Writing Basics: Part Five--Structuring the Scene

by Michelle J. Prima




The purpose of any fiction is to tell a story.  So how do you make yours stand out from the rest?  How do you make yours the one everyone wants to read?  You can start by creating memorable scenes--those that readers will talk about long after reading the story. 

So, where do you start?  First, plot your story.  Who are the characters?  What do they want?  Why can't they get it? Once you have determined their goals and motivations, you can begin creating scenes that will get them from Step A (I want...) to Step B (...but I can't because my obstacle are...) to Step C (...I have overcome the obstacles to achieve my goal.)  The important thing to remember is that something significant must change in the character's life by the end of the story. 

At first, you will think of a variety of scenes, in all settings, time frames, atmospheres, etc.  Plot them in order that they will make the most sense for the story.  Then sit back and look at each scene.  Does it belong in your story?  How do you decide which scenes to keep, and which to delete?

All your scenes should do one of the following--advance the plot, deepen the character, or contribute to the character's change.  For example, if you imagine a scene where the hero/heroine are having a picnic in Hyde Park on a sunny afternoon, you may write wonderful descriptions, have sparkling dialogue, and create a romantic atmosphere.  But unless the scene is something more than the characters eating (an everyday occurrence,) it doesn't belong in the story. 

However, if your characters use this setting to agree to a marriage of convenience, or to reveal a deep dark family secret that may prevent a marriage, or to profess their love for each other for the first time, you are accomplishing something with the scene.  You are creating a life-changing situation for the characters. 

These scenes, however, should not be random.  Don't drop in a scene where you reveal something about the character just because it needs to be said.  For every scene, there should be a cause and effect.  What happened in the previous scene that would cause the character to act in a certain way in the subsequent scene?  Did the hero learn the heroine was not a virgin?  Then the next scene probably won't be a profession of love.  For every stimulus in a scene, there must be a response.  A response that is true to your character.  And if it out of character for your hero/heroine, then explain why. 

Just as important to a scene's purpose, is the hook that will segue into the sequel.  Each scene should end with a declaration, dialogue or action that will make the reader want to turn the page.  It will make the reader want to know how the other character will react.

The subsequent scene must have some cohesiveness to the preceding to make the story flow smoothly.  You can begin the next scene with a thought.  You can review the previous scene in the opposing character's point of view.  What is their reaction?  And what does that reaction reveal about the character?  Or you can analyze the previous scene.  This too, can reveal characterization.  Does the hero automatically loathe the heroine?  Or does he recall his own mother's dark past?  His thoughts will reveal the type of person he is.  Or, you can have the character make a decision.  Will the hero decide to break the engagement and suffer the consequences?  Or will he dig deeper into the heroine's past?  Finally, the subsequent scene can be an action.  The hero may take his frustrations out on the nearest tree.  Or he may be the perfect gentleman, control his anger, and pack them up to return home immediately. 

Every scene has a purpose.  Every scene has a sequel.  And every action has a reaction.  Remember this when planning out your story scenes.



Scene & Sturcture by Jack Bickham, Writer's Digest Books, 1993.

"Under Construction" by Nancy Kress, Writer's Digest January 2004.

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