Ever sit down at your computer, ready for the day’s writing session, only to wonder how to write scenes your readers will actually care about?
There are a lot of considerations when it comes to how to write scenes. But really, there’s only one that matters to readers: Is it interesting?
This is a totally obvious statement. After all, why would you even be writing a scene if it’s not interesting? And yet, this is one of those vital checks on the scene checklist you might sometimes lose sight of amidst all the other things you have to keep track of.
Today, I want to offer you a simple solution for how to write scenes that work on every level: plot, character, and wow factor.
What Is a Scene?
First things first. What is a scene? Simple question. Sometimes not-so-simple answer.
The term “scene” is used to apply to just about any breakdown of time, place, or POV within a story. But from a structural perspective, whether or not that latest chunk of your story is actually a “scene” depends on whether or not it follows the cause and effect pattern of proper scene structure.
The Basics of Scene Structure
You can break every scene down into two parts: scene (action) and sequel (reaction). These two halves can then be further broken down into three parts each:
- Goal (the character wants something)
- Conflict (the character’s progress toward that goal is met by an obstacle)
- Disaster (the conflict prevents the character from gaining the goal, in part or in whole)
- Reaction (the character reacts to the obstruction of the goal in the disaster)
- Dilemma (the character has to come up with a new plan to get to the goal)
- Decision (the character decides upon a new scene goal–which, of course, starts the cycle all over)
These two little pistons–scene and sequel, action and reaction–are what drive your plot. These scenes are the building blocks of your entire story. Wielded correctly, they will ensure you never write an extraneous plot beat and that all your characters’ actions serve to power the story forward. Really, you could say scene structure is where plot and character come together to become a single entity that drives the entire story.
The Problem With Focusing Too Much on Scene Structure
If you understand scene structure, then you understand everything you need to write a solid plot from beginning to end. Follow this pattern and every scene you write will matter to the story. If a scene doesn’t fit into the scene/sequel pattern, then it’s not pulling its weight and you know to either fix it or delete it.
But here’s the thing.
All by itself, scene structure will not necessarily create an interesting plot. You can write a perfectly structured scene that still bores readers to tears. At the end of the day, which is the greater scene sin: random scene structure or reader boredom? It’s no contest.
Don’t Do This: Perfect Scenes That Are… Boring
Recently, I rewatched a movie from my childhood: Disney’s made-for-TV 1985 adaptation of Robert Louis Stevenson’s War of the Roses epic The Black Arrow.
I’d only watched the movie once as a kid, so I surprised myself by remembering just about every scene/plot beat in the entire movie. What surprised me even more was that everything I remembered was everything there was to remember about the story. As I watched, I kept thinking, This is it? Where’s all the good stuff?
There weren’t any technical problems with how the story was set up. Every scene mattered to the plot. Something important happened in every scene that drove the story forward. And yet… none of it was interesting. There was no verve, no fun, no meat. It was all just a mechanical grinding of the story gears.
In short, all its good intentions of proper scene structure were totally wasted.
How to Write Scenes That Delight Readers
As a writer, creating the bones of your scene structure is just the beginning. After the bones are there, you must then find the heart. Look at every scene in your story. What’s special about this scene? What makes it interesting? What emotion do you want to elicit–whether it’s excitement, amusement, horror, or warm fuzzies?
Readers may be aware, on at least a subconscious level, when your scenes don’t make any sense because they’re not properly structured. But they will always know–and know emphatically–when a scene is so dry, it’s boring them to tears.
Today, sit down at your computer and write a scene that will ignite your readers’ fascination and excitement. How? Start by looking for the elements that delight and interest you as you’re writing them. Do that, and not only will your scene be awesome–but today’s writing session will be one of the most fun you’ve had in ages.