The Basic Scene Checklist

I don’t know about you, but when I write, I don’t really plan.

Sure, I might have an idea of what I want to write about, but generally, I’ll write until something takes shape.

That creative freedom is what I love about writing. It’s also a double-edged sword because you’ve got to somehow make sense of that creative chaos once the words are written.

In the past, I’ve just reversed outlined the first draft and gone on my merry editing way, tweaking things based on my own ideas and feedback from betas.

That worked well for years, when past me didn’t know how to show and not tell, or that her MS was full of unnecessary stage direction.

Now I’ve learned these things and more, I know the difference giving your creativity some structure can make. I’m also no longer worried that analyzing each scene for character arcs will suck the fun out of writing.

While I’m not all team-three-act-structure yet, I have gone into my latest round of rewrites fueled by a little more than just creativity and the hope I know what the hell I’m doing. This has resulted in better writing and a brand new checklist!

Joining other such checklists as The Active Word Checklist, The Weak Word Checklist, and my personal favorite, The Delete Checklist, The Basic Scene Checklist will hopefully help me—and you—create a solid scene.

The Rules:

This checklist is your handy reminder to ensure your scenes include some basic elements.

It’s not a be all and end all list. You may not need to include some of the elements listed here, or you may have your own that you want to add.

The Basic Scene Checklist

The Five Senses

If you aren’t using the power of the five senses in your writing, then you and your readers are missing out. Where relevant, work in what the characters see, smell, hear, touch, and taste.

Including as many senses as you can allows the reader to experience what the character is experiencing and forge a relatable connection. Senses such as smell, sound, and touch also give depth to your settings. For example, when you describe a backyard BBQ using the senses, the reader will feel like they’re there, eating those grilled burgers, listening to laughter as the sun’s rays warm their skin. The five senses add so much to your writing when done right and are a great basic to include in all of your scenes.

Internal Thoughts

Another writing super weapon that will draw your reader closer to your characters is harnessing the power of internal thoughts. Readers want to know what’s happening inside your characters’ heads. Check to make sure you’re using internal thoughts whenever it’s appropriate in a scene and invite the reader to intimately find out what makes your character tick.

Staging

There’s a time and a place to set the stage for your scene and describe where a character is sitting, how they’re moving their hands, or if they’ve put down the bag they’re carrying. I naturally overwrite staging for the first draft of a scene and usually forget to edit it out. Including staging on this checklist is my reminder to decide what staging works and what needs to be cut.

Repeats

As writers, we’ve all got repeats; words or phrases we use over and over again. If your default instinct is to have every character suck in a breath, frown, or if you can’t help but type “seemed to be” in every scene, this is your chance to scour your sentences for repeats and clean up the scene.

POV

If you’ve written your scene from the POV (point of view) of a particular character, this stop on the checklist is your cue to make sure the whole scene is written that way. Head hopping sneaks up on the best of us, so a specific check ensuring all your paragraphs are written in the correct POV is a must.

Dialogue/Basic Punctuation Check

End your checklist with a quick grammar check, ensuring all dialogue has quote marks and the right punctuation (full stop precedes an action beat, comma for a dialogue tag), and that your sentences have their capitals and full stops. This’ll make the overwhelming job of the full MS grammar check you’ll do later less daunting.

As you can see, there aren’t a lot of things to check off, but it’s enough basics to build a more rounded scene, and give you a head start on your editing. I’m currently using this checklist as I work through the rewrites for book 2 of my YA series, Blackbirch, and it is making a difference. If you use it too, I hope you find it just as helpful for your creative chaos. Enjoy!

— K.M. Allan

You can find me on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and Goodreads.

41 thoughts on “The Basic Scene Checklist

  1. Good list, except I wonder if all five senses need to be catered to in every scene, to the point of adding details that aren’t necessary. Oh, I forgot to include smell, so I’d better add a paragraph or two about the neighbour’s barbecue. But it’s certainly useful to check specifically for your own personal quirks, pov, and dialogue punctuation.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. The one thing I love about this craft are the layers. We get draft one out of the way, we see what’s missing so we add layer. Repeat process with the other drafts.

    Your check list is spot on with the things we miss the first time around and things we need to include during the rewrites. It’s one way to keep us from getting so frustrated we end up pushing the whole thing away.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. I’ve been editing the first draft of to-be book two of my project the past days and “seemed to be”-like structures were abundant in some passages. Even though the characters are making guesses at many points, the lack of diversity in how these sentences were built was awful (and will probably need more work in the next pass).
    Using senses more is something I’ll also need to do, at least for setting up some of the slower scenes, where I think it has a lot of potential.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. I love your checklists, so good to have this one to add to the mix ❤ I love that you've laid it all out so clearly as always, and it's already given me some reminders I'll cling to in my next edit ! xx

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Great checklist! So, I’m a pantser, too, but this time I wrote a blurb (an inside flap kind of summary) of the book, I’m writing–at only about a quarter of the way in. It’s helping me to stay focused on my end point, while it’s loose enough that I don’t feel like it’s an outline that could prevent my characters from going where they want to go in the meantime. Also, I just picked up a new craft book, called MEANDER, SPIRAL, EXPLODE, which is supposed to give us writers new ways to think about plot arc. I’ll keep you posted. Thanks for this post!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Ruth Miranda

    am I the only person who likes to read a bit of head hopping within the same scene? Of course it needs to be extremelly well done – still failing that goal, me – but I do like to get in the head of both characters, when there’s two of them having a fight, for instance, or arguing some essential point to the plot, or both going through the same thing, because they will perceive it differently and it will give the reader a larger scope of what’s happening, thus granting us deeper immersion in the story.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Lindsey Russell

      Of course you’re not alone – I LOVE head hopping novels – unfortunately it is difficult to do well so it comes across seamlessly, which is why editors don’t like it unless you put in scene breaks to indicate the switch.

      Liked by 2 people

  7. Curiously I have read through your your checklist and my latest attempt at a short story passed the test so thanks for outlining what I managed to achieve without recourse to the list, which I shall reference from now on.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I love all of your checklists!!
    The first round of edits can be overwhelming, but broken down into smaller segments makes it easier to conquer.
    You checklists also reminds me of the complexity of our craft, it’s wonderful. 😊💙

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Lindsey Russell

    There are some very useful points here – especially if you do outline, I don’t, it kills the story stone dead every time. But in a subconscious way perhaps the first draft is the outline? Mine are overwritten in places and very sparse in others but like you I reverse outline as I go so at least I know where my characters have been and what they’ve done at a glance. I also use a timeline – mainly of what has happened, and when, but also if a character mentions a future date I’ll put skimpiest reminder that ‘whatever was mentioned on page XX’ needs to happen.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Pingback: Author Inspiration and This Week’s Writing Links – Staci Troilo

  11. Pingback: Author Inspiration and This Week’s Writing Links – Staci Troilo

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