Scene construction

Many of the scenes I see written by first novelists lack structure, development, and purpose. They seem to be the result of the writer’s thinking, “Oh, I guess I’ll start a scene here” and “Well, I guess I’ll end the scene now.” That’s not what you should do. Ya gotta have a plan, Stan.

To construct a fully fledged scene you have to begin with the proper scene framing (see my previous post about scene framing), and you have to include enough action to produce a well “rounded” scene. Scenes are the building blocks of your story. Each one should relate a significant, self-contained episode that has a beginning, a middle, and an end, just as the novel as a whole should have a beginning, a middle, and an end.

This is the basic, age-old dramatic structure that Aristotle first called the “narrative arc.” Instead of using the terms beginning, middle, and end, we can describe the narrative arc of a story as the Complication, the Crisis, and the Resolution. Novelists need to think of each scene as a ministory with a similar narrative arc.

Just as important is the purpose of the scene. If a writer doesn’t know what purpose the scene will serve, then it will likely lack structure and the proper development. To help guide you in writing a scene, keep this list handy:


• Move the main plot line ahead

• Present necessary information

• Introduce or develop characters • Create atmosphere or develop setting

• Introduce or worsen a problem

• Solve a problem

• Set up a later scene

The scene should serve at least one of these purposes.

Also, during the planning stage of your scene, ask yourself these questions:

• Who will be the viewpoint character?

• What other characters will be in this scene?

• Where will this scene take place?

• When will it take place?

• What is the primary action that will occur in the scene?

• What will generate conflict?

Do all these things, and you will have an effective scene that will encourage readers to keep reading your story.

Paul Thayer