In my experience, there are two kinds of writers: over-writers and under-writers. I still haven’t met one who manages to write the perfect amount of scenes and words during their first draft, but if that’s you, do let me know! But even you might benefit from these new, meaningful scene ideas-
Personally, I’m a chronic under-writer despite my efforts to outline my novels as thoroughly as possible. My first drafts just tend to be rushed no matter how I try to focus on slowing down – I’m simply too excited about writing. Also, I often have scenes missing from my story, because if I waited until my outline was 100% perfect, I’d never start writing.
If you’re one of those under-writers or you’d just like more inspiration for the story you’re writing, this post gives you scene ideas that you can use for your next novel or one that you’re writing now. Not every idea is applicable for every story, but feel free to use anything that fits. They’re not ideas for completely throwaway scenes and instead they bring depth and meaning to your story.
Scenes ideas for your protagonist
- Write a scene where your protagonist has doubts about their goals and they’re talking about it to another character. Later this other character uses what they’ve learned to either hinder or help your protagonist.
There are two things that are important to remember. First, your readers assume that everything you mention is relevant, so if your character is talking about their doubts, the subject had better become relevant again somehow. Here you’ve got material for at least two different scenes as well as a great conflict idea.
Second, everything that happens in your story needs to be set up somehow, and everything you set up needs to pay off. It doesn’t matter which comes first when you’re planning your story as long as they both are there. Here “protagonist talks about their doubts” is the set-up and then “another character uses that information” is the pay-off.
- Write a scene where someone from your protagonist’s past delivers important information to one of your characters.
A story walks on two legs: learning new information and acting on it. Whenever your characters learn this new information, it needs to come from somewhere that makes sense. It CAN be surprising but in hindsight it still needs to be logical. If it suits your story, someone who your protagonist used to know could tell something crucial to one of your characters – whether it’s about the protagonist or about their goals.
- Write a scene where your protagonist gives up something previously important to them because their priorities have changed.
A scene like this is better towards the end of your story and it’s evidence of character development. Your protagonist can’t solve the big problem of the story without changing as a person first, and a scene like this can show how this change is happening or has already happened.
- Your protagonist is taught something or they stumble upon information that turns out to be extremely important later on.
Typically, after your protagonist has “answered the call” and decided to tack the big problem that they’re facing, they’re trying to understand this changed world and they end up learning new things. Somehow these things will be relevant later on, and you can write a scene where you directly show them learning something that’s important later.
For example, I recently watched Twilight: Eclipse (for research, I swear) and we saw Bella listen to a story about the wolf tribe’s first encounter with the vampires and how one of the women with no special powers stabbed herself in order to distract an attacking vampire. Near the end of the movie, Bella remembers this and she cuts herself to help her little vampire friends kill Victoria, drawing a nice parallel to the earlier story as well.
- Write a scene where your protagonist has a great chance to act in their old ways but – through gritted teeth – they do the right thing instead.
Like we discussed earlier, your protagonist should change as a person but that change needs to be gradual. Here’s a chance to show your readers how your protagonist might be changing but they’re definitely not happy about it.
Scene ideas for your antagonist
- Your antagonist just realised that your protagonist might be right. Write about them getting this realisation.
The most effective antagonists aren’t completely unrelatable and “out there”. Instead, they’re a lot more like us than we might admit. In most stories, your protagonist and antagonist should essentially be after the same thing – just in their own ways. Often your antagonist is better described as your protagonist’s opponent – they’re simply someone who opposes your hero.
Your antagonist doesn’t need to switch sides, but a scene like this can show your readers how the antagonist can see the other side of things and still choose to do what they do. It also makes them seem more like a full person instead of a caricature.
- Someone says something hurtful to your antagonist who doesn’t even lash out because what they said was actully true.
Showing that your antagonist can be hurt is another way to show they’re a complex, full person. You should follow up this scene later on by revealing how the hurtful thing was actually true so your readers can understand the reaction better and maybe even feel for the antagonist.
- Your antagonist has a chance to choose differently. Show them choosing the “wrong” thing and what the thought process behind it is.
More often than not, you should have your characters CHOOSE things instead of only letting things happen to them. That way you can show what they’re really like as people but also it makes your story more believable. Here you can have your antagonist choose their course of action instead of just stumbling into it.
- Someone else who opposes your protagonist also opposes your main antagonist, and these two characters clashing ends up benefiting your protagonist.
All your major characters should have multiple connections between them. This means that people who oppose your protagonist might also oppose each other, and writing a scene where these characters clash can help your readers understand them better but it can also help advance the plot.
- Your antagonist is defeated, and only then does your protagonist realise that the antagonist was actually trying to protect something or someone. Let your antagonist show that your protagonist isn’t a saint.
Seeing your characters make mistakes is so painful but so good. Use your antagonist to show that perhaps your protagonist doesn’t know as much as they think they do.
Scene ideas for your other characters
- One of your characters is showing their true colours when an old person bumps into them. This small incident can later be used to explain something bigger that your character does.
You can use this idea with any of your characters, whether it’s your protagonist, antagonist or some of the supporting characters. When a character acts “out of character”, it’s only because the writer has failed to show their many sides.
For example, maybe your character Danny tells an old lady who bumps into him to get out of the way before he puts her in a hospital. If otherwise mild-mannered and polite Danny ends up stabbing someone later on, your readers can accept that he was only hiding his violent tendencies. Sometimes all you need is a small detail that allows your readers to believe in bigger things.
- A character who supports your protagonist sees someone who opposes them do something that explains their actions.
All your characters need to have something to do with your protagonist or your antagonist and they need to either support them or oppose them. Here you can give your readers some context for why one of the opponents acts the way that they do.
- A character who supports your protagonist needs to have a talk with the protagonist because they can no longer support the course of action they’re taking.
As things get more difficult some time after the midpoint of your novel, your protagonist will get more desperate. Because you’re not writing a perfect angel of a character, they should be making mistakes too, and someone close to them can try to talk them off the path they’re currently taking.
Scene ideas about your setting
- When entering your setting for the first time, one of your characters feels uneasy because of a minor detail. Later, this detail is shown to be a part of a bigger problem and they were right to feel uneasy.
The concept of set-ups and pay-offs is important if you want to write a story that makes sense. If you want something big (a pay-off) to happen later, you need to set it up beforehand. Often a minor detail can be enough to have your readers believe in your story.
- The last time we see a character in your setting mirrors the first time they were there.
You don’t have to add scenes like that if it doesn’t work with your plot because throwaway scenes are precisely what we’re trying to avoid. But because your story settings are affected by how your characters feel about them and see them, you can tie those settings to some sort of meaningful evets to show them to your readers.
For example, let’s say your protagonist has to leave home and they don’t return until the end of the story. To have your two scenes mirror each other, you could have your protagonist reminisce what it was like to grow up in that place. Then have your protagonist see and feel the details of their home differently, so perhaps the rusty old gate isn’t an embarrasment anymore and instead it now represents safety to them. Or maybe the immaculate flowerbeds that they loved are now nothing but a shameful reminder of how vain and superficial they used to be.
Would you like more scene ideas for your story?
This was not a massive list of possible scenes in your story for two reasons: I wanted to take the time to explain why each scene could be meaningful and I want you to actually use these ideas. There’s no point in hoarding massive lists of ideas that you never use.
So once you’ve used all the ideas in this list that are applicable to your story and you still want more, let me know in the comments! I’ll gladly create more posts like this and you can even request what kinds of scenes you’d like to get ideas for.