Tips for writing different scenes in your novel

This post is the eighteenth in a series about writing a novel. You can check out the list of past topics at the end of this post.

As you write your novel, you will write many different scenes. They may be funny, serious, happy or terrifying. There is no way to tell you how to write each of these scenes because there are too many different factors to consider – writing style, genre, plot.

But here are a few scenes that can happen in any story and some tips or things you may want to consider if you are including them in your novel.

Low light/night scenes

When writing a scene in the day time, it is easy to talk about the color of clothes or facial expression of a fellow character. Your main character will be able to describe the flash of light as the sun reflects off the sword blade or the way the water sloshed in the bucket.

But when you are writing a scene in low light – whether it be at outside at night or just in a darkened room – you need to take into account what can actually be seen.

The first step is to be aware that writing a night scene or one in low light that what you might normally describe – grimaces on faces, color of eyes or shirts – will not happen.

A second step that can help make your descriptions more accurate is to visit a similar area to the scene you are writing. If you are writing a scene between two lovers, grab someone and stand in a darkened room to see how much of the other person you can see. If you are writing a fight scene in a dimly lit bar, visit one. (But I don’t suggest you start a fight to complete your research.)

Even just stepping out into your backyard can give you an idea of what your characters will be able to see for an outside scene.

Spending this extra research time will add to the realism of your story. Your reader may not note these details but including something your character can

obviously not notice in the dark can pull the reader out of the story.


Fight scene

Since I write fantasy, I guess it is expected that at some point there will be a sword fight or another type of battle taking place. Here are a few tips I use when developing a fight scene. These hold true whether it is someone using a knife, a sword or their fists.

1.) Visualize – This might not be an easy step for some but a lot of what I write is what I visualize in my head. I can picture what is happening and just describe it as I see it.  However, if you have trouble visualizing a fight (say because you have never been in one – and that would probably be most of us), consider the next tip.

2.) Watch a fight – Pick a movie or TV show with a good fight scene. (For a TV series, my husband suggested Buffy the Vampire Slayer and for movies, his suggestions off the top of his head were Under Siege, Bourne Identity and Batman: The Dark Knight and for sword fights, The Lord of the Rings trilogy. But there are many more options out there.)  Of course, since these are TV/movie fights they may not be the most realistic, but you can pick up some good ideas from them.

You also might try looking at videos of sparing in martial arts. I actually used this technique for a knife attack while writing my novel, Destiny. I wanted to see how a person attacking with a knife would move.

3.) Draw a diagram – When I am writing a particularly involved battle scene or one with many participants, I like to draw a map of where everyone is at the beginning of the battle. It helps me keep track of where my characters are and who (or what) they are battling. Pretend you are a basketball coach and draw x’s and o’s on your paper. It really can help you keep track of everything.


4.) Act it out – When all else fails, grab a partner and act out the fight scene. This can give you an idea of how each participant would react. For the same knife attack that I mentioned above, one of my characters was going to surprise someone by stepping out of the shadows and stabbing another character in the back. To figure out how she would stab her victim, my husband and I did a little role playing. This let me not only figure out how the attack would happen but what type of injury would occur.

Once you have your fight scene laid out there are a few more things to remember. You need to watch your pacing – fight scenes need to be fast paced. Keep your sentences short. You want to keep the reader’s attention by showing action so don’t include a lot of detail. And remember you don’t have to write every blow that happens.


No matter what type of novel you are writing, humor can add another layer to the story.

I am not talking about making your story a major laugh-a-minute type affair. I am talking about working in some humor here and there to keep things interesting and realistic. Stories need ups and downs. Humor can help.

But humor is subjective. How many times have you seen a video or heard a joke that you find insanely funny but when you shared it with someone else, you were met with a blank stare or a half-smile?

The trick with humor in your writing is you don’t want to try too hard or make it too obvious that you are trying to be funny. I would suggest having a several people read your “funny” section to see if the majority of them get the humor.

Romance (in a non-romance novel)

Just like with humor, adding romance to a non-romance novel can add realism to your story. But how much you add and how much detail you add will all depend on what you are comfortable with and the overall plot. Whatever amount of romance you add to the story – and any sex scenes – should flow from the events of the story. Remember that every scene needs to advance the story forward or expand the character. So hot, passionate sex just for the sake of adding sex to your story is not a good idea (unless you are writing erotica).

Tips for writing sex scenes

1)      Decide how much you are comfortable writing. Just because others write steamy sex scenes that leave nothing to the imagination doesn’t mean you need to follow suit. Don’t force yourself to write out of your comfort zone. Your discomfort will show in your writing.

2)      Let your characters decide on the level of intimacy. Don’t worry about publisher guidelines or what is popular. There are readers out there who like all sorts of levels of romance and descriptions (or lack thereof) in regards to sex scenes.

3)      However, do give the readers what they expect. When reading a romance novel, you expect romance and at least the hint of something more. If the romance is secondary to your story and doesn’t progress, your reader won’t feel cheated. But if they are expecting a steamy book and there is no steam, then your reader will be upset.

4)      You don’t always have to focus on what is physically happening. Write about what the characters are feeling rather than what they are doing.

No matter the scene you are writing, think it through, act it out or do whatever you need to make it feel real to your reader.

Previous topics

#1 – Deciding to write a novel – Writing Myths

#2 – Three areas to develop before starting to write a novel

#3 – Finding a Story Idea and How to Know if it “good enough”

#4 – Developing Characters for your Novel

#5 – Major characters? Minor Characters? Where does everyone fit in?

#6 – Developing the Setting for your Novel

#7 – The importance of developing conflict in your novel plot

#8 – To Outline or not to outline 

#9 – The importance of a story arc

#10 – The importance of tension and pace

#11 – Prologue and opening scenes

#12 – Beginning and ending scenes in a novel

#13 – The importance of dialogue…and a few tips on how to write it

#14 – Using Internal Dialogue in your novel

#15 – More dialogue tips and help with dialogue tags

#16 – Knowing and incorporating back story into your novel

#17 – Hinting at what is to come with foreshadowing

One thought on “Tips for writing different scenes in your novel

  1. Great tips—thanks! In the climactic scene in The Girlfriend Experience, the protagonist faces off with Chinese assassins across a dry riverbed. Unbeknownst to the assassins, a paramilitary group has set up sniper stations in the woods. I downloaded a Google Earth photo of the area in Northern Wisconsin where the battle was set, mapped out the locations of all the parties, and traced all their movements. It looked like a Civil War battle map by the time I was done!

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