Structuring Your Story’s Scenes, Pt. 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. But all you clever Wordplayers seem to have caught on without so much as hitch. When I sent out a call for any final questions on Facebook and
Twitter, I received only two.

One asked for info on character arcs in a sequel, as compared to a previous book. This, of course, refers to the “sequel” as the term applies to follow-up stories in a series, and not to the sequel as the second half of the Scene. But it’s a good reminder that this often confusing term pertains to two totally separate aspects of storytelling.

The second question asked for examples of scenes and sequels from popular stories. In answer to that, I’ll direct readers back to the previous posts in the series, since practically every one demonstrates Scene structure from well-known books and movies.

In lieu of any other official questions, I thought I’d share a few that were asked in the comments section at the end of previous posts in the series. If you have a question that isn’t addressed here, please feel free to ask it below!

Q. I try to stick to the mission-driven scene concept, trying to build each scene around the things my plot (or my character) needs to happen. But I have noticed that there are moments when certain scenes are meant to give an insight of the scene (the character-driven scene) and, in my experience, readers don’t usually get it and find those scenes unnecessary. I’m still wondering how to avoid that!—Meryl

Structuring Your Novel: Essential Keys for Writing an Outstanding StoryA. Speaking generally, “plot” Scenes are usually scenes and “character” Scenes are usually sequels. Scenes drive the action forward; sequels allow characters and readers alike to absorb and react to what’s happened. That, of course, is a gross generalization, but suffice it that a story can’t exist without both. Plot and character, when done right, can never be extracted from each other.

Q. How would you actually go about showing a scene instead of telling the scene?—JustSarah

A. Showing is all about dramatization vs. summary (which is telling). You may find this post helpful.

Q. When structuring scenes, would it be considered tacky to give each scene sort of a premise sentence?—JustSarah

A. When it comes to outlining, I highly recommend doing just that. If you can plot out each scene’s arc—goal, conflict, disaster—as well as each sequel’s arc—reaction, dilemma, decision—you’ll be way ahead of the game in constructing a solid plot from beginning to end. As for stating the Scene’s “premise” in the text itself, that’s rarely a bad idea, since you always want readers to understand any given Scene’s focus.

Q. When I read about your POV change in the same scene my brain went berserk! Hauntings of don’t head hop played through my mind. I guess if you know the rules and break them, it is okay. When I wrote my first novel, I did many POV switches and was reprimanded constantly because of it. It had a similar feel to what you wrote.
So why in some cases is it acceptable and at other times it isn’t? Is it only acceptable in the occasional scene? Or can you do it throughout a novel? I’d really like to know your view.—Michael Di Gesu

A. What you’re seeing in the Scene I quoted from isn’t head hopping. Head hopping occurs when you’re switching POVs (usually multiple times) within a single Scene without any indication of a Scene break. If I had jumped into the second character’s head without using the three asterisks to signal a Scene break, that would have been head hopping. The key to successful POV switches is giving each POV a large chunk of time. In the Scene I’ve quoted from, both characters’ POVs each received half the chapter. If, on the other hand, I had switched back and forth every few paragraphs, that would have been way too much hopping around, even with asterisks to signal the Scene breaks.

Q. I wanted to ask about where to place a sequel. Is it generally considered wise to open a book with a sequel? I’m contemplating opening this one character arc this way, but I’m not sure if it would leave them wondering, “Ok, so what are the characters reflecting about?”—JustSarah

A. Not that it cant be done, but it’s absolutely better not to open with a sequel. Start with your character acting, hook readers in, then slow down to reflect.

***

And that brings us to the end of our series! I hope you’ve enjoyed the last twelve weeks and found this journey into the finer points of story structure to be enlightening and even empowering. Solid stories are built on the minutiae of solid Scenes. If you can put together a Scene, you can write a whole book, easy-peasy!

*For the purposes of this series, “Scene” with a capital S will refer to the scene in general (which can include in its definition the sequel). I’ll use a small s and italicize scene and sequel to refer to the two different types of Scenes.

Tell me your opinion: Do you have any questions about Scene structure?

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About K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland

K.M. Weiland lives in make-believe worlds, talks to imaginary friends, and survives primarily on chocolate truffles and espresso. She is the IPPY and NIEA Award-winning and internationally published author of the Amazon bestsellers Outlining Your Novel and Structuring Your Novel. She writes historical and speculative fiction from her home in western Nebraska and mentors authors on her award-winning website.

Comments

  1. Great sound advice as always. I’m wondering if you address the “linking” of scenes to scenes, sequels to scenes and so forth. My muddly process is that I usually plunge in and write several dozen scenes and sequels that don’t automatically build a narrative, and I have to go back and work the “which leads to” part of each one. Is there a word for that? Not sure I’m making 100% sense but I’m grateful for the forum to explore these questions!

  2. Only recently discovered your website and have found it so helpful. Thank you. This series has been especially enlightening as for some odd reason given their importance, scenes don’t seem to get much coverage in How to books or blogs. For the first time I really get it. Out of curiosity is there a typical wordcount for a scene (ignore sequels as you said before they could be half a sentence or stretch across chapters)? I read somewhere 1500 max was a rule of thumb.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      I average between 2500-3500 for my scenes. There really isn’t a standard, although it’s good to shoot for consistent lengths within the same book.

  3. My good friend Madison recently recommended I read through this whole series, and I did! it helped me SO. MUCH. I ended up taking a ton of notes and now I understand Scenes much, much better! Thank you SO much for all of the hard work you do. Us beginner authors couldn’t do it without you!!

    -Hope

  4. Please help! So I am really struggling with this concept for my book in particular. It’s a contemporary story with a romance subplot. I’m struggling with making everything end in a disaster. It feels like that would only work in action/thriller novels.

    For example, when my character goes to work one day she gets served with divorce papers. She didn’t necessarily have any goals… this was something that just happened to her. (Can a goal be to “have a good day at work” lol)

    OR

    I have one scene ironed out to where she’s trying to get a job to show her husband she’s “trying” and when she scores 2 interviews and lets him know via text he sends her a “thumbs up” emoji. As if he really doesn’t care. (Can that be a disaster?!) Or does it need to be something bigger…

    Thank you so much for any insight!

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      Disasters can be comparatively very small. Both of the instances you mentioned here are perfect–as long as they influence the need for a new goal in the following scenes.

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