Scene building: beginnings

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I’ve talked previously about how to structure a scene. The beginning, or entre, should start as close to the moment the POV character starts pursuing their scene goal. But when exactly is that? And how do you decide whether to start with narrative, like describing the scene’s setting or the character’s physicality, or start with a line of dialogue or action?

Pace yourself

In a word, pacing determines your scene entre point. And pacing is determined by the genre of the story and the type of scene you’re writing. A fast-paced genre like action, adventure, or thriller, should have scene entres that are quick, incisive bursts onto the scene as it were. Using a single line or phrase, or just a single word drops the reader into the midst of the moment, setting them up for the breathless excitement to come. You save the narrative descriptive sentences and paragraphs for denouement or reflective moments when your POV character is taking a breather from all the action.


The reason for this technique is that shorter, more direct sentences create speed and tension in the reader. Fragments are useful – staccato thoughts suggest jumbled thoughts or not enough time to think. Rapid reacting rather than careful plotting. Dialogue announcing the character’s arrival “Get him!” or the shrill sound of a whistle written as onomatopoeia: fweet! grabs the reader’s attention and drags them into the frenetic atmosphere of the scene.

Situation: POV character’s scene goal is to capture a thief they’ve identified

execution: The police officer is already in place with their plan to flush out the suspect. The setting details of the restaurant should only come out in bits as the action occurs within it. The dialogue should be brief, quick orders and alerts. There’s no time for full sentences of instructions if they want to catch this guy.

“Stop him!”

Bounding to his feet, Bert shoved the waiter. A tray clattered to the tile floor. The black-haired man in the beret had run toward the back of the restaurant.

The alley! Bert grabbed his radio. “Mark! Alley!” He stumbled past another table. Shook off the champagne that soaked his jacket. And kept running. Slamming into the kitchen access, he stumbled on the damp floor. The rear door was just swinging shut.

He heard the scuffle and emerged into the bright alley blinking. His partner, Mark, body-slammed their suspect into the brick wall beside the industrial dumpster. “Got him!” Mark called, already yanking the cuffs from his belt and slapping them one at a time around Frank Templeton’s wrists.

Winded, Bert bent over both knees and wheezed, “Great.”


For a slow-paced genre or scene, like in a cozy mystery, sweet romance, or an atmospheric historical, your entre can begin with more descriptive choices. Internal thoughts show the POV character is still establishing their plan to reach their goal. Setting descriptions suggest the POV character is casing the situation. Dialogue with someone in the space shows they need info from others in the space or need to determine who might be an ally.

Longer sentences take more time for readers to ingest. This slows the pace. Careful specific word choices also can create a cadence and use of commas for subjunctive clauses, can make readers bodily adapt (breathing and heart rate) to a more leisurely pace.

situation: a ruler is holding audience

execution: feelings of reluctance, boredom, and even preparing himself mentally are conveyed in taking the time to examine the familiar space.

King Jason entered the throne room for the weekly court and took his place on the hewn wooden throne that had been the seat of power here for four generations. His fingertips traced the inlaid jewels in the chair’s arm, finding as he always did, the ruby from Annoria, the kingdom from which his beloved wife Paloma had come.

“It is time for court to begin, my liege.”

Jason glanced up at Orban, his chief minister and nodded, waving his hand idly. “Send them in.”

“Yes, my liege,” Orban replied then backed out with his head bowed.

Next post I’ll talk about strategies for ending scenes. Subscribe to get an alert.

~ Lara

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Published by Lara Zielinsky

I have been writing and publishing for 20 years. I have been an editor of fiction for 15+ years. I am married, live in Florida and work from home full time as an editor.

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