Novels are the combination of a number of scenes. A scene is where an incident occurs. Within a novel there are any number of scenes, but without scenes nothing happens in a piece of writing. Scenes move the story along. They get characters from point A to B to C. They are the showing aspect of novels.
Each scene has a beginning, a middle, and an end. Each has a larger picture and a smaller one. Each has an action, event, and consequence.
Typically a scene is broken up by chapters, breaks within chapters, or two to four summary-like sentences between paragraphs.
Sometimes a scene is carried over between chapters, where the end of a chapter acts as an uptick, some revelation that ups the tension to keep readers interested. Regardless of whether a scene ends or not, the end of a chapter should have an uptick. Then, the first line or two of the next chapter should grab readers’ attention.
Ever read a book you couldn’t put down? One where you neglected to do other things, like working out or going to the grocery store? Maybe you stayed up a few extra hours to finish the book, and then were exhausted the next day at work.
Many times one of the reasons you couldn’t put the book down is because you were compelled to read the next chapter, and the next, and the next. The end of each chapter left you wanting more, needing more.
Let’s break a scene down:
Action (the process of doing something)
Actions have a desired goal/outcome. Characters act in a certain way in the hope of producing a specific result.
Action is not passive. It’s not just movement. It’s the character going after something he wants.
This stage of a scene is dramatic. It unfolds from one moment to the next. There’s conflict and increased tension. Often there is an aspect unknown to the protagonist building in this section, think of someone lurking in the shadows.
Action leads to an event.
Event (the result)
This is the direct result of the action. This can be success, failure, setbacks, revelations, etc.
Was the goal accomplished? Did something get in the way and divert the protagonist’s attention?
The event changes the protagonist in some way. Without constant change, readers’ lose interest, so keep your protagonist on their toes, with occasional moments that shove them down into the dirt. Doing so will force them to arise anew.
An event leads to a consequence.
Consequence (the effect of the result)
There can be a single or multiple consequences to an event. These consequences can be big or small, sometimes both. They can be intentional or unintentional. Some consequences will be immediate, while others are delayed.
Like events, consequences change the protagonist. Many times consequences are unforeseen and force the protagonist to adapt or die/get captured/some ominous thing.
Every action leads to an event and every event leads to a consequence. A scene wouldn’t be complete without all three stages because all three stages are linked.
Each scene must follow the main plot of your novel on some level. After all, the big picture is the main plot.
What does your protagonist wish to accomplish overall?
For a good scene, you need two to three great details that stick with readers after the scene is over. Without those details, the scene will fade into the background and become part of a generic catalogue of scenes within readers’ minds.
Think of your favorite books. Can you recall specific scenes within them? How vivid are they? Can you picture them in your head?
If so, those are great scenes. Study them. Figure out the different stages. Figure out why you remember them. Learn from them.
How do you go about writing scenes?
(Photo courtesy of pixgood.)