Excel at Tracking Crucial Scene Content

Crucial Scene Content

This is the third and last post in this series on scenes. The first covered essential scene beats. The second highlighted critical contributions to story. This week we’ll show you how you can excel at tracking crucial scene content.

What Is Scene Tracking?

As a refresher, scene tracking records essential beats and elements in a table, enabling writers to see the story’s flow and evaluate what needs improvement.

  • Pantsers can track scenes after they write.
  • Plotters can use scene tracking to create detailed outlines.
  • All writers can use tracking to make sure each scene does its job.

Benefits of Scene Tracking

Tracking makes you aware of opportunities.

  • Delete Weak Scenes: If you wrestle with filling out the tracking information, that suggests weakness, making that scene a candidate for deletion.
  • Amplify Character Emotions: Readers want to experience the story vicariously through the characters, and scene tracking helps you include powerful emotions.
  • Organize and Order Scenes: Like stringing together organic pearls, tracking enables writers to organize and order scenes, making sure each one contributes to a beautiful story.
  • Enhance Descriptions: Scene tracking serves as a checklist, pointing out where writers can enhance content to engage audiences.

Scene Tracking Methods

How you track is entirely up to you. Some prefer journaling, others use Scrivener’s Custom Metadata, and many create spreadsheets. Regardless of the method, track to improve scene structure and content.

Excel at Tracking Crucial Scene Content


List which of the opposing forces appear in each scene:

  • Character versus Character
  • Nature versus Character
  • Self versus Character
  • Society versus Character
  • Supernatural versus Character
  • Technology versus Character

Conflict fuels tension as readers expect more conflict. Suspense grows as the conflict remains unresolved and readers wonder what will happen next to the lead character. Track how this conflict intersects with stakes, want, and need.


Show how the chief protagonist’s fatal flaw rears its head. The individual’s emotional wound, lie, or false belief hinders efforts to attain the scene goal.


As per H. R. D’Costa’s book Story Stakes*, give the chief protagonist an overwhelming reason to continue making choices and taking actions despite the opposing force. Plot events cause turning points, but it’s the stakes that increase tension (e.g., will she succeed?).

  • Establish the type of stakes:
    • General Protection
    • Demise
    • Livelihood
    • Freedom
    • Reputation
    • Sanity
    • Access
    • Regret
    • Suffering and Sacrifice
    • Justice
    • Protagonist’s Happiness
  • Track the bond between readers and the stakes:
    • The likeability of the chief protagonist
    • The degree to which readers can relate to what’s at stake
    • Boundaries and restrictions that influence actions and reactions
    • Vulnerable populations who suffer because of stakes
    • The release of backstory to satisfy readers’ questions
    • Settings that raise the stakes
    • Revelations of secrets that increase the stakes
  • Record when readers are reminded about the stakes
  • Note the stakes raised at a turning point

➨Turning Point:

Show the positive (“+”) or negative (“-“) strategic shift in value of the chief protagonist’s next choice and action by moving from (+/-) or (-/+) or (+/+ +) or (-/- -) based on whether the scene fulfills the goal.

➨Try-Fail Cycle (TFC):

For all of Act 2A and B, show the cycle of the protagonist trying and failing to resolve the scene problem. Record how things are getting worse. For example, the protagonist fails two times before succeeding, and then the cycle repeats when another event raises the stakes. Within the try-fail cycles, vary the mix of the character’s flaws and failures without making the person look hopeless.

Note: The TFCs in Act 2B differ from those in Act 2A, and the story’s midpoint establishes that difference.


As the chief protagonist goes about solving the story problem, note the introduction of a plot twist designed to change the story’s trajectory.


From the reader’s perspective, list the opened and closed questions that occur within each scene.

➨Clues and Red Herrings:

For mysteries and thrillers, show which facts (genuine clues) and untruths (red herrings) were disclosed within the scene and to whom.


Show what will happen in the future and when the writer plans to pay off that foreshadowing with an event. Typically, foreshadow three times before that element becomes important to the story.

➨Symbols, Motifs, and Objects:

Record the use of symbols, motifs, and objects.

  • Symbols within a story convey common meaning, enabling readers to grasp the significance with minimum words. They also convey shades of meaning, influencing the mood and tone when used. A symbol can be universal and used to influence the overall story, or it can convey meaning tied to the chief protagonist. Symbols can include animals, people, plants, settings, themes, and more.
  • A motif refers to a recurring symbol. One can represent the story’s theme, or a book may contain several motifs. The yellow brick road in L. Frank Baum’s The Wonderful Wizard of Oz represented the journey of life.
  • Objects emphasized within a story add depth. For example, in the James Bond films, the character Q emphasizes to 007 the importance of a specialized weapon (i.e., an object). Later in the story, that object makes the difference between life and death.


List in-scene characters (i.e., on stage) with a “+” sign and reference-only characters (i.e., off stage) with a “-” sign..


Describe where this scene takes place, and how the location contributes to the story.


Record how the climate adds to the story.


Note what creates a sense of wonder, romance, adventure, humor, mystery, drama, or lust.


List what the POV character smells, tastes, hears, touches, sees, and senses (i.e., the sixth sense of intuitiveness or gut instincts).


Scene tracking produces benefits that far outweigh the required effort. For example, audience expectations get higher every year and well-written prose that hits the beats and includes immersive content can win the hearts of picky readers!


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How do you track scenes, and what helps you include essential information?

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2 responses to “Excel at Tracking Crucial Scene Content”

  1. Jacqui Murray Avatar

    I love using Excel for drafting a book because I can add a column for each task–MC, time, season, etc. It makes planning so easy.

    1. Grant at Tame Your Book! Avatar
      Grant at Tame Your Book!

      Excellent points, Jacqui! The spreadsheet apps make planning and tracking a snap.

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