Building Scenes Using Action & Reaction

Camp NaNo is kicking my tail this week!  To keep myself motivated, I downloaded yWriter (review post to come) and completely trashed my old outline and started fresh with a new idea.

yWriter has a scene building tool, so I decided to give it a try.

When I built my first scene, I noticed an option that let me pick whether or not my scene was an action or a reaction scene.  Since I had never heard of those, I decided to do a bit of research.

So, I turned to trusty ol’ Google and perused several articles before discovering something amazing: the Action/Reaction method of building scenes.  I know every writer is different and we all have our own ways of making the magic happen, but I felt like I should share, because this method has given me a new perspective on plotting.

How to Outline Using Action & Reaction Scenes

1.  You should always begin with an action scene.  In each action scene, you should answer three sets of questions.

  • Goal:  What does your character want?  What does he/she wish to achieve?  Why?
  • Conflict:  What is keeping your character away from achieving his goal?
  • Outcome:  What happens?  Does your character succeed of fail?  (Failing leads to better tension.)

2.  Now, it is time to end that scene.  You have the action, but not the reaction.  This keeps the reader interested.  They will be asking, “What now?”  In the reaction scene, you will answer another three questions:

  • Reaction:  How does the character feel about his success/failure?
  • Dilemma:  What does the success/failure mean for the character?
  • Choice:  What does the character decide to do?

3.  Then, you begin again.  The choice always leads to another action.  I love this method, because it is cyclic and natural.

I was a little iffy at first, but once I figured out what each piece of the scene meant, I felt more motivated to use this method.  Below, I’m going to give you an example of an outline done in this method.  I’ll use a fail and then a success.


  • Goal:  Gilroy wants to marry Rosalie.
  • Conflict:  Their parents believe they are too young for marriage and forbid them from spending time together.
  • Outcome:  They do not get married


  • Reaction:  Gilroy is frustrated and upset.
  • Dilemma:  This means that they will either have to break up or disobey their parents.
  • Choice:  Gilroy decides to disobey his parents and run away with Rosalie.


  • Goal:  Gilroy and Rosalie want to run away.
  • Conflict:  Internal (they will miss their families) & external (their families try to intervene)
  • Outcome:  They decide that love is more important than family & sneak away at night.


  • Reaction:  Gilroy is happy and astonished that they managed to run away together.
  • Dilemma:  Now, they have to find someone to marry them.
  • Choice:  He decides to go from church to church in search of a pastor who is willing.

And in the next scene, we will see him looking for a pastor (action) and we will see what happens from there (reaction).  Do you see how easy and natural this method is?

I have been using this method for my novel and I’ve noticed that it keeps the action moving along toward climax, which is exactly what I’ve been needing.


2 thoughts on “Building Scenes Using Action & Reaction”

  1. Amazing. Really appreciate you sharing this! It fits perfectly into the method I already use but makes it more concise. Good luck with your camp and keep up the good work. 🙂

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