What’s A Line-Per-Scene Sentence?

Question came up: What is a Line-Per-Scene Sentence, and how do you write one?

A line-for-scene Sentence gives you the essential elements to plan out everything from a flash fiction story to an epic ten-novel series.

This is how you do it, either with notecards or straight onto your computer. Notecards are more fun and a lot more visceral. Straight to computer is a bit faster, and pretty much the only thing that works effectively writing on a computer and demonstrating on a web page.

The FORMULA for any Story Sentence is:

Protagonist Versus Antagonist, In Setting, With a Twist.

You get to use 30 words maximum, and with those thirty words, you can define the main story of a whole novel, or the single event of just one scene. The Story Sentence consists of:

    • Protagonist (2 words) – Examples:
      – Battered child
      – Star-crossed lovers
      – Brilliant physician
      – Courageous captain
    • Antagonist (2 words) – Examples:
      – Abusive parents
      – Stratified society
      – Serial killer
      – Vicious storm
    • Your story’s central conflict (Versus) (about 5 to 12 words, where hyphenated words count as one)
      – Must survive neglect, physical abuse, and psychological warfare
      – Must overcome disapproval, hostility, and physical danger
      – Must figure out a way to save his beloved, terribly damaged wife
      – Must bring his spaceship carrying desperately-needed supplies
    • Your story’s broadest defining Setting (3 to 8 words)
      – A deceptively beautiful home
      – A deeply stratified society
      – An old hospital with primitive equipment
      – The deadly storm from an exploded sun
    •  With a twist (the element that makes you want to tell THIS story)
      – The child’s parents are both famous parenting experts
      – The star-crossed lovers are different species (one is a cat, the other a dog)
      – The brilliant physician is unknowingly the serial killer’s best friend
      – This is the origin story of Life On Earth

The first to sets of details give us the following two Story Sentences.

The battered child of two famous child-raising gurus must survive neglect, physical abuse, and psychological warfare in a deceptively lovely home while figuring out how to save herself. (28 words)

A pampered pedigreed show cat in love with a scruffy stray dog must discover how to rescue and be with the one creature on the planet who loves her back. (30 words)

To go through this workshop, create lists of:
Adjective-Noun Protagonists, like:

  • Strong child
  • Angry tiger
  • Curious mouse
  • Feral woman

Adjective-Noun Antagonists (or, if you prefer villains), like:

  • Alcoholic parent
  • Giant snake
  • Hungry cat
  • Civilized man

Use these two lists to build out your own Versus Statements (and dare to mix and match them. For example, Strong child works just as well against Giant Snake as against Alcoholic Parent.

Build out good versus statements that YOU find interesting.


Do not use more than thirty words.

I know that seems like a petty detail.

It isn’t .

Limiting yourself to thirty words makes sure that the conflicts you’re building are tight, concise, and clear — that your brain can look at them and understand exactly what is at stake, and why.

Adding more words just allows the conflicts to become muddled and unclear.

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