Scene Equation: How to Start a Scene

When you unpack a novel, it is nothing more – and nothing less – than a series of scenes strung together. String the scenes together in the proper order – action, reaction and repeat for 90 thousand words or so – and you have a well-paced novel.

But it all begins with a scene.

Which begs the question: How do you begin a scene?

A few weeks ago, a writing friend and I were discussing a scene she was writing. We’d tossed it back and forth for several days, always coming back to the same question: How could she write it stronger?

There are a number of things I like to do when I’m prepping to write a scene, a variety of techniques that I pull out of my virtual writer’s toolbox to help me build a scene that will pull my reader into my story. Techniques like FOCUS and SHARP, both tools I’ve blogged about before.

But as I talked with my friend, I throttled back on my advice and emailed her a basic writer’s equation to help her clear away the clutter in her scene:

POV Character’s Main Emotion + POV Character’s Thought = Scene Opening

POV Character’s Main Emotion:
It’s vital to know the main emotion of your scene. If you don’t laser in on one key emotion, then your Point of View (POV) character will wander around from discouragement to anger to sadness. If your POV character is emotionally wandering then guess who else gets lost? Your readers. Oftentimes when I judge contest entries, I’ve seen writers overload a scene with too many emotions rather than choosing one main emotion for their POV character. Select one main emotion and then weave that emotion through the scene using dialogue and action and Storyworld.

POV Character’s Thought:
You figured out what your POV character is feeling, now ask yourself: When this scene opens, what is my POV character thinking? To do this, I sit back and imagine the situation my POV character is in and try to think like that character. Sometimes I go with the first thought that pops into my head. Sometimes I mull for a while before I settle on a sentence or two that accurately represents my POV character’s thoughts.

Here are a few examples of how I’ve opened my novels based on my POV character’s emotions and thoughts:

  • She never should have said yes. (THOUGHT) Allison smoothed the bodice of the wedding dress, the fitted lace sleeves clinging to her arms. Waves of material billowed out from her waist, threatening to overwhelm her like a silken tsunami. Wish You Were Here (Emotion: Regret)
  • What exactly was she celebrating? (THOUGHT) The question haunted Kendall all day long. It was her birthday—she ought to be able to answer it. Catch a Falling Star (Emotion: Disappointment)
  • Six minutes. Surely six minutes was enough time to propose, wasn’t it? (THOUGHT) Returning to where Elissa and he first met seemed so romantic–but Stephen hadn’t factored in Breckenridge’s high-speed ski lifts. Somebody Like You (Emotion: Anxiety)

Of course there are more elements that go into constructing a compelling scene, but remembering this simple equation is a good starting point for any writer:

POV Character’s Main Emotion + POV Character’s Thought = Scene Opening

Figure out what your POV character is feeling and what they are thinking. Write a sentence or two based on those two factors and then go on from there.

What would the scene starter equation look like for the scene you’re writing?

[Tweet “A Simple Equation to Help You Start Your Scene #writer @bethvogt”]

Create an Awesome Marketing Plan—Part 1: Intro

“I guarantee a debut novelist WITH a marketing plan is much more impressive than a debut novelist without.” ~Amanda Luedeke, literary agent

Melissa Tagg here. Before we get started today, I have to confess that I began a blog series about proposal marketing plans here at MBT months ago. But then I was hit by deadline after deadline and, let’s face it, I kinda fell apart organization-wise. Which happens at some point or another to most authors, I would guess. At least that’s what I tell myself to make me feel better. 🙂

But we’re going to give this important topic another go starting now. Today and for a few weeks to come, I’d like to talk about the components of the marketing plan you include in your novel’s proposal. And make no mistake, you NEED to include one.

Here’s the thing about marketing plans: It’s easy to mumble and grumble about how we’re writers and we shouldn’t have to worry about this marketing / platform / numbers stuff. But little hint: Complaining is a waste of time.

The fact is, agents and publishers are looking not just at our writing, but at us. And if they’ve got three or four equally stellar proposals representing equally amazing books sitting in front of them, then it’s practically a certainty that at the end of the day, if they can only choose one, they’ll pick the author with the best platform and the best marketing plan.

In other words, they’re going to go with the author who is willing to work the hardest…not just at the writing of the book, but at the marketing of it.

As fiction authors, it’s hard to build a great platform when we’re pre-published, but that doesn’t mean we can’t WOW agents and editors with our marketing expertise. Which is why I’m all about creating a marketing plan that goes beyond a few paragraphs about social media numbers and actually presents a solid marketing strategy that lets your prospective agent or publisher know you mean business.

So for my next five posts, we’re going to look at the various components of a good marketing plan. The goal is to put together a plan that isn’t just impressive—but doable. That reflects both your book and your personality. And that proves you truly want to partner with the publisher when it comes to getting your book out there.

If you follow along and maybe even do the work as we go, by the end you just might find yourself with a robust plan of your own. The pieces we’ll be discussing include:


Speaking Engagements

Internet Presence (social media, website, blog tours, web appearances)


Launch Team

Cross-promotional opportunities

Book-signing and Events

Printed Materials

Bonus Material


For now, since I’ve gotten a bit long-winded today, I’ll leave you with some thoughts from both an agent and an editor on why marketing plans matter:

Amanda Luedeke, literary agent with MacGregor Literary

“Fiction authors rarely include a marketing plan. The ones who do really stand out. Even if an author doesn’t have much of a platform to work with, by having a marketing plan they’re showing that they aren’t just in this to write stories. They’re showing that they’ve thought about ways to leverage what small platform they do have, and that they understand the way the industry works. They’re also showing their marketing creativity. I guarantee a debut novelist WITH a marketing plan is much more impressive than a debut novelist without.”

Raela Schoenherr, fiction acquisitions editor with Bethany House Publishers

“An author who is savvy enough to know that they should be brainstorming marketing ideas is an author who cares enough about being published to have researched the industry and the expectations of being published. Authors who are ready to dive right in to do what they can to market their books from the get-go are appealing because they’re taking ownership for that aspect of their career. Of course, we don’t have expectations that every author will be involved in every form of social media or that they’ll do every possible kind of marketing out there and our goal is always to support and partner with authors on what they’re doing while we also pursue our own marketing strategies, but it’s helpful to know that an author is already aware of this partnership and has her own ideas on how to do her part. If there’s a project I have fallen in love with and see really strong potential for, a less-developed marketing plan likely wouldn’t hold me back from pursuing the project. But an author whose writing I love, who has a high-potential story idea, AND who has a thoughtful, creative marketing plan makes it that much easier for me to pitch that author to the Publishing Board.”

Join us in two weeks as we look at the first two components of an awesome marketing plan–media and speaking engagements.

Until then, do you have any early questions about building a novel proposal’s marketing plan?

Let’s work on your amazing story together!

Is this the year you get published?

If you’re working on a story and know it’s time to dig deep, look at your story structure, your wordsmithing and the themes of your writing to create a fantastic story…then the 2014 Deep Thinker’s Retreat is for you!

Every year, the MBT Staff gets together with a group of talented authors to help them bring their stories from good…to great during our annual Deep Thinker’s Retreat. This year, we’re ramping it up even more with a brand new location! It’s still in Destin, Florida…in FEBRUARY. But we have a BRAND NEW HOUSE with new meeting rooms, a cool outdoor kitchen and more get-away awesomeness just a block from a sandy beach designed to inspire you to amazing prose!

When?  February 20-24, 2015

Where? Destin, Florida

Topics we’ll cover in the Deep Thinker’s Retreat 2015!

  • NEW!* 4 Act Story Structure – going DEEPER with ACT 2!
  • Dialogue – we’re going deep with Zingers, rewriting and how to get the most out of your talking heads!
  • Backstory + Flashback – what’s the difference, and how to build and use backstory!
  • Scene Overhaul – a step by step method to rebuilding your scenes!
  • Subplots and Layers – what they are and how to use them!
  • Theme and Metaphors – how to build your story around your theme!

View the Tentative Retreat Schedule Summary

Still not convinced?  Here’s a glimpse of last year’s fun!

This conference all about going deep with theme and metaphors, and creating the powerful ACT 2 with  Advanced Fiction techniques that make a reader think…wow. I want to read that again!

Check it out here!

AND…did we mention that you get $50 off your registration until November 1st?

Let’s Write something Brilliant!

smw sig without background




Susie May

Featured Fiction: Wanda Dyson

Today, we’re celebrating one of the authors who helped us make the Frasier Contest possible! Wanda Dyson’s recent novel, Retribution, was released September 13, 2014 and is the 4th book in the Shefford Files Series.

Q: Wanda, can you tell us a little bit about your next book?

Detective JJ Johnson and the love of his life, Zoe Shefford, are finally headed to the altar. Busy with wedding plans, when Zoe’s instincts start raging that something bad is going to happen, she misreads it entirely, causing a fight with JJ that sends him off to Alaska to pick up a murder suspect. When the plane crashes in the heart of the Alaskan wilderness, Zoe realizes that she may have just made a deadly mistake. She teams up with FBI Special Agent Donnie Bevere to move heaven and hell to find JJ. Severely injured in the place crash, JJ realizes that between a raging blizzard, a hungry wolf, and no food, it will take a miracle to survive. But his life or death struggle to make it back to Zoe takes a deadly turn when he realizes the entire trip had been a well-planned trap and that the cop he’s traveling with is a hired killer. Now, he must rely on the skills of a woman he put in handcuffs to keep him alive while praying that the woman he loves will find him in time.

Q: What was the most emotional scene for you to write in your novel?

The most emotional scene for me to write was when EmmaLeigh was telling Lt. Johnson about her meeting with the D.A. and the DA admitted to her that he didn’t believe a word she was saying. I had a D.A. tell me once that he doesn’t believe anyone brought before him. Ever. And that broke my heart because I used to believe the old adage of innocent until proven guilty but that doesn’t appear to be the case much anymore. That so impacted me that I’ve never forgotten it so I incorporated it into EmmaLeigh’s story and even writing it after all these years brought back the bitter memory of realizing that “we aren’t in Mayberry anymore”.


unnamed (1)Bestselling author Vickie McDonough grew up wanting to marry a rancher, but instead married a computer geek who is scared of horses. She now lives out her dreams in her fictional stories about ranchers, cowboys, lawmen, and others living in the Old West. Vickie is the award-winning author of thirty-four published books and novellas. Her books include the fun and feisty Texas Boardinghouse Brides series, and End of the Trail, which was the OWFI 2013 Best Fiction Novel winner. Whispers on the Prairie was a Romantic Times Recommended Inspirational Book for July 2013. Her latest book, Rancher Under Fire, is a contemporary suspense.