Write Better Fiction: #1 Question To Ask About Characters In A Scene.

Are you trying to figure out how to self-critique your writing?

Write Better Fiction is a series focussing on how to give yourself feedback.

Last week on Write Better Fiction we covered using a spreadsheet to critique your manuscript.

As you remember, we broke each scene in a novel into three categories.

  1. PLOT

There are other elements of a scene I believe you’re better off getting feedback from people, meaning editors or beta readers, as opposed to using a spreadsheet to organize your thoughts, so if you think something is missing from my list, that’s probably why. But if you’re not sure, just let me know in the comments below and we can discuss the idea.

As promised, I’m going to give you the #1 question to ask yourself for each scene element under the category of CHARACTER.


According to my research, it’s generally agreed upon that each scene should be written from one character’s point of view (POV). Of course, it’s up to you if you want to follow that advice or not.

I believe you should make a conscious choice. If you want to keep your writing tight and the reader engaged, you should at least understand if you’re writing in one POV and if not, when you change POV do so consciously.

There are many books written about what POV, so I’m not going to cover the topic here. I’ll list some of the books I’ve read on point of view at the end of the blog.


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Is the point of view in the best order for pacing?

If you write from only one POV, then you don’t need to include this column.

Let’s assume you have multiple POVs. You can quickly check the POV column and evaluate the order of the POV scenes.

If you plan to change POVs the generally accepted writing advice is to do so early in your novel. Making a POV change 50% into the novel might jar your reader out of the story.

Too many scenes in one POV before switching to another can cause the same issue.

The genre you write in may influence how you use this column. In a romance novel you might want to give the female and male protagonists (read love interests) alternating scenes. Check if you’ve done this and if they each got a fair number of scenes.


Once I’ve entered a POV for each scene, I sort the spreadsheet by that column. It now tells me how many POV scenes each character has and how many different points of view I’ve written in.

Who is your main protagonist? Does this character have the majority of scenes? If not,  evaluate whether this character should be your main protagonist. If the answer is yes, you can review scenes where the protagonist is not your POV and determine if you can rewrite the scene from his/her point of view.

How many point of view characters is too many? That’s up to you as a writer, but if you’re getting feedback from your readers that they have trouble keeping track of your characters or lose interest in the story because of a point of view change, then the spreadsheet can help you figure out how to improve.

Do you have any characters that only one scene where they are the point of view character? Here’s your chance to reduce the number of POVs. Review the scene and determine if you can write it from another character’s point of view, perhaps one that has quite a few scenes.

BOOKS I’ve read on POV:

The Power of Point of View by Alicia Rasley

Characters and Viewpoint by Orson Scott Card

Characters, Emotions and Viewpoint by Nancy Kress

Next week I’ll share with you the #1 question to ask yourself about SETTING. Using a spreadsheet to force yourself to critique your own writing and give yourself feedback enabling you to write better fiction.

Please comment below and let me know what you think of the advice. Do you agree, disagree or do something different to evaluate point of view?

Thanks for reading…


Introducing Write Better Fiction

Introducing Write Better Fiction- Give Yourself Feedback On Your Manuscript

Feedback is an important part of the writing process. There are some elements of your novel you’ll need human feedback for, but there are others you can analyze on your own. Today, I’m kicking off a series called WRITE BETTER FICTION. Every Wednesday, I’ll post on the topic of self-critiquing.

Whether you’re a panster or a plotter, the thrilling moment will arrive when you’ve written a first draft.

Are you ready for beta readers to see your work for the first time?

How do you know when it’s time for an editor and a proofreader?

Are you thinking of hitting the publish button?

If you’re anything like me, you don’t want to share your writing with anyone until you’ve done your best to perfect it. Maybe you’ve read hundreds of writing books, maybe you’ve taken courses and information is spinning in your head, but how do you keep track of the knowledge and ensure you’re using what you’ve learned? With a spreadsheet, of course.

Writing Books
Some of my books


A novel is made of of scenes, and scenes are made up of elements. Over the years, I’ve created a spreadsheet, and every time I learned about a scene element, I added that element to my spreadsheet.

My spreadsheet consists of  65 columns. That may seem like a lot, but each element needs to be considered if you’re writing a scene for maximum reader engagement.

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To make analyzing easier, I’ve broken the spreadsheet into three categories.

  1. PLOT

To quote James Scott Bell in his book, PLOT & STRUCTURE, he says,“Plot happens.” To me that means it’s the action of the story. So every element not included under CHARACTER or SETTING is grouped under PLOT.

Each of these categories has a set of elements, meaning when I work on a scene I can work on more than one element at a time. Over the next 65 weeks or so, I’m going to explain how I use each element in the spreadsheet to strengthen scenes, and thereby strengthen the novel. Hence this is the first in a series of blogs I’ll tag, “Write Better Fiction.”


Once I have a completed draft, I look at the most important element of each category. Today I’ll start with PLOT.

The first element under PLOT I evaluate is the purpose of the scene. The purpose of the scene must relate to the overall story. If it’s not driving the story forward, then ask yourself what is the point of including the scene in your novel.

Here are some examples of the way the purpose of a scene can drive the story forward. You can choose one of these to define your purpose or come up with your own definitions.

  • Is the inciting incident
  • Introduces characters
  • Creates an emotional connection between characters and reader
  • Provides character development
  • Establishes setting
  • Introduces or intensifies conflict
  • Builds suspense
  • Establishes mood
  • Reveals a clue
  • Shows a red herring
  • Is the climax
  • Provides resolution


I articulate the purpose of the scene first, so I can address other elements of the scene and test if they are in line with the purpose.

Let’s say you fill out the list of objects in a scene. You can weigh the objects against the purpose of the scene and see if there is a way to use them to further the purpose. This goes for revelations, tension, conflict, weather, etc. Basically, every scene element can be tested against the scene purpose.

After you whittle down the purpose of a scene to a few words, one of three things will happen.

  1. You’ve got the purpose nailed, and you understand why this scene is included in your novel.
  2. You have a weak purpose, but there is still some value in the scene.
  3. You have no idea what the purpose is.

Screen Shot 2015-11-30 at 4.56.40 PMIf you landed on number 1, give yourself a gold star and move on to the next scene.

Number 2:  consider rewriting the scene, keeping the parts in the scene that further the plot. Or take the important bits and place them in another scene which has a strong purpose. You could also take two scenes with a weak purpose and combine them into one scene to create stronger purpose.

Number 3: consider removing the scene. We all end of with scenes that seemed relevant when we wrote them, but might not work within the novel as a whole. However, don’t delete the scene. Remember to store it somewhere. You’re next novel might have a place for it.


I don’t use my spreadsheet to evaluate voice, dialogue, balance, style, consistency, etc. For that, I think another human is the best source for feedback.

Using a spreadsheet to force yourself to critique your own writing and give yourself feedback will enable you to write better fiction.

Next week I’ll share with you the #1 question to ask yourself about CHARACTER.

Please comment below and let me know what you think of the advice. Do you agree, disagree or do something different for the purpose of a scene? Do you group elements of a scene in a different way?

Thanks for reading…



Writing Novels With A Spreadheet

If you’ve been reading my blog, you know I love to write with a spreadsheet. I’m still amazed by how helpful  I find the tool and that I still find new ways to use it.

One of the columns in my spreadsheet lists objects. Originally I put this column in to make sure my scenes weren’t empty sets. I also list smell, sights, and sounds for this purpose.

Sometimes with the objects, I’ll use the object in a later scene. Like an innocent little baseball bat. The list reminds me to check what I’ve placed in an earlier scene and see if I can use it in an inventive and unusual way in a following scene. Like an innocent little baseball bat that’s not so innocent.

I knew all this. What I discovered this week is the object column can also help me find errors.

In one scene I have two characters eating lunch together. I list a fork. Later in the scene, I list a spoon as an object. But wait! I’m writing about the same character eating the same meal, so why has her utensil changed?

I went back in the scene and discovered I’d changed the utensil. Silly, but unnoticed when I read the scene without listing objects.

I love discovering new ways my spreadsheet can help.

Let me know if you use a spreadsheet and how it helps you write.

Thanks for reading . . .

Related articles:

Writing a Series: Spreadsheet

Keeping Track of Scenes

How to Use a Spreadsheet for Your Synopsis

Tips For Ordering Scenes In A Novel

Tips For Ordering Scenes In A Novel

Have you ever had trouble deciding the best order to put your scenes in?

Once you have a first draft written do you try different combinations to see what works best?

If you’ve been reading my blog, you might have guessed I’ve added a new row to my spreadsheet. I call it Scene Dependency.

First, I was just using it to list what scenes had to come before the scene I was reviewing. Then I discovered something even better.

Was it possible to link the end of one scene to the beginning of the next?

You bet. There are different ways to achieve this. For example:

  • Have one character end a scene. Have the next scene start with another character thinking of the previous character.
  • Put an object important to the story at the end of one scene and beginning of the next.
  • Use the same location at the end of one scene and the beginning of the next.
  • End a scene at night, start the next scene the following morning.
  • Reference the same weather in both scenes.
  • Reference the same sight. Maybe the moon setting or an avalanche at the end of one scene and the beginning of the next.
  • Use emotions to link the scenes.

In the end, have it all listed in your spreadsheet. You might be surprised how it changes the order of your scenes and gives you a fluid motion throughout your novel. The reader will feel more connected to your story if one scene links to the next even if the scenes are about different events.

Can you add to this list? Do you have any tips to ordering scenes? I’d love to hear them.

Thanks for reading . . .

Scrivener and Scene Summaries

Do you keep track of your scenes? Do you summarize what’s in a scene. I used to use a spreadsheet exclusively to do this until I discovered I can use Scrivener. (I still use a spreadsheet for a more complete list that I can sort.)

In Scrivener, for each scene I note:

  • Chapter Number
  • Name of Scene
  • Point of View
  • Point of Scene
  • Tension
  • Revelation
  • Hook – ask yourself: why would a reader keep reading?
  • Character introduction and description
  • Date and Time of Day
  • Scene Description
  • Scene Dependency
  • Other – anything I want to remember. This could be a scene I want to add later. A description that needs updating. Just little reminders I still have word to do.

How does this relate to Scrivener, you ask?

I created a template in Scrivener by copying the relevant cells from and Excel spreadsheet and pasting them into a newly created template in Scrivener.

Then for each scene I insert the template underneath and to the right of the scene so I have the template linked to each scene. As I review each scene, I fill out the template. If I can’t fill out a line then I know I have work to do.

You can choose to compile the scene template with your novel or leave it out. If I’m printing a draft version, I might print the scene template so I can work on paper for a while. If I’m compiling and I only want the novel, I unclick the Include-In-Compile button.

It’s fun to discover new techniques to work with. Always, always learning . . .

Do you have information you keep track of for each scene that helps you make the scene better?

Thanks for reading . . .

I wrote a blog with my review of the Scrivener software that might help…

Writing a Series: Spreadsheet.

Last week I wrote about writing a series and keeping track of details over several novels, and I was asked about my spreadsheet.

In Keeping Track of Scenes I described the spreadsheet I use for one novel.  It amazes me how much I’ve changed and adapted the spreadsheet as I learn to improve my process. I’ve also added Scrivener to my list of tools, but I still can’t do without a spreadsheet.

In addition to a spreadsheet per novel, I now have a spreadsheet for the series.

The first column of each sheet states which novel the info is for. Then I include the following sheets:


  • names (first and last in separate columns so I can sort by each and make sure none of the names are too similar)
  • relationships
  • ages
  • clothing styles
  • emotional issues and challenges
  • anything I think might be important for the next novel

(I use Scrivener for character history)


  • places used
  • local business and who own them
  • hours of operation for ski lifts or any other business that is in more than one novel.
  • brief description of place
  • important characteristics of place


  • Dates of key events (important in later novel when referring to past)

Hope this helps.
Thanks for reading . . .

Writing a Series

Keeping track of details in one novel can be an overwhelming task. My handy-dandy spreadsheet does the job for me.

But what happens when one novel becomes two and then two become three? And then you make a change in one . . . and it has to be updated in two and then three.

This is enough to drive a person crazy or at least keep them entertained or maybe keep them from sleeping. Who knows?

My solution. As always my spreadsheet. I have now added a new spreadsheet to my collection. I keep one spreadsheet per novel and have found an extra one for details that need to be remembered from one book to the next helps.

I can remember the big details, but what about the ones like an address, a description of a room, a character’s sibling.

Without a spreadsheet I am lost.

Any tips that might help me?

Thanks for reading . . .

Ending a Scene

So here I am again, adding a new column to my spreadsheet. Honestly, I don’t know how anyone can write a novel without an ever-evolving spreadsheet.

Previously, I blogged about Starting a Novel Scene and Before the Story Begins, and I don’t know why I didn’t notice at the time, but perhaps I should be checking how I end each scene.

I believe variety will help make a novel more interesting to read, so I added a new spreadsheet column called The Ending.

It contains one of four entries

  • Action
  • Dialogue
  • Thought
  • Narrative

The first draft is written without thinking about this. I want to write what comes naturally, and I want the story to flow.

But once the first draft is complete, it’s time to use various techniques to ensure the novel is as good as possible. This is when I check whether the scenes end in different ways. If all the scenes end with narrative for example, the novel might be tedious to read.  This is a less artistic part of the process, but no less important to the end product.

Anyone else have spreadsheet tips they want to share?

How to use a spreadsheet for your synopsis

#writetip The dreaded synopsis has found its way to the top of my to-do list.

How do you take 82,000 words and summarize them in to 500 to 1000 words?

Sweat it out, of course.

As I’ve said before, I love my spreadsheets and don’t know how anyone can write a novel without one. Well, here is my next use.

One column of my spreadsheet has a name for each scene. The name represents what happens in this scene.

To create my synopsis, first I’m look for turning points in the novel. Luckily, I already have this in the spreadsheet. The turning points are events that take the story in a new direction.

Next, I write each scene name on a paper. I cross out anything that doesn’t need to be in the synopsis.  Once I do this four or five time, I write out a one line description of the scene. Now I know if I’m anywhere near the right word count. If not, I keep cutting.

I follow some simple guidelines:

–       Use protagonists POV

–       Don’t include questions

–       Use present tense

–       Write in the same voice as your novel

–       Don’t turn the synopsis into a list

–       Include the ending

If the first line of your novel is great, and I hope it is, why not use that as your opening line of your synopsis?

If you have any tips for writing a synopsis, I’d love to hear them.



Spread Sheets and Novels

#writetip I don’t know how anyone writes a novel without spread sheet. The more I write, the more columns my spread sheet contains.

What I’ve discovered writing my third novel, Burnt, is that I needed to add two new columns. These columns are helpful if you are writing a mystery novel.

One column is used for clues to solving the crime. This means the reader knows the clues, but the main protagonist might not. This is especially helpful if you write from multiple points of view. If not, you probably don’t need this one.

The second column keeps track of clues the main protagonist knows. This ensures the character doesn’t mysteriously know something at the wrong time.

For a more detailed description of my complete spread sheet and how I use it, please see: