Posted by: Kathy Temean | December 22, 2009

Steal From Life For A Great Scene

How often has something bad happened where you said, “At least this will be good material for a story someday?”  I know I have said those words many times.  So if you find yourself saying the same thing, now is the time to use them.  The details and specifics are tools for you to use to make your a scene in your novel strong.  It is those details that will make your story feel real.  Donald Maass suggests in his book THE FIRE IN FICTION to use the method below, whenever you get stuck or low on inspiration.

Step 1:  Choose any scene in your manuscript that seems weak.  Who is the point-of-view character?

Step 2:  Identify whatever this character feelsmost most strongly in this scene.  Fury?  Futility?  Betrayal?  Hope?  Joy?  Arousal?  Shame?  Grief?  Pride?  Self-loathing?  Security?

Step 3:  Recall your own life.  What was the time when you most strongly felt that emotion.

Step4:  Detail your own experience.  When did it happen?  Who was there?  What was around you?  What do you remember best about the moment?  What would like to forget?  What was the quality of the light?  What exactly was said?  What were the smallest – and largest – things that were done?

Step 5:  Did this real life expereince twist the knife, or put the icing on the cake?  It would have stirred this feeling anyway, but what really provoked it was … what?

Step 6:  What did you think to yourself as the importance of this experience struck you?

Step 7:  Give details of your experience to your charactger, right now, in this scene.

Just be aware that every time I put something real in my stories an editor will bring that part of the story up and say, “That would never happen.”  So I guess it’s true, life is stranger than fiction.  What do you think? 



  1. Thanks for the seven steps from THE FIRE IN FICTION. You are so right re: putting something real in a story. It’s the very thing that an editor (or teacher) will swear is pure fabrication. Does this prove that truth is stranger than fiction?


  2. It must, don’t you think?



  3. In one of my picture books I have a child demonstrating an unusual communion with a particular kind of animal. One of the ladies in my critique group said just that – “That would never happen!” But I got the idea from a fellow I used to date who had exactly that amazing gift. I suspect there are many such instances. And my guess is – kids totally relate to them, even if adults have sometimes lost a touch of the magic.


  4. Thanks so much for posting this Kathy!
    Just what I needed. Perfect.

    Have a very Merry and a Happy and thank you so much for being an inspiration . . .

    Very best,



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