The Writing Magic of Brainstorming Scenes First

scene list for story writing, brainstorm scenes

How To Hook Your Reader on the First Page

book browsing, draw the reader in

Hook Your Reader Now


Image attribution eflon
The first page of your book is that first impression that doesn’t get a second chance. Whether your reader is a bookstore browser or an agent, the first page is the introduction to the story.
Key elements of that introduction tell the reader about the story.

  • Tone – dark, humorous, romantic, historical, etc. The reader is drawn to your writing voice.
  • Character – Who is in your story? What are they like? 
  • Setting – Ground the reader in time and place. Characters, and stories, don’t float in space. 
  • Immediacy – Don’t dither. Get your reader into the story. Save long descriptions and narrative telling for later, if at all. Plunge them in. The adage for scenes–late in, early out–is primary on the first page. 

This is nothing new. Homer knew how to get attention right away. 



Homer Knew

RAGE: Sing, Goddess, Achilles’ rage, Black and murderous, that cost the Greeks Incalculable pain, pitched countless souls Of heroes into Hades’ dark, And left their bodies to rot as feasts For dogs and birds, as Zeus’ will was done. Begin with the clash between Agamemnon– The Greek warlord–and godlike Achilles. Which of the immortals set these two At each other’s throats? Apollo Zeus’ son and Leto’s, offended By the warlord. Agamemnon had dishonored Chryses, Apollo’s priest, so the god Struck the Greek camp with plague, And the soldiers were dying of it.

That’s just the first 15 lines of the Illiad. The reader knows the theme: RAGE. Achilles is the character. Bodies rotting. Gods. War. Emotion.
Modern readers may want a different style, but the elements are the same.


If you think immediacy  your first page will draw the reader to keep reading. Get your character in action. Give them something to say. Without being heavy handed or long-winded, show (yes, don’t tell) your reader where they are and when. Give your character an obstacle that shows the reader how they react.
Save physical details, long setting description, and thoughtful passages for later. Your goal in the first page is to get the reader into the story as quickly as possible.
Give your reader a taste of your story.
Here’s the first passage in The Roman Heir. Do you think it meets first page criteria? Leave a comment.

“You see,” Boethius said, leaning toward Argolicus in a confidential manner, “Rome is a closed community. When someone like you whose family lineage is not from one of the great families of Rome and as a newcomer attempts to take on a centuries-old Roman position, you set yourself up for strife. You are wise to retire, go back to your provincial Bruttia and live as local nobility.”
Argolicus watched from the palatial villa on top of the Caelian Hill gentle snowflakes fall on the city and the forum below. He stood on a balcony where Boethius had led him just minutes before. Behind them loomed a grand study filled with manuscripts and books. Boethius carefully peeled an apple, the skin curling off onto the floor at his feet.  Argolicus knew everything Boethius was saying and they echoed his reasons for leaving. He also knew Boethius, so he waited for him to get to the point.
“The same talents that make you a good judge,” Boethius continued, “hamper your political power. You read people, you consider all possibilities, you listen carefully to all sides, you weigh outcomes. In politics you must make a decision, move quickly, ignore repercussions, and strike.” 

Check Out Your Favorite Authors

Select five of your favorite reads and examine the first page. Identify the elements that brought you into the story…and kept you there.
Here are a couple of mine. The text is copyrighted so go to the Amazon page and Look Inside.
Adrian McKinty – A Cold, Cold Ground
Amory Towles – A Gentleman in Moscow
You may find yourself editing the first page more than once. The best touchstone for your first page is that it brings your reader into the story.

Zara Altair

Cool Tools for Indie Authors at Pronoun

cover comparison at Pronoun, ebook cover design

Tools you can use

Pronoun is an ebook publishing site for independent authors. Aside from creating an .epub file for your book, Pronoun has a number of useful tools

  • sales reports
  • review reports
  • category picker comparisons
  • cover comparison
  • add previously published books and receive notifications

Convenience Means More Writing Time

Marketing is a major component of an indie author’s time. Most of use would prefer to be writing. Any tool that facilitates the marketing side means more time for writing.
Pronoun’s  free book formatter is easy to use. If you’ve ever spent hours on Scrivener or Jutoh trying to get everything to coordinate correctly, the free formatter does all the heavy lifting.
The category suggestions is a great tool for refining the categories specific to your book. Based on keywords the tool offers several categories.


The cover comparison is my favorite tool. Once you upload your cover image to Pronoun you can visually compare it to other covers in your categories. For each category the tool shows your cover side by side with other covers in the category. You can compare to traditionally published covers in your genre and to independently published covers.
Each time you click more covers the software brings up new covers in the category for comparison.

  • Does your cover stand out?
  • Does it meet the tropes of your genre/category?
  • Is it cluttered, too dark?
  • Is it cluttered or hard to read?
  • Does it feel like the other covers in your genre so readers know right away without reading one word the feeling they’ll get reading your book?

Your cover is your primary, number one marketing tool. It’s the first way new readers discover your book with online publishers. This tool will help you visualize how it compare with other covers in your genre/category currently on the market.

Many Ways to Ebook Publishing Knowledge

Here’s a complete list of the tools you can use on Pronoun:
Publishing Notifications
Conversion Notifications
Category Suggestions
Top 100 List Notifications
Sales Updates
Review Notifications
Amazon Rank Updates
Account and Product Updates
Trending Books
Onboarding Emails
Book Page Visits

You can add previously published ebooks to your personal library. You’ll receive notices like sales and reviews on these books as well.

I have no relationship with Pronoun other than using it. I’m sharing the information because the tools help you keep track of data all in one place.

Zara Altair
Need help getting your manuscript crisp? Get in touch now for content editing.

Research Before You Write The Story

strawberry tree berries, edible plants

Don’t Just Sit There! Start Your Novel Outline


Your Novel Outline Can Make You Invincible


For a writer, nothing feels better than writing The End when your novel is finished. Beginning novelists can flounder around trying to make the first novel work. An outline can keep your story on track and make all the difference when it comes to writing your entire novel and reaching the end.Novel outlines are as different as novel writers and there are many good sources to use. The difference for you is creating the outline and writing your story to The End.

Working through your outline will

  • make sure your idea works – from start to finish
  • guide you when you are stuck
  • keep to your storyline without wandering or putting in “extra” scenes that don’t move the story forward

The more detailed your outline, for example, each scene within the chapter, the easier you will find the writing.

Your novel outline is flexible. You can add or delete scenes or move them around in the storyline. Scenes can change as you write them. The outline makes sure that every component keeps your story on track to the end.

 Novel Outline Choices

A novel outline can be anything that helps you create an overview of the entire novel. It can be as simple as writing the chapter sequences in a notebook or as detailed as using a spreadsheet. Some people enjoy the reassurance of boxes in a spreadsheet and some the flexibility of a mind map.  There’s a style for everyone.

The Old Standby

The traditional storyboad outline is constructed with 3 x 5 index cards on a wall or bulletin board. Cards are lined up in the three act structure. 

You can carry the cards with you anywhere to make a note. This writer also added notes torn from a notebook. The beauty of this storyboard is that you can rearrange the cards any way you wish. Especially in the planning stage as you work through the complete story, it is easy to rearrange scenes.

Since 1974 when Post-it notes were invented, some writers use these sticky notes rather than index cards. The ease of use is the same.


Computer Software

Computer software has added new space-saving ways to create an outline. You can create a MS Word document with a table as a story outline.


Download File

Or a spreadsheet. You can create your own or search for the many available templates online.


Download File

Download the Word or Excel templates and get started.

Many novelists rely on Scrivener as their go-to software for writing. Within the software is a bulletin board where you can “pin” cards just like the index cards on a bulletin board. As you create your outline you can move scenes and chapters the same way you can with a real life bulletin board. 


A mind map is useful for complex novels with many characters, opposing political factions and alignments, or completely different worlds. The map can not only list all the characters, but group them and illustrate interrelationships. I use FreeMind a very flexible and detailed open source tool. You can add links to research urls.If free flow appeals to you, mind maps are a great way to construct your story overview. There are many options, just search for mind maps and take your pick.


There are a number of outlines available for a modest price such as Randy Ingermanson’s Snowflake Method. And many that are genre specific. A web search for your genre novel outline will give you many choices.If your story is based on sequenced events in one day or takes place over a long period of time a timeline will help you make sure your events are in correct sequence. Aeon Timeline not only makes it easy to visualize the entire sequence but integrates with Scrivener.


In The Cloud

Cloud storage frees up space on your computer’s hard disk. Google Drive offers Docs and Sheets for word processing and spreadsheets. I use Docs when I am writing short stories. I keep it simple by creating a character list and chapter outline in the main document. I can quickly go to the outline using a header which shows up on the left. 

Sterling and Stone is beta testing a writing app called StoryShop. You can get on the list now when it goes live.

Outline, Then Write

The number of ways you can create your novel outline are manifold. Choose the method that fits your personality, your writing style, and your genre. The important step is to create the outline.
Work through your story. Use whatever structure and beat sequence you want. Fill in all the components of your novel. You’ll find that writing will go faster when you know exactly how a scene fits into a story.
The novel outline is a power tool for getting to the end of your novel.
Zara Altair

Have questions about outlining your novel? Get in touch.

Writer Checklists for Story Scenes

writer with computer, scene checklists, editing your novel

writer with computer, scene checklists, editing your novel

Scene Checklists

Scenes are the building blocks of your story. Each scene moves the story forward. As you build your story alternate between action and reaction.


When you go through the first edits of your story make certain that all scene components are in each scene. You’ll take your reader by the hand to lead them through the story.


Two Types of Scenes


Alternating between Proactive and Reactive scenes is a cycle that builds story in increments.


The Proactive Scene challenges your protagonist.

  • He has a goal
  • She tries to achieve the goal but obstacles challenge him as the scene moves forward
  • At the end of the scene he has a setback


By the end of the scene, the protagonist has not only failed to reach his goal but has a setback that leaves him worse off than at the beginning.


Checklist for the Proactive Scene

  • Who is the primary point of view character (stay with her throughout the scene).
  • What is her goal?
  • Keep the goal simple for this one small part of the story
  • Create the objective of the goal so the reader can visualize the success
  • Make the goal worthwhile otherwise cut the scene
  • Make the goal achievable in the protagonist’s view
  • Make it difficult to achieve
  • Create the conflict that keeps your hero from reaching the goal
  • Even with obstacles, don’t let the protagonist give up
  • Make the obstacle unexpected, but keep it logical within the story


Put your hero or heroine in the worst possible situations as they seek what seems like an obtainable goal at the beginning of the scene.


The Reactive Scene

Now that your protagonist is thwarted, it’s time to give him some space. This scene is where your heroine makes a decision about what to do next.


  • Begin with the protagonist’s reaction to what just happened
  • Now, get your hero to figure out what his options are. If the setback was significant he may have no apparent options and he needs to look at his dilemma and choose an option.
  • In the final portion of the scene, the protagonist mast make a decision.
  • That decision is the goal for the next scene


Checklist for the Reactive Scene

These are the basic elements to include in the Reactive scene when your protagonist makes a decision.


  • Clarify the protagonist’s vision of the problem. She needs to know what the problem is before she can make a decision.
  • Keep the reader with the protagonist by visualizing what the character will do next
  • The decision for the next action should be in line with your character’s personality and values
  • Show how the protagonist sees success from his decision
  • Make the decision difficult enough that the reader has doubts about whether your character can do what she decides


Reactive scenes provide a way for your character to make really bad decisions which will create even greater conflict later on. She may be blind to the motivations of another character. He may find that getting into the boardroom isn’t a slam dunk. Reactive scenes are your opportunity to build conflict and tension because the following action scene may be based on a very wrong decision that seemed right at the time for the character.


Why This Structure Helps

For beginning writers, all this alternating of scenes may seem forced. I know, I was a beginning writer, and thought the same way. But my stories went nowhere and lacked tension. Readers want and expect your characters to have problems and overcome obstacles. Unless you are very compulsive, you don’t need to write these lists down. Just know which type of scene you are writing, create the obstacles either to action or decision making, and write the scene. Your story will benefit and your readers will love your story.


Scene Editing When Your Story is Finished

Once you have written each scene with all the writer passion you hold, go back to edit your story with a cold, clear eye.

Video tutorial.

Scene Checklist for Editing

  • Is your scene written from one point of view?
  • Is it an action scene or a reactive scene?
  • Does the reader know where the characters are? Setting grounds the reader.
  • Does the scene include at least three of the five senses–touch, sight, hearing, taste, smell? These details help bring the reader directly into the scene.
  • Do you crank up the conflict–either action or decision–to the highest point? Make it tough, really tough, for your character.


Practice story editing with an objective eye. Be as unbiased as possible about the elements in each scene. Use your critical mind to objectify the story. I think of it as switching from the story creator, the one who loves the story, to a person who is looking at a thing. Use whatever mind tricks you can to be as objective as possible.


Do this work on your story and scene structure before you send it to an editor.


Some writers completely switch into editing mode and stop writing during the process. I like to balance editing and writing so I do some of each during the editing process. Find what method works for you, but don’t skip story editing.
Keep writing!

If you need help with developmental editing–structure, plot holes, scene structure–get in touch.

Zara Altair

How Authors Can Easily Share Free Books


Free Books for Author Promotion

Hook potential readers with a free book giveaway. Book Funnel stores PDF, .epub, and .mobi files so they can read your book in their format of choice.  Scrivener users can compile a manuscript to each of these formats. Once you have created the files, simply upload each file plus the book cover to Book Funnel.
Here’s a quick tutorial on how to set up your book for distribution.

Increase Your Exposure, Gain Readers

Your free book is an invitation to readers to get to know you. Make sure your put some of your personality in the free offer. It doesn’t matter if it a book or a one-sheet. For most new readers your free offer is the first chance they get to meet you. First impressions count. Make your book look professional. Create a personable introduction to you and your writing.

Zara Altair