An Intuitive 4-Step Process for Creating Vibrant Scene Structure

Creating scene structure is a key writing skill. Great scenes go a long way toward great storytelling; weak scenes result in weak storytelling. Unfortunately, many writers often struggle with vague, sometimes contradictory approaches to writing scenes.

A scene should be a complete narrative unit. It should involve a relatively small number of primary characters—except when it doesn’t—in some action that happens in a specific location during a continuous period of time—again, except when it doesn’t. It should include conflict, dilemmas, decisions, and more—but perhaps it doesn’t. As I said… vague and sometimes contradictory.

Over the years, I’ve struggled with applying all this information to actually writing scenes. Trying to explain it to creative writing students is even more difficult. It was only when I began to study the structure of comic books and graphic novels that I began to get a picture—both literally and figuratively—of how to construct scenes. My first efforts were done in a graphic-novel style, but I soon figured out the approach also works well for text-based stories.

Narrative Arcs vs. Character Arcs

When writing scenes, understanding a narrative arc versus character arc is important. They are not the same thing. The narrative arc—a term I prefer over “story arc”—emerges from a series of events that occur over the course of a story (or in our case, a scene). A character arc, on the other hand, is the result of changes that occur in a character over the course of the story or scene. The best stories have both arcs.

Figure 1: Narrative and character arcs (Image by Peter von Stackelberg)

Scenes should also have both arcs—the narrative arc’s scene events (aka, “actions”) and the character arc’s goals, dilemmas, actions/reactions, and decisions. The interplay of these elements across the two arcs drives the narrative, whether it is a scene, sequence, act, or entire story.

Figure 2: Interaction between the narrative and character arcs (Image by Peter von Stackelberg)

I’ve found that building a scene often involves identifying the main character’s scene goal and then setting up the narrative arc, basically writing “This happened…then this happened…then this happened…” until I reach the end of the arc.

The main character’s arc across the scene can then be developed by elaborating on the scene events. For example, “This happened… causing the character to do… then this happened… and the character did… then this happened, creating a dilemma for the character, who then did… causing this to happen and creating a new goal.”

Scene Structure & Visual Language

A framework for creating scene events that drive the narrative arc can help the writing process. I found that framework in research being done into visual language—how information in the form of pictures is structured. Neil Cohn has identified four key components that make visual scenes understandable. Cohn also identified a number of components that he calls “modifiers,” which provide additional information in visual scenes.

Figure 3: Core and secondary elements for visual and text-based scenes (Image by Peter von Stackelberg)

I’ve adapted these components into a framework that can be used by writers to create narrative arcs for both visual and text-based scenes. The four core elements are:

1. Establish

The first element in a scene introduces key aspects of the scene’s setting, characters, and significant objects. Its purpose is to introduce readers to the scene and help them understand the who, where, and when before the action begins. In visual terms, this could be considered an establishing shot that shows the environment and the characters’ place in it. In text-based stories, this element is often called the set-up.

For Example: A description of the bar, its clientele, the time of day; some reference to the key character, although the primary focus is on the environment.

2. Initiate

The second element is often preparatory activity setting up action that will occur in later in the scene. It ratchets up the dramatic tension and provides readers with information needed to understand what is about to happen.

For Example: Our protagonist goes through the swinging doors, moseys up to the bar, and orders a drink, somehow offending another character in the process. The characters interact and words are exchanged. Tension rises.

3. Peak

This is the climax of the scene, where dramatic tension is highest. The Peak is when the scene’s pivotal action happens.

For Example: Suddenly guns are pulled and blam, blam, blam… the pivotal action happens. A brief dramatic pause leaves readers wondering who caught the bullet.

4. Release

The final element is the Release, which wraps up the scene and shows the aftermath of the pivotal action. At this point, the dramatic tension is released, and the scene ends.

For Example: The bad guy slumps to the floor in a pool of blood, and the scene closes.

3 Additional “Modifiers” for Your Scene Structure

The Peak is the most important element in helping readers understand what is happening. Release is the second most important. The Initiate and Establish elements, while still providing important information, do not have as significant an impact on the readers’ ability to understand the scene if eliminated from the story.

The order of these elements—Establish>Initiate>Peak>Release—is important. Scrambling them reduces the ability of readers to follow the sequence of events and understand the scene.

Most sequential art and written scenes have more than just the basics outlined in these four elements. Cohn identified several “modifiers,” which I’ve condensed into three secondary elements:

1. Orient

Additional information about the setting, timing, or context of the scene that helps readers better understand the where, when, and who of the scene. It helps orient them to what is going on. This information usually follows the Establish element and elaborates in some way on what we have already presented to the audience.

2. Detail

Additional details about characters, settings, or significant objects. These details are usually part of an Initiate sequence but may also be used sparingly during the Release to provide necessary information.

3. Prolong

Additional actions in the scene that prolong the overall action. A Prolong can be used to create suspense, which heightens the scene’s dramatic tension. Prolong will typically be part of an Initiate. If you use Prolongs in a Peak, do so sparingly. You don’t want to drag things out too long. Do not use Prolongs in a Release sequence. Once you’ve hit the Peak, the outcome should be presented without delay.

Scene Structure as a Writing Template

Writers can use these elements as a template to guide scene creation. When working with students who are struggling to write a scene, I have them begin by focusing on the Peak while temporarily ignoring all other elements in the scene. Once the Peak is drafted, then the images and/or text for the Initiate, Release, and Establish elements can be dropped into place.

The thought process I have them walk through is:

  1. What is the Peak action?
  2. What set into motion the Peak action? What is the Initiate element?
  3. What is the result of the Peak action? What is the Release?
  4. Where did this all happen? When? Who was involved? This is the Establish element.

When a draft based on the Establish>Initiate>Peak>Release framework is done, a preliminary character arc is easier to develop by then responding to the scene events. More details can be added to both the narrative and character arcs to flesh out the framework and add more depth to the scene.

Wordplayers, tell me your opinions! What is your favorite way to think about scene structure? Tell us in the comments!

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About Peter von Stackelberg

Peter von Stackelberg is a writer, photographer, illustrator, transmedia storyteller, and university lecturer. He has more than four decades of experience as a writer and award-winning investigative journalist.
For the past ten years, Peter has focused on emerging media technologies and is an expert on transmedia storytelling and constructing storyworlds. He currently teaches journalism, communications, and transmedia storytelling classes at Alfred University in Alfred, New York.


  1. Stephanie Ascough says

    This is very helpful, thank you! I look forward to applying this when I start redrafting.

  2. Thanks so much for sharing with us today, Peter!

    • pvonstackelberg says

      Katie..thank you for sharing so much over the years. You’re making a huge contribution to helping writers develop their craft.

  3. Val Harbolovic says

    One more tool to add to an immense arsenal that you have already shared with me through your blog.

  4. Eric Troyer says

    Great post! I’ll check my WIP to see how I am doing. I’m curious about something. One of my scenes feels interrupted. After parking, my protag is rounding the car, preparing to help her two companions unload the car-top carrier, when she thinks she sees someone from her past, someone she hoped was dead, so she starts to chase after him. It feels to me like another scene is interrupting the first. Do you agree?

    • Damien Boyes says

      I think in the context of this post, from what you’ve described, the parking and unloading would be the Establish portion of the scene, and seeing the supposedly dead friend would be the Initiate. Then the protag would chase–the Peak–and either succeed or fail in catching, then decide what to do next–the Relase.

    • I’d love to hear Stackelberg’s reply to this. But using his formula… what if you treat the unloading of the car-top carrier as Establish and Initiate sections, then the chase becomes the Peak. Maybe build toward the Peak by having your character notice something else in the parking lot that makes them want to look again before noticing the person they want to chase.

    • Mike Lucas says

      Eric, one reason your scene may feel interrupted is if you started to create a conflict around the unloading action. Otherwise, I agree with Damien that parking & unloading is the Establish portion, and the scene is not “interrupted” at all.

    • pvonstackelberg says

      Eric…first I want to note that “feeling” the scene from a writing and flow perspective is great. My comments are based your brief description, so if I’m off base, please see my comments in that light. My thoughts:

      1) You don’t need to show anything about parking the car…at best that should be implied.
      2) Is removing the stuff from the car-top carrier integral to the story (e.g. is there a body in it or maybe a sniper rifle or a huge load of drugs). If it isn’t, look at eliminating that completely because although there is action, it is not an essential action from a story perspective.
      3) Does the setting play a role in the story or is it just someplace you’ve selected at random (e.g. the long-dead friend turns out to be living in the neighborhood or is about to rob some story or something).

      From a structural point of view, start first with the Peak. What is the climactic action/moment? Does the protagonist catch the old friend, confronting her/him? What is the protagonist’s dilemma that leads to the peak action/reaction (e.g. should he/she even initiate the chase or react in anger, joy, fear, etc.?

      Then go back and figure out what you need to Initiate the scene. Perhaps the protagonist sees the other person and has a flash of memory or emotion.

      This process of going backwards is a technique I sometimes use because it forces you to think through the actions you will use in the scene.

      After that, go to the Release…what is the outcome of the chase, and then finally you can add details that establish the whole scene.

      • Eric Troyer says

        Thanks (and to everyone else who replied, too)! I’ll go back and take a look more closely at that scene. Clearly, I’ve got some pondering to do!

  5. Sue M Galliano says

    Thanks for a visual way to look at this idea. I will use it!

  6. Tom Scott says

    Very enlightening! I will be using this outline going forward. Thank you.

  7. This is awesome! Scene creation is one of my BIG areas of struggle, and I think this advice is going to help a LOT.

  8. Thank you Peter von Stackelberg, I will follow you. The I formation is very helpful in constructing scenes for my Fantasy/paranormal series that starts in ancient times.

  9. A perfectly timed post. I’m just starting my second draft and I was thinking I needed to focus more on scene structure during the reviews. Thank you for this gift.

  10. Clear, concise, informative – definitely useful

  11. Peter Moore says

    Great post. Thanks for having Peter as a guest. The more us newbies learn about the craft, the better. I have a question though. How do scenes that end with heightened tension fit into this scene structure? For example, chapter ending scenes in action/detective/sci fi/fantasy movies and books where characters are wounded, the scene fades and we don’t know if he/she lives or dies. I’m thinking of Peter Jackson’s movie adaptation of The Return of the King where Frodo is stung by Shelob. He immediately sends us to scenes with other characters. Tolkien handles it more like Peter states, even placing it as one of the last scenes of The Two Tower, and ending the book with ‘Frodo was alive but taken by the Enemy.’

    I’ve seen a lot of posts that advise increasing the tension at the end of each chapter as a page turner device instead of releasing the tension. Is that one of the ‘except when it doesn’t’ things that Peter says at the beginning of the post, or am I misunderstanding something?

    • S.D. Rainey says

      In my opinion, the release can occur at a different point in time as long as you don’t over use that device.

    • pvonstackelberg says

      In my opinion, the use of cliffhangers needs to be approached with great caution. As a reader or viewer, I absolutely HATE obvious cliffhangers that appear manipulative and intended solely to get me to move on to the next chapter/episode. An example of this kind of thing is when the shot is fired…and then nothing…there is no Release.

      From the story flow perspective, this kind of cliffhanger is very disruptive for a couple of reasons:

      1) It leaves readers hanging without any sort of resolution to what happened in the scene
      2) It disrupts the flow of the story because you then need to have the Release at the beginning of the next chapter/scene or, if there are intervening chapters/scenes, at the beginning of the scene where you return to the part of the storyline where you left off with the cliffhanger. The research (and I tend to be a believer in research) tells us that the sequence of Establish > Initiate > Peak > Release is important for readers/viewers understanding of what happens in a scene.

      As a writer, I want my scenes to end in a way that prompts readers to move on to the next chapter.

      You can certainly do it by going Release (for previous scene) > Establish > Initiate > Peak.However, as both a writer and a reader, that sequence of elements leaves me feeling unsatisfied. I want some sort of conclusion to the scene.

      I think the answer to “Where do you end a chapter?” is not in moving the Release to some other chapter, but to focus on using the Release as a place where you basically let your audience know whether the scene’s main character achieved his/her scene goal. The suspense comes not from withholding information (i.e. the Release), but by adding a tidbit of new information.

      For example, your protagonist has achieved (or not achieved) his/her scene goals but…is now in deeper doo-doo because…

      This raising and releasing of dramatic tension is a real challenge to pull off. Once you master it, however, you are well on your way to writing some real page-turners.

      • pjmoore58 says

        Thanks, Peter. That makes a lot of sense. Most of my scenes have a natural conclusion that follow your structure. I’ll go back through the manuscript to see if (where) I have any artificial breaks.

      • Jennifer Bobrowicz says

        Your article helps me better understand how to keep my scenes focused while including important details. This is my first attempt at a novel, so my learning curve has been steep. In a nutshell, the scene’s Peak drives the writing of that scene.

        However, I’m confused on how I could use your framework along with the model of scene/sequel KM Weiland explains in her books. Katy’s method has helped immensely with structuring my WIP, but I’d like to know if I can meld the two. So, here are my specific questions.

        The Peak Action seems like it could be the Disaster in the Scene (Weiland) and the Outcome seems like it could apply to the Reaction in the Sequel (Weiland). The Outcome would then go into the next scene or even the next chapter. Your framework has scenes divided into 4 parts, while Katy shows two types of scenes (Scene/Sequel) with each divided into 3 parts. Perhaps, I’m splitting hairs or not fully understanding something. The Scene/Sequel framework (Weiland) seems to work well in establishing goal, conflict, and a mini climax (Disaster in the Scene), and then it (hopefully) keeps the reader wondering how the character will respond in the next scene/chapter.

        So, can the two methods be melded together? In your opinion, is ending with the Peak and picking up with the Outcome a mistake? Do I understand correctly that the scene should be wrapped up (no cliffhangers) with the Outcome, then a new question should be raised to keep the reader going?

        Thanks for this article. This website has been so helpful to me and given me a boost of confidence to begin. Hopefully, this makes sense.

      • Elizabeth L Richards says

        Your comment about not liking cliffhangers resonated with me. Giving the reader more information to ratchet up the tension is so much more difficult but also more organic/less contrived.

        Thinking about why cliffhangers are not fun, I realised that a cliffhanger requires me as the reader to devote part of my attention to maintaining the unresolved scene. Which leaves less of my attention to focus on the next part of the story. And given that humans have limited ability to hold multiple concepts in working memory (4-7 depending on what you read), you are actually Distracting your reader from the next scene. With less attention To focus, they are less invested. And so they wander off – maybe to jump ahead and see how the dangling bit gets resolved or to do something else that caught their limited attention.

        But more relevant information, that builds on what the reader already knows, thrusts/carries the reader forward into the next scene with the confidence that their questions are going to be resolved. They are eager to read to the end of the next scene.

        I think it’s like going into a restaurant that smells really good, reading a compelling menu, oRedoing something that sounds great…and then waiting too long for the entree to be delivered. Waiting doesn’t increase my pleasure, And it doesn’t make me want to come back.

        • I agree with you and Stackelberg. Major cliffhangers are tiresome and disruptive. I’ve been upset enough to skip chapters in order to find that resolution before returning to where I left off. I hate doing it, since I also don’t want to ruin the order of reveals the author has constructed.

          I view cliffhangers in a story as ‘jump scares’ in a horror movie. It’s a cheap scheme to make the consumer feel something, and caters to our basic animal instincts rather than our higher brain function. A master author/director can make consumers feel without the ‘fast food’ variety of techniques. If you’re an author relying on these quick approaches to creating tension, I offer the metaphor of Yoda’s wisdom: “No, no, no. Quicker, easier, more seductive,” [but ultimately flawed and weaker].

          That being said, there is an audience for everything. I’ve heard people complain leaving a horror movie that it LACKED jump scares. Subtlety is lost on many people, so know your audience, and shape your writing accordingly.

    • “Frodo was alive but taken by the Enemy” is very possibly my favorite line in all of literature. It clearly states the dilemma in a very emotional and intense way, and in my opinion, heightens the tension more than an abrupt cliffhanger ever could. When a book switches POVs in the middle of a battle, we think, “Oh, yes, I see what they’re trying to pull, getting me worried about what will happen to the hero; well, he’ll be fine.” We know what needs to happen–the hero needs to brace up and stab the enemy. But when faced with a dilemma like Sam’s, we balk. What CAN Sam do? We haven’t the slightest idea what WE would do–and there’s the tension. The unknown is far scarier than any visible enemy. It is a release of the original tension (oh, no, Frodo is dead!), but there’s a new problem, and we turn the page (well, we start the next book!).

      These are just a few thoughts on another angle of your question. I’m just as curious about the answer as you are! Best of luck. 🙂

    • pvonstackelberg says

      What I mean by “…except when it doesn’t” is that there is no precise formula for great writing. There are always exceptions, which is what makes it so difficult to be a great writer. I recommend to my students that they listen to and try all suggestions when it comes to writing but adopt or adapt just what works for them.

      What works for me as a writer definitely won’t work for some other people. They have their own approach, which works for them. Great! Keep using it.

      However, if you aren’t getting the results you (and ultimately your readers) want, take a look at a broad range of tools and techniques and see what will help your solve a particular problem. I don’t have all the answers and I am suspicious of those who claim they do. What I do have is my own experience, both the successes and the failures, to share and it has been helpful to some writers.

  12. Olga Oliver says

    Many years ago I decided to be a writer instead of a brain surgeon. Now I believe the surgeon choice would have been more simple. How is it possible for a writer to ever feel a feeling of “well, I’ve learned so much about writing that I am confidant and can say: I AM A WRITER.” Thanks Katie, this scene structure info has many important veins running through any good story structure. The old story of we’re never through learning proves itself again. Grin and bear it, honey!

  13. JC Jones says

    Thanks for this! I’ve been stuck overthinking my story’s climax scene. Perhaps starting with the Peak will help.

  14. This morning, I woke up thinking, “I need help with my scenes. I’m struggling.” This was EXACTLY what I needed and, creepily enough, this is the third time this week (second today!) help for a problem has appeared almost instantly. I’m almost scared! 🙂

    Thank you for the post. This definitely clears a lot up, scene-wise. I can’t wait to get back to my WIP to write another scene!

  15. Scene structuring is one of the most robust and exciting concepts (in my mind) when it comes to storytelling. After getting a handle on what I want the story to say, and figuring out how to layer and structure the story so it imbues that meaning, getting down to the scene level is a blast! Peter, I love how simple the “Establish, Initiate, Peak and Release” is as a way of visualizing dramatic flow over the course of the scene. The narrative theory I’ve invested years in, has a similar approach whereas E.I.P.R. is seen from an analogy of an electric circuit: “Potential, Resistance, Current, Outcome.” The theory also ascribes to how the structure of scenes (the smallest micro unit of dramatic structure) and the order of them, builds meaning to the whole of your story-form, and what you’re trying to get across to your reader. Similar to your model, changing the order of these elements can effectively confuse the dramatic intent of the scene. Some interesting parallels though, no doubt!

    Second, I think it’s worth noting that as human beings – with as many hours of tv and film that we digest year over year since we were little – we are much more savvy to this idea of dramatic scene flow than we realize. Almost all of us intrinsically know how these scene mechanics work, but we have to unlearn and relearn them again when it comes to crafting our own dramatic scenes. It’s a funny thing because I think most of us have an innate sense for why one scene is more dramatic than another and could probably pinpoint why that is (in no uncertain terms)!

    Lastly, I think the modifiers you presented are useful tools, but I think they can easily be the most misunderstood. Something I’ve gathered over the years of writing is it’s not until you get a strong handle on the basics of scene flow and dramatic structure that you begin to realize HOW to apply the modifiers in a way that helps unify and clarify your original scene intent with the E.I.P.R.

    Thanks again Peter for sharing!

  16. Thank you, Peter! Your four-part walk through at the end is just what I needed today. I’m a writer who visualizes the story, and I always think of my openings as establishing shots, so this Framework fell right into place for me. Thanks again!

  17. pvonstackelberg says

    On my website I’ve posted a PDF of an 11-page demo of a graphic novel style scene highlighting the various elements. You can download it at

  18. I trip up on the word “goal” as it applies here (probably because I have too much business training). Allow me to elaborate a little using a skeleton.
    Protagonist has to get to spot X to meet Minor Character. Messenger is sent. The scene(s) that follow(s) is/are little more than a conversation.
    So what’s the Protagonist’s goal? I mean, said Protagonist may have no goal (prior to the arrival of the Messenger) except to get a good night’s sleep?
    Can either of you explain what I’m missing?
    Thanks ~

    • pvonstackelberg says

      I think you potentially have at least two scenes with different but related goals.

      Let’s set up the hypothetical scene…the Protagonist is Sam. She is an investigative reporter who needs a specific document as evidence of corporate malfeasance. Jerry is the Minor Character. Hector is the CEO who is trying to cover up that malfeasance by stopping Sam.

      Each character in the coming scene(s) has a goal.

      Sam’s Goal…get the information she needs (i.e. the document).
      Hector’s Goal…cover up a corporate crime.
      Jerry’s Goal…reveal wrong doing while protecting himself.

      First Scene

      Establish…Sam has finally got a meeting set up with Jerry and she sets out for the meeting spot. She keeps an eye on her rearview mirror. All seems well. The setting, the circumstances of the situation, etc. are established. What more can you add that tells the reader about the setting…is she heading from the middle class neighborhood where she lives to the abandoned warehousing down by the docks? Is it raining, making the roads slick? Etc. (Orient — one of the modifiers) You can add small bits of information (Detail – another of the modifiers) — is her car an old piece of junk that is highly unreliable or is it a well-maintained sports car that she can drive like a bat out of hell. How does the kind of car she has play into what is about to happen. Other small Details that add to the setting (and the scene’s tension).

      Initiate…She notices a car tailing her. She takes a couple of turns to check things out. The car behind turns with her. Sam realizes she has a problem. Does she abandon her effort to get the document and risk losing it forever or does she attempt to shake the tail and get to the meeting, risking both herself and her source? (Dilemma) What does she do? (Decision Point) Her ethics call for her to protect her source at any cost. Her reporter’s instincts call for her to get the document and expose the corporate crimes at almost any cost. (Aspects of the protagonist’s needs, wants, desires, etc. in an internal conflict) Sam decides to make a run for it, shake the tail off, and head to the meeting site.

      Peak…Sam finally shakes the tail when her nimble little sports car makes a turn that the heavier Mercedes in pursuit can’t/ The Merc spins out on the wet pavement and crashes into a building.

      Release…Sam looks back and see steam and smoke rising from the wrecked Merc. It is obvious that it is no longer going to follow her.

      Next Scene

      Establish…Sam pulls up outside the abandoned warehouse..the shadows seem to have eyes…mysterious sounds…etc.

      Initiate…Sam enters the warehouse. Her instincts are on high alert. She knows this is dangerous. What it it’s a set up? All is silent. Where is her source? She sees or thinks she sees a shadow move (Detail), hears a creaking floor (Detail), a whisper…”Over here.”…she turns. A shadowy figure stands in a doorway…the door she just came in and that is the only way out. (Prolong). Sam: “You have it? Source: “Maybe.” Sam: “Quit screwing around.” So on and so forth.

      Peak…Sam gets the document.

      Release…Sam has the vital information she wanted…plus an unexpected piece that shows she is in deeper trouble than she could have imagined.

      Next Scene

      Again…Establish > Initiate > Peak > Release

      These two scenes from “All the President’s Men” — — for a great example of how to use the Establish > Initiate > Peak > Release structure. As well, these two scenes are an excellent example of how to do the 1-2 punch of Scene & Sequel that Katie talks about.

      The terminology of “Scene” and “Sequel” can, I think, be somewhat misleading because it makes it appear that there is one of each. In fact, I think as Katie has pointed out, both the “Scene” and “Sequel” are scenes as we would normally define them — they have their own set of characters interacting in a well defined time and space.

      Both the initial scene and the one that follows should be developed using the E.I.P.R. structure. In the clip from All the President’s Men, these phases are pretty clear in the first scene but a little more subtle in the second scene but also follows the E.I.P.R. structure.

      • Jennifer Bobrowicz says

        Thanks! This has cleared things up for me. I appreciate the example from All the President’s Men and will check out the Youtube link.

      • Eric Troyer says

        Thanks for those excellent examples! I like how the ATPM scenes really cut to the chase. No extra fluff!

  19. Chris Bailey says

    Thanks you for the guest post, and many thanks to Peter Von Stackelberg for adding to the study of scene components. The idea of starting with the Peak is going to help so much in this revision I’m working on right now! I’ve been a Swain (goal/conflict/disaster) scene & sequel student for a long time, but blending multiple methods advances a full understanding of the craft. I *plead* for a bit of discussion about character motivation–where and how to incorporate the why.

  20. Alan Cline says

    Thanks, Katie and Peter. The approach is clear. It made me re-examine most of my scenes in my novel to see if they comply. More art to the path of better writing.

  21. Thank you. This is very clear and helpful advice.

  22. So if this isn’t an ‘action’ scene, but WF, how does this work out? I don’t feel like I have a PEAK, in the sense that something happens but more in terms of confrontation.

  23. Staci Ana says

    Wow! Definitely a very helpful post!! Thanks so much for sharing.

    I’m a bit giddy right now because I just bought four of K.M.’s books on Amazon. (Structuring Your Novel, it’s workbook and Outlining Your Novel and its workbook.) I am soooo excited.

    Yesterday I got Structuring Your Novel from the library (they only had one copy and I had to wait a month for it to arrive!) and I was so excited… until I realized that i liked it so much I wanted to own it, not give it back to the library. 🙁

    But -thank God- I got a gift card for 25 dollars and was able to buy those four books! I went a few bucks over the amount on the card, but thank God for Dad’s who care about what their daughters’ future occupations are. 😉 As in, Dad payed the rest of the seventeen $$.

    I know I sound like an ad or something, but honestly I’m going off the walls right now!! I cannot, cannot wait until they arrive! Are there any books I should read before them?

    Thanks Mr. Stackelburg for your post and K.M. Weiland for your amazing novels!

  24. Thank you so much for that PDF. For years I’ve used Rachel Savage’s “three-ring-circus” story structure template (© 2010) to make sure I’m on track once I’ve put down an outline, skeleton draft OR a stack of index cards, and even as I work through my first draft. However, that’s for the entire plot and doesn’t work as well for scenes. Reading this article, I found what I wanted and was contemplating how to “copy-and-steal” it when you offered the PDF! You’re a sweetheart, and it’s now a part of my process, stuck up on the wall beside the three-ring-circus. (A misnomer, since she breaks the middle “ring” into Part 2 – Response and Part 3 – Attack, so there’s four, but as she says, “even a three-ring-circus is organized”.)

  25. This. Is. Great!

    I have really needed exactly what this article covers, and had *no* idea. (Okay, well, truthfully, of course I had an idea. We know when we—or our scenes, more accurately—need something, that something important is missing.)

    I also couldn’t help but think of Swain’s scene’s and sequel’s as well, and—when looking at Figure 2—definitely his MRUs.

    You certainly have upped *my* game in one post. Well done!

    • After pondering this post and all the comments for days, I’ve come up with a von Stackelberg/Swain integration, of sorts (at

      I would love everyone’s thoughts!

      • pvonstackelberg says

        Hi Micah…I’ve taken a look at your post and find it very interesting. I’m going to mull it over for a couple of days but my initial thought is that your seven-step process makes a lot of sense. Your comments on scene goals for the POV character are on target. Knowing the scene goal and the outcome of a scene as it relates to that goal is vitally important. As well, your thoughts on the “Sequel” make sense to me.

        In the research that I’ve done over the years, I’ve run into models that identify as many as 12 different kinds of scenes. Basically, the different kinds of scenes are ways of identifying the function or purpose of a scene in the overall context of the story.

        My thought is that the Establish > Initiate > Peak > Release framework seems to be broadly applicable to the STRUCTURE of scenes, no matter what their FUNCTION/PURPOSE is. This is like distinguishing “This is how you build it” from “This is why you build it.” It is important to understand both when it comes to building whatever it is you are trying to assemble.

        The modifiers — Orient, Detail, and Prolong — can be added to the basic EIPR framework to tweak things so a given scene achieves its intended purpose, be it to serve as a Sequel or some other type of scene if you use some other model.

        I really appreciate the time and effort you’ve taken to think through and write about your perspectives on these various models. I’m looking forward to additional thoughts on this matter.

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