Making a Scene

Main stage of the Palais Garnier, Paris

As I scribble away on my draft my main concern has been to get the main story points down. Over the last week I have been wondering if my rambling scenes are actually making sense as a scene. Are they achieving what they should? Am I just sharing information, or trying to show or learn a character’s motivation without that section actually progressing the plot?

What elements should be included in a scene for it to work?

Randy Ingermanson of the Snowflake Method suggests “Every scene within your story has two halves: the scene (in which characters are acting) and the sequel (in which characters are reacting).”

The scene includes:

  • Goal – what the character wants
  • Conflict – what is preventing the character reaching the goal
  • Outcome – whether the character overcomes the conflict and reaches the goal or not

The sequel then is the reaction to this scene:

  • Reaction – reacting to what has just happened
  • Dilemma – where the character considers the next move
  • Decision – making the decision that will move the character forward and sets up a new goal for the next scene.

Holly Lisle states that the essential element of every scene is change. There needs to be a clear place (setting) and timeframe for the scene to cover yet there must be a change that moves the story forward.

Susan Dennard is a YA writer with a wealth of useful information for writers of all levels…in looking at what she has described as the elements of a successful scene she listed four elements:

  • Protagonist
  • Antagonist
  • Scene Goal
  • Scene Conflict – what is preventing the protagonist of the scene reaching the goal


Everyone has a slightly different way of looking at this but the key points were goal and conflict to move the story forward.

Each scene must have a clear goal the character needs to reach and there must be some struggle or obstacle to reaching that goal. Often the goal is not reached which will impact on the next scene goal of the characters. Or it would be boring reading.

I like Holly Lisle’s idea that there must be a change and in trying to reach a goal I think there will be. Whether a character reaches it or not that attempt should produce a change that moves the story forward, whether that is in the character or where the character is…

Some of what I am currently writing is just be for me, to learn how characters work and act and interact with others and will not make it to the next draft. Everything I write at the moment is important even if it does not work to move the story forward.

There is much to consider when writing scenes and when I edit/rework/redraft my current project there will be more to consider as I focus on ensuring each scene works. At the moment I will continue to focus on the story points yet with the ideas of scene in my mind as I write I hope that each scene contains the elements required.

Many authors have written whole books on the subject of writing scenes, so I know there is far more than just making sure these elements are included…

Is it possible to consider all the elements required to make our writing work as we draft?

What element of your writing processes is slowing down your drafting at the moment?


Image by Joe deSousa via Wikimedia Commons