Sunday, July 29, 2012

The Structure of a Scene in a Novel

I was thinking to myself that I hadn't written a post giving writer-y advice and tips for quite some time. So, I figured that I would let you in on my recent look at scene structure. Scene structure has always confused me because there are so many different scenes that I've read, but apparently they all follow the same basic structure.
This is a section of my white board where I've been writing things down about scene structure as I discover them. My printing and spelling is pretty sad, but it's fine for a jot board. On that note, if you don't have a whiteboard or something similar I highly recommend getting one. It's a great aid to coming up with ideas!

Anyways, here is the structure that seems to be coming up the most often:
Scene:
GOAL- What is the character trying to accomplish in this scene? In this post the author calls this a micro-goal because it's a small goal that will accomplish the larger over-all goal. I'm going to use Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows as an example. There will be spoilers in this example fyi. Harry trying to defeat Voldemort is the overall goal, but a micro-goal would be breaking into Bellatrix's vault Gringotts Bank to get one of the Horcruxes.

CONFLICT- What is standing in the way of accomplishing the goal? In HP and the bank scene there are many obstacles. First they have to get through the bank's security and then inside the vault everything they touch multiples. They meet up with Deatheaters and their disguises are tested. You get the idea of obstacles.

DISASTER / TURNING POINT-They fail in some way, something goes wrong, or some piece of important info is discovered (eg. a bomb is going to go off in 10 minutes!). If the characters get what they want (their goal)with no consequences then the reader will stop reading. Disaster doesn't always mean that the micro-goal doesn't get accomplished it just means that some other problem arises. In the HP example they get the cup (their goal), BUT Griphook (a goblin helping them) takes the sword (another Horcrux that they need to accomplish over-all goal*NEW PROBLEM!*) and now Voldemort is aware of their search (*NEW PROBLEM*). So even though they accomplished their goal they are left with another problem(s)/disaster.

This is the structure of the following scene that this author calls a Sequel in his post:
REACTION-How do the characters react to this new problem or failure? It's important to remember that this doesn't have to be a long brooding section from the MC, but there has to be some reaction. In the HP example, the three friends get to their campsite and we see Voldemort's reaction through Harry. I'm sure there is some reaction from the three friends as well, but I'm just doing this scene from memory and Sparknotes.

DILEMMA-What are the solutions to the new problem? The solutions should all be bad or cost something; that's why it's called a dilemma. In the HP example, the problem that becomes the the most significant problem is Voldemort has found out about their search, so he is going to move the Horcrux that they need, which they know is at Hogwarts. Of course Harry and his friends can't let that happen, so they have to figure out what they are going to do to fix their new problem. They could go after Voldemort to try to stop him from moving it, they could try to get the the Horcrux before Voledemort gets to it.

DECISION-The character picks the best solution. They set a plan of action. In the HP example, they decide to go to Hogsmeade (the village outside of Hogwarts) and get the Horcrux from Hogwarts.
By this time the characters will have a new goal and the process is repeated again.


I know that this post has been a thicker piece of writing, but learning this structure and pulling this scene apart has helped me structure my stories a bit better. I've still got a few hesitations about this method, but it's a very good place to start. Let me know what you think of this method in the comments!

In closing here is some other things to think about in regards to scenes:
-Try to combine character building scenes and scenes that move the plot forward. Try to avoid scenes just for the sake of character building.
-Think about how necessary a scene is before you write it. Would the story be the same without it?

What I'm reading: Graceling by Kirstin Cashore
What I'm listing to: OneRepublic
What I'm watching: Alphas

P.S. Who enjoyed seeing J.K. Rowling at the opening ceremonies of the London Olympics?

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