] Metaphor or symbol.

[  ] Ending hook – transitions to next scene; entices reader to read on.


[  ] Clear wants, emotional and physical – drive actions, dialogue, thoughts.

[  ] Pushes away from something negative; pulls toward something positive (emotional or physical). 1

[  ] A hint of victory; two hints of failure. 1

[  ] Conflicting values.

[  ] Reader can identify or empathize; knows whom to root for.

[  ] Secondary characters – clear purpose for being in scene.

[  ] Hints of wounds, fears. Or competencies.

[  ] Reactions shown – to stimuli that affect feelings.

[  ] Balanced emotion, dialogue, internalization (considering scene type).

[  ] 5 senses included – sight, sound, taste, touch, smell.


[  ] Tight, every word needed.

[  ] Interesting; moves scene forward.

[  ] Natural – leaves out boring parts of actual dialogue.

[  ] Characters’ voices – distinctive; could know speaker by his word choices.

[  ] Reveals or hints at emotions, undercurrents, or secrets.

[  ] Reveals character, plot, conflicts, or bits of important information.

[  ] Includes a zinger – jibe, bold truth, dry or humorous comment. 1

[  ] Action beats or simple speaker attributes (said) – identifies speaker.


[  ] Clichés – in dialogue, characterization, plot.

[  ] Coincidences (something drops in to save the day).

[  ] Vagueness (it, that, pronouns that don’t tie, etc.).

[  ] Clever writing that adds nothing; confuses.


[  ] Boring, purposeless sentences and paragraphs.

[  ] Detailed body movement descriptions.

[  ] Unnecessary explanations.

[  ] Weasel words – except when they work in dialogue.


[  ] Shows often; tells as needed.

[  ] Clear, concise, uncomplicated sentences.

[  ] Correct words (dictionary and thesaurus).

[  ] Power noun, verbs.

[  ] Short narratives when necessary (getting from one place to another).

[  ] Active voice – limit “was.”

[  ] Positive form used when possible.

[  ] Backload – ending words (sentence and paragraph) that tie to passage’s meaning.

Idea from Susan May Warren’s MBT Deep Thinkers Retreat manual.

Transform your scene with this comprehensive checklist. Click to tweet.

What would you add to this checklist?

Why You Should Murder Your Darling Words, Phrases & Ideas

“If I come across anything in my work that smacks of ‘good writing,’ I immediately strike it out.” —Elmore Leonard


image by ClkerFreeVectorImages
image by ClkerFreeVectorImages

Who Said It

Most writers have heard British journalist, critic, and novelist Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch’s saying, “Murder your darlings.” 

Quiller-Couch (1863-1944) said: “Style, for example, is not—can never be—extraneous Ornament. … Whenever you feel an impulse to perpetrate a piece of exceptionally fine writing, obey it—wholeheartedly—and delete it before sending your manuscript to press. Murder your darlings.

Who Didn’t Say It (except in different words)

Collectively, the authors of several articles mentioned the quote has been attributed to:

Allen Ginsberg,
   William Faulkner,
       Oscar Wilde,
           Eudora Welty,
              G.K. Chesterton,
                 Anton Chekov,
                    Stephen King,
                        Mark Twain,
                           Ernest Hemmingway,
                              George Orwell,
                                  W. H. Auden,
                                    Samuel Johnson,
                                       Scott Fitzgerald, and
                                           Vladimir Nabokov.

This makes a point:

“But it’s not surprising that other smart, successful writers would echo the professor’s suggestion. After all, they know the inevitability of getting a little blood on their hands.” —Daphne Gray-Grant

image by khunaspix
Image courtesy of khunaspix at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

What It Means

“Eliminate all words or phrases, no matter how pleasing, that draw undue attention to themselves (or the writer) at the expense of the narrative flow.” —David Corbett (Writer’s Digest May/June 2013 “Clearing Out the Clutter”)

“Darling” writing—and by that I mean writing that is clever, self-conscious, inappropriately literary or writing that otherwise calls undue attention to itself—usually sounds forced and labored.”
Daphne Gray-Grant

image by condesign
image by condesign

Why Writers Write Darlings

“When you start out, every word you write is precious. The words are torn from you. You wrestle with them, forcing them to express what you’re trying to say. … To you the writing shines with inner radiance and significance.”
Rob Parnell


“It says, ‘look at me,’ instead of, ‘keep reading.’” —David Corbett (Writer’s Digest May/June 2013 “Clearing Out the Clutter”)

“When you’re in love with what you’ve written you’re like the 16-year-old who can’t spot the flaws in her own boyfriend. … ‘Darling’ phrases, if we’re honest, are usually about showing off a bit.” —Daphne Gray-Grant

image by Unsplash
image by Unsplash

How to Deal With It

“It is a metaphor for how you should behave toward your writing while you are revising it. The idea is to proceed objectively without sentiment. Just like you would if you were to kill a loved one.” —Seth Fried

“But after a while [after editors hack your darlings], you realize you’re being helped. That it’s not the words that matter so much as what you’re trying to communicate.” —Rob Parnell

“Try to train yourself to read your own work as a disinterested party … Read your work out loud.” —David Corbett (Writer’s Digest May/June 2013 “Clearing Out the Clutter”)


My heroine opens the door to a new neighbor. He hurt her in high school, but he doesn’t recognize her now.

“Do you have a razor blade I could borrow?”

“Not if you’re contemplating slitting your wrists.”

An insensitive comeback to the character and possibly the reader.

Possible rewrite:

“Sugar, yes. Razor blade, not so sure.”

Sometimes you need to take an axe to your “clever” writing. Click to tweet.

What is a darling you had to murder?