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How To Construct A Scene

In a previous post, I showed the structure of a scene. At the time, I thought it was adequate and, up to that point, it was what worked for me. Recently, however, I have come up with another way of thinking about my scenes and how to construct them.

After wrestling with ideas and even struggling with how to create my scenes and use them in a way they would satisfy all the necessary components that make up scene construction, I have devised a way that does that and more.


For a recap on scene construction, you can go here: https://tleemessick.com/2019/01/21/scenes-arent-what-you-think/


So what’s the difference between then and now? I think I made it easier–for me at least–to construct a scene in a way that leads me to the next.

When I was a kid, I used to love the word game Mad Libs. For those who don’t know or have never heard of it, Mad Libs was a booklet of paragraphs where you asked a bunch of weird questions to a friend and wrote down the answers as you were given the responses. Then, when all the questions were answered, you read the paragraph above with the answers the friend provided. Most of the time, the answers had absolutely nothing to do with the main idea of the paragraphs and were often funny (as they were meant to be).

I remember going through those booklets with my friends for hours at a time, many times we’d be in tears at our own hilarity. Little did I know that those little questionnaires would lead to an idea that would help me to create the scenes in my writing–much more serious, I would like to hope.

As a recap, most scene/sequel combinations need the following parts: a goal, a conflict, a disaster or two, a reaction, a dilemma, and a decision. Right, sound easy? Well, I have found that in theory, everything looks easy when you say it a certain way. In practice, not so much.

I was actually using this pattern to fill my stories with the scenes it needed so that everything was orderly and structured. What I found, though, was that it didn’t really make it easy for me to make them when I saw them as separate entities such as described in the aforementioned post.

They parts were there, to be sure. The problem was that they really didn’t have flow. I really didn’t make the connections to how I constructed the scene. So what did I do? Well, one day, I got to thinking about how I could make these scenes so that I could not only make them flow better, but also make them where they made sense. After thinking for a bit about the mechanics of it all, I found that I could write a descriptive paragraph about the scene.

That seemed to work, but it still suffered from not having all the things that made a scene/sequel combination that satisfied all the required parts. I needed to make a template that could be repeatable and contain everything that a budding scene needed to grow.

Scene Template Figure 1

I added a few things so that the paragraph made some sense, but all the things that make up a scene/sequel combination are there. The goal is rather self-explanatory. The conflict, in this case, I decided to call it the obstacle, because that’s what the conflict really is. I added result since when there is a conflict, there is always something that happens as a result. Next, I put in the situation that should have been in order to include an idea of what was supposed to happen in an ideal world–which in a story means snoresville and the death of your writing career. The disaster is what really happens. This is where the scene ends and the sequel begins. Now we have a reaction from the protagonist, usually it’s internal or their gut reaction. Here I also included a pronoun instead of having he/she/they has/have in the paragraph, you simply put he has if the POV character is male or they have if there is more than one POV character. Okay, this next thing is what I think makes this all work. Bad Choice 1 and Bad Choice 2.

I feel this is important enough to make a whole new paragraph because this is where I felt that I let my characters off the hook too many times. Usually, I gave them what I thought was a dilemma, but really ended up being something that could easily be decided. Decisions after a disaster usually never leave two easy decisions. They leave behind a massive dilemma that has to take the lesser of two evils in order to be made. Hence why the wording is Bad Choice 1 and 2. Sure there could be better choices, but by putting only two down that forced me to find the worst things that could happen and make my POV character chose between only those two things. Everything else was off the table. This not only tightens the noose around the POV character’s neck, but also ratchet’s up the tension. Tension = excitement. Excitement = undivided reader attention. Undivided reader attention = page turning. And as a result, a decision is going to be made that starts the cycle over. The decision then becomes the new goal for the next scene/sequel combination.

You can download the scene template below. All you have to do is answer the questions below the paragraph and they will fill in the corresponding parts. Then, what I do, you can copy the resulting paragraph into the word processor of your choice (in my case, I use Scrivener™).

I hope this helps when creating scene and, as always, happy writing!

Lee

If you have any suggestions, comments, or just want to say hi, please leave a comment. I would love to hear from you!

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