How to Structure Scenes in Your Story

How to Structure Scenes in Your Story (Complete Series)

How to Structure Scenes in Your Story 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 this “How to Structure Scenes in Your Story” series (which is the basis for the second half of my award-winning book Structuring Your Novel 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!

Part 1: Mastering the Two Different Types of Scene

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.

Part 2: The Three Building Blocks of the Scene

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 of 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?

Part 7: The Three Building Blocks of the Sequel

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.

Part 8: Options for Reactions in a Sequel

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 a character’s emotional and mental processes and find out what that character is 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, she will have to get down to the all-important business of thinking about what she’s going to do next. The previous disaster has left her 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 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.

More Scene Posts

Incidents and Happenings: Scenes That Aren’t Actually Scenes

At first glance, Incidents and Happenings can both appear to be scenes. But their brevity and their lack of conflict are indications of their true nature.

4 Reasons You’re Confused About Scene Structure (With Examples)

Confused about scene/sequel? You probably know more than you realize. Here are some important facts about scene structure to help you stop overthinking.

A New Way to Think About Scene Structure

Learn a simple secondary tool you can bring in as a support for the classic (but sometimes mechanical) approach to scene structure.

7 Questions You Have About Scenes vs. Chapters

Let’s take a look at seven important questions about scenes vs. chapters, which will help you better understand and control your narrative.

How to Get the Most Out of Your Sequel Scenes

Want to add a meaningful exploration of character to any story? The secret lies in creating deep and rich sequel scenes—the reaction half of the scene.

How to Create Awesome Scene Arcs That Surprise Readers

You can write perfectly structured scenes, but if they lack emotional arcs, they will still fall flat. Learn three ways to write powerful scene arcs.

How to Write Interesting Scenes

Interesting stories are the result of interesting scenes. Here are ten ways to create a gripping story from the scene level up.

How to Write Scenes Your Readers Will Rave About

Great scenes are the building blocks of great stories. Learn the most important ingredient in how to write scenes that keep readers glued to the page.

8 Ways to Troubleshoot a Scene—and 5 Ways to Make It Fabulous!

Using these simple brainstorming tricks, you can figure out how to troubleshoot a troublesome scene and turn it into one of the highlights of your entire manuscript.

Most Common Writing Mistakes: Unnecessary Scenes

Discover four types of unnecessary scenes that may be sinking your book—and three ways to find them and kill them.

Ready to take your understanding of story structure to the next level? Join my mailing list to grab my free e-book and learn five “secret” techniques of advanced story structure.

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