Scenes and Chapters

Use Orientations to Anchor your Reader

Lesson 3 Chapter 1 Module 1

The Problem

What's the one thing the reader needs to really enjoy your chapters and scenes?

An "orientation" is a critical part of the opening of most scenes in a novel. This is a sentence or paragraph that explains what the character is thinking and feeling as the scene begins. These "refreshers" or "anchors" re-connect the reader and protagonist.

An orientation should come early in each scene. It can work, but rarely does, to push a reader through a long passage of dialogue before you explain where this is, when it is, and why the main character has entered that conversation. 

This Lesson Contains

  • Technique: start with orientation
  • Worksheet: then versus now
  • Practice: try this out
scene map showing orientation first, followed by "setting" then forward motion and reflection alternating one after the other

In other words, in this diagram, the orientation comes first in the scene, even before setting. You might worry the reader will be confused about what the room looks like, smells like etc -- but don't be concerned.

Give a little setting at the start, then return to setting details, and layer in more senses and motion, once the action of the scene has begin.

Try this technique out in the worksheet: then versus now.

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  • Billie Tomlinson says:

    I used this idea for a chapter I was working on (the first chapter in a mystery) and I believe it did make it a better read! I can’t be certain I’m just believing that, but it does seem “better” than my usual work. Thank you for this very good lesson!

  • Pen