Feel like you’re ready to take your writing skills to the next level? Then it’s time for you to learn how to structure scenes in your story. Scene structure is the key to unlocking the building blocks of your story. Once you understand how to structure scenes in your story, you’ll be able to build a story of interlocking parts, each one equally integral and vibrant.
Have you ever written a scene and felt it didn’t quite build off the previous scene as well as it might have? Or perhaps it seems all right on its own, but you have no idea what to write next? Scene structure is the answer to these questions and more. Once you understand how to craft your scenes into a row of dominoes–each one knocking into the next–you’ll never write an extraneous scene again. Even better? You’ll be able to craft each moment in your story to tap its maximum potential in the plot and gain the most powerful reaction possible from your readers.
In my How to Structure Scenes in Your Story series (which is the basis for the second half of my award-winning book Structuring Your Novel: Essential Keys for Writing an Essential Story and its companion Structuring Your Novel Workbook), you’ll learn:
- The two parts of the Scene: action (scene) and reaction (sequel).
- The three active parts of the scene: goal, conflict, and disaster.
- The three reactive parts of the sequel: reaction, dilemma, decision.
- How to string all the parts together into a seamless whole that will keep readers from ever putting down your book.
Figuring out how to structure scenes in your story is a game-changing foundational technique–and yet it’s one that is taught surprisingly rarely. Learn how to structure scenes in your story, and take your game up to a whole new level!
What is one of the most overlooked pieces of the story puzzle? The answer is: the scene. Yep, you heard right. The scene—that most integral, most obvious, most universal part of any story—is also the most overlooked and least understood when it comes to the craft of storytelling.
Like story itself, each scene follows a specific structure. At its heart, the arc of the scene is the same as that of the larger story structure exhibited over the course of the book: 1. Beginning=Hook. 2. Middle=Development. 3. End=Climax
Part 3: Options for Goals in a Scene
The possibilities for scene goals are endless—and very specific to your story. Your character can want anything in any given scene, but within that universe of options, you must narrow down the desires expressed within your scene to those that will drive the plot.
Part 4: Options for Conflict in a Scene
Conflict keeps your story moving forward. We say “no conflict, no story” because without conflict, the story comes to an end. When the character’s initial goal is stymied by conflict, it causes him to react with a new goal, which is stymied by further conflict, which causes him to again modify his goal—and on and on, until finally he reaches the goal and the story ends.
Part 5: Options for Disasters in a Scene
The disaster is the payoff at the end of the scene. This is what readers have been waiting for—often, with a delicious sense of dread. This is the answer, at least partially, to that all-important question, “What’s gonna happen?”
Part 6: Variations on the Scene
You’ve already probably thought up some successful scenes, in your own stories and in popular books and movies, that don’t seem to quite fit the proposed structure. How exactly does that work? Is it one of those “if-you’re-famous-you-can-get-away-with-anything” instances, or are there credible exceptions?
The sequel—the second half of the Scene—sometimes gets shortchanged. But it is every bit as important, since it allows characters to process the events of the scene and figure out their next move.
At the heart of every sequel is the narrating character’s reaction to the preceding scene’s disaster. This is where the author gets the opportunity to dig around inside his character’s emotional and mental processes and find out what he’s really made of.
Part 9: Options for Dilemmas in a Sequel
Once your character’s first-blush emotional response to the previous scene’s disaster has passed, he will have to get down to the all-important business of thinking about what he’s going to do next. The previous disaster has left him in quite a pickle. It was a catastrophic declaration; the dilemma, in response, presents a question, “What do I do now?”
Part 10: Options for Decisions in a Sequel
Perhaps the most instinctive of all the sequel’s building blocks is the decision. This third and final piece of the sequel grows out of the character’s dilemma and leads right into the next scene’s goal. The decision is the little cattle prod on your story’s backside that keeps it moving.
Part 11: Variations on the Sequel
Sequels, even more than scenes, offer all kinds of flexibility. To help you realize the possibilities of the sequel, let’s take a look at some of the common variations.
Part 12: Frequently Asked Questions
Once authors grasp scene structure, the whole approach to storytelling becomes clearer and more refined. At first blush, it can be a subject that takes a while to fully grasp and, as a result, can spawn all kinds of questions.