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Thursday, August 11, 2005

Scene and Sequel: Scene

The basic structure of a story consists of a Scene, followed by a Sequel. A Scene is a real-time unit of conflict. A Sequel is the transition period that links two Scenes.

A Scene moves your story forward by changing your character’s situation.

A Scene has three parts:

1) Goal

Your character should enter the Scene wanting something specific and concrete. The character’s goal should be short-range and urgent for that moment in time.

It could be a material object--Man enters shop to buy a watch. It could be something immaterial but still specific--Man enters shop to ask shopgirl on a date, or Man enters shop to kill the man who stole his car.

It could also be a goal to resist some force--Man enters shop to prevent rival from dating his girl.

No meandering motivations. Your character should want the goal badly enough that he’ll fight for it. If your character doesn’t care about his goal, your reader won’t.

Keep the point of view consistent. Also, the point of view character should have the most to lose in the Scene.

2) Conflict

Make it harder for your character to achieve his goal. Remember, Conflict is not just general unpleasantness, but some action or new information that is directly against what your character wants.

For example:

Man enters shop to buy a watch, but shopkeeper comes up with lame excuses not to sell it.

Man enters shop to ask shopgirl on a date, but customers keep interrupting him.

Man enters shop to kill the man who stole his car, but thief is already dead.

Man enters shop to prevent rival from dating his girl, but rival entices her with gifts, then starts throwing punches.

Make sure there is formidable opposition. If your villain is weak, there’s no conflict.

Beware repetition. Throw in twists and turns. Don’t just argue over the same issues ad nauseum.

3) Disaster

A Disaster is a totally unexpected action or new information that leaves the character at a loss. It serves as an ending hook to keep the reader reading. It should be completely believable but Truly Horrible.

For example:

Man enters shop to buy a watch, but shopkeeper comes up with lame excuses not to sell it. Then man discovers shopkeeper had promised it to a Mafia leader.

Man enters shop to ask shopgirl on a date, but customers keep interrupting him. Then shopgirl’s boyfriend walks in.

Man enters shop to kill the man who stole his car, but thief is already dead. Then man finds papers proving the thief is his brother.

Man enters shop to prevent rival from dating his girl, but rival entices her with gifts, then starts throwing punches. Then rival throws man out of the shop.

Exercise:

Write a Scene with Goal, Conflict and Disaster.

Next: Sequel

NOTE: Information in this article is taken from the classic "Techniques of the Selling Writer" by Dwight V. Swain.

Back to Articles from Swain

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