Raise the Quality of Your Scenes with This Checklist Item

“My 16 years in radio drama has influenced me. You only have 45 minutes, and 7000 words, to tell a story, so every scene has to have a point.” —Rachel Joyce


Most novelists who have a scene checklist look for at least:Where,_When,_Who,_What,_Why,_How^_-_NARA_-_534144

  • A goal
  • A conflict
  • Increased motivation/stakes.
  • The Who, What, Where, When, and Why
  • The 5 senses
  • Engaging dialog
  • Tight, clear sentences
  • No clichés
  • Active voice


Debra Dixon pushes us to go further. She instructs in GMC: Goal, Motivation, and Conflict that we justify the existence of each scene. She holds that the scene should have at least three reasons to remain in the book.

by mitchlee83 Cut or keep the scene.
by mitchlee83
Cut or keep the scene.

Three Reasons for a Scene to Exist

First for Reason 1, Ms. Dixon says the scene should do at least one of the GMC jobs below:

1,  “Dramatically illustrate a character’s progress toward the goal or provide an experience which changes the character’s goal.”

2.  “Bring a character into conflict with opposing forces.”

3.  “Provide a character with an experience that strengthens his motivation or changes his motivation.”

Then Ms. Dixon challenges us to choose at least two other reasons of our own design to include the scene in our novel. She gives several popular reasons, such as:

  • “introduce a new character”
  • “reveal secrets”
  • “speed the pacing”
Painting by Vladimir Loukitch
Painting by Vladimir Loukitch

So, I randomly chose a scene from the Regency, Accidental Fiancée, by Mary Moore. Here’s what I found:

  1. Progress toward the goal: The hero and heroine discuss possible solutions and obstacles to saving their reputations and avoiding destroying the heroine’s sister’s presentation this season.
  1. Conflict: The heroine isn’t cooperating fully with the hero, a rake, because he took a liberty in the last scene to prove a point.
  1. Other Reason 1: The scene gives us a glimpse that the hero is less rakish than he puts on.
  1. Other Reason 2: After much conflict in this and the prior scene, this one ends with the hero providing us some comic relief.

Now I know why the scene engaged me.

Hopefully I include at least three reasons for my scenes. But to make sure I do, I’m adding Ms. Dixon’s suggestion to my checklist.

Make sure you have three reasons for your scene to exist. Click to tweet.

What are other reasons you might include a scene in your books?

You Should Rethink the Coincidences in Your Stories

“Coincidence cannot replace motivation.” — Debra Dixon

Image courtesy of Salvatore Vuono at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of Salvatore Vuono at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

I’ve been reading Debra Dixon’s GMC: Goal, Motivation, and Conflict. Her discussion about coincidences spoke to me.

I wanted a scene between my hero and his widowed sister-in-law, the heroine, concerning an ugly secret they share. Their low opinions of each other cause them to avoid each other’s company.

Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

1.  A solution: At an apartment complex, the heroine hears bad news regarding the secret. The hero drives by and sees her exit. He stops to talk to her, which irks her.

2.  Why it doesn’t work. Ms. Dixon might say something like this: “The reader will roll her eyes, Zoe. She’ll want to know why the hero stops to talk to the heroine when you’ve already shown he’s uncomfortable around her and glad he’ll never have to help her again. He’d more likely pretend he didn’t see her.”

 The hero has no motivation, no good reason, to stop and talk to her.

3.  The needed stake. Fortunately, I developed a prior scene between the hero and his mother. He mentions he’s glad God’s one-time call for him to help his sister-in-law is over. His mother is upset the heroine has been distancing herself from the family. She thinks her son is God’s answer to draw the heroine back. She implores the hero to befriend the heroine.

The hero loves his mother and dislikes her being upset, and him feeling guilty. So, he’s motivated to contact the heroine. 

Image courtesy of stockimages at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of stockimages at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

4.  A more satisfying solution. The hero knows if he calls his sister-in-law she’ll invent an excuse to avoid him. So, he’s motivated to drop in on the heroine. But he sees her car leaving the parking lot. He doesn’t want to disappoint his mother when she asks again if he’s befriended the heroine. So, he’s motivated to follow her. At an apartment complex, she enters before he can reach her. He decides to wait awhile for her to exit. He’ll ask her to dinner, and if she declines, he can tell his mother he honestly tried.

This solution gives the hero a reason to meet the heroine at the complex.

5.  Why Motivation helps tension. If the two bumped into each other, the heroine would have little reason to think he’s trying to make her life miserable.

In the first solution above, the heroine and the reader would be baffled that he stopped to talk to the heroine without a good reason.

The more satisfying solution supplies tension and growth:

Image courtesy of photostock at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of photostock at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

When the heroine appears distressed as she exits the apartment, sympathy forms in him. She’s surprised with his presence. She declines dinner and demands why he’s there. With her attitude, his sympathy wanes. He privately blames his mother for getting him into this situation. Frustrated, he blurts his promise to his mother. This, the bad news she received inside the apartment, and her need to tell someone causes her to weep. Pricked by guilt at his selfishness, he realizes his mother is right. The heroine needs a friend. They talk.


Ms. Dixon teaches more about different kinds of coincidences. I recommend her book.

Why coincidences hurt your story and how to fix them. Click to tweet.

 What kinds of coincidences in a book bother you?

Calculated Risk by Zoe M. McCarthyApril 9-10 enter a chance to win Calculated Risk on author Sharon Srock’s blog.  

5 Easy Tips to Deepen Your Characterization



Don’t you like characters in novels to come across so real you look them up in an online directory? My guest today, Marian P. Merritt, gives pointers to do just that. After you’ve collected her tips, be sure to learn more about her new novel, The Vigil, after her post.


Marian says:

1.  Do an Extensive Character Interview

Know your main characters well. BE NOSY! This is the only time you have a license to pry, so go for it. Ask pointed questions, delve deep into their past and get to the root of their fears, motivations, quirks, etc. There are many interview sheets available on the web, check them out to get an idea.

I suggest creating your own for two reasons:

  1. The process of determining what is important to ask and what isn’t will help you as a writer.
  2. You’ll know how to ask the questions that will bring out the important traits of YOUR characters.

Author Janalyn Voigt’s recent Live Write Breathe blog post contained a link to a Writers Helping Writers Character Profile Questionnaire.

 2.  Use Setting

Setting can have a dual role—to ground the reader in the environment, but also to symbolize the character’s emotions. Let your setting be more than a backdrop for your story, let it be an extension of your characters. A way to blend the character with the setting.

photo by John Sullivan
photo by John Sullivan

But keep it simple and use sparingly like the Filé in da Gumbo. Because a pinch enhances and blends, a handful overpowers and ruins.

Examples: An emotional upheaval in a character’s life can be symbolized by the condition of her house, car, yard, garden etc. Use something your character loves doing or caring for and show their lack of attention or increased attention because of their emotional state. 

For wonderful examples, see Sandra Leesmith’s Seekerville post where she references Mary Buckham’s book, Writing Active Setting.

3.  Use Descriptions with Actions

ID-100276538Don’t just describe. Show your character along with their actions.

Describe by telling: Jenna had a pointed nose and wide hips.

Show with Action: Jenna fisted her hands upon her ample hips and stared down her pointed nose.

Can you see Jenna a little better? We get emotion and description.

In his book, Building Believable Characters, Marc McCutcheon says, “combine a physical description with some form of action.” 

4.  Show Clearly the Character’s Goals, Obstacles, and Fears

Image courtesy of kantapat at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of kantapat at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Let the reader see the character’s goals. They then know what to root for and will see the roadblocks for the character. Showing your character’s strengths and flaws will be tapping into what their fears are and why. Making for a deeper more relatable character.

Art Holcomb gives more on Storyfix2.0.


5.  Give Your Reader Something They DEEPLY Care About

mp900433140.jpgThis can be: A cause, an object of great sentimental value, a place, or a person outside of their family. This gives the reader a glimpse into your character’s heart. What they hold dear tells a lot about a person. 

Zoe, thanks for having me here today. Readers, these are just a few of the ways to create deeper richer characters. Can you add an easy way to deepen characters to this list?


Marian P. Merritt -Headshot

Marian Pellegrin Merritt writes stories that blend her love of the mountains with her deep Southern roots. Her tagline, Where the Bayous Meets the Mountains, grew from both loves. She is the author of, Deep Freeze Christmas, A Cajun Christmas Miracle, and Southern Fried Christmas.

Her latest release, a Women’s Fiction novel, The Vigil, can be purchased at online retailers.

Marian is a member of American Christian Fiction Writers and Women’s Fiction Writers Association. She holds a Bachelor of Science degree in physical therapy and an accounting certificate from the University of South Alabama.

This Louisiana native writes from the Northwest Colorado home she shares with her husband and a very spoiled Labradoodle.

Connect with her through Website, Blog, Facebook, Twitter Marian P. Merritt’s Readers Group

Buy links to Marian’s Books: http://www.marianmerritt.com/#!/cnec

TheVigil_h11658_680THE VIGIL 

Cheryl Broussard made two vows: She’d never fall for an abusive man, and she’d never return to her Louisiana hometown. But she’s learned all too well the lesson of never-say-never. Now, back in Bijou Bayou after fleeing from an abusive boyfriend, Cheryl finds work as a Hospice nurse. While reading a dying patient’s Korean War love letters, family secrets shatter Cheryl’s beliefs about her family and herself and shed light on the reason she fled her hometown. When the Broussard family secrets are revealed, can Cheryl deal with the truth and accept the blessing of a second chance for relationships with her family, old friends, and with the God she never really knew?