Winnie Griggs is the author of Historical (and occasionally Contemporary) romances that focus on Small Towns, Big Hearts, Amazing Grace. She is also a list maker, a lover of dragonflies and holds an advanced degree in the art of procrastination.
On a fun note – having been born on a Friday the 13th, Winnie has always considered 13 her lucky number. This belief was recently reinforced when her 13th book, Handpicked Husband, won a Romantic Times Reviewers Choice Award in – what else – 2013.
Let’s start by defining just what a scene is. My favorite definition is one that comes from author Holly Lisle.
She states that:
A scene is the smallest bit of fiction that contains the essential elements of story.
You see, the workhorse of a story is not words, or sentences or even paragraphs – but it is the scene. Because it is in a scene that we see the key element of any good story – namely relevant change.
There are eight elements that make up an effective scene:
- In an effective scene – something happens
The ‘something’ doesn’t have to be remarkable – it can simply be a stroll through the park or a trip to the beach. It can be as simple as a single activity or as complex as several dozen story beats rolled together.
- An effective scene should have a focus or goal
Note, the author must look at the scene goal on two different levels: One is to view this from the character’s perspective – what is the character hoping to accomplish during the course of this scene? The second is the reader perspective. What do you as the author want the reader to come away from this scene with?
- An effective scene should elicit a reaction
A well crafted scene will evoke an emotion of some sort, both in the characters and in the reader. Again, these won’t necessarily be the same. A good writer will choreograph her scene to tease the emotions she wants from both the characters and the readers
- An effective scene will have a story purpose
In other words, it must move the story forward in some fashion. This is the whole crux of your scene’s reason for being. Something necessary to the story as a whole must be contained within the scene to warrant its existence, otherwise it should be rewritten or ruthlessly cut.
- A scene should have structure
As in a full-blown story, each scene must have a well defined beginning, middle and end in order to be effective. It’s a mini-story of sorts – there is an inciting incident, a series of actions or beats, and then a resolution that tells us we’ve extracted everything we can from this particular scene. However, with the exception of the final scenes, the scene resolution does leave some unanswered questions, some loose ends if you will, that nudge the reader into the following scenes to try to find the answers.
- A scene should show logical, believable progression
The scenes should flow one from the other, sculpting and shaping your story in an aesthetically satisfying way that is entertaining and relevant. Each scene builds on the one that came before it and leads to the next – enhancing, changing, or redirecting your throughline, either subtly or forcefully – always pushing inexorably forward to the story’s resolution. CAUTION: Logical doesn’t mean predictable, but given what the reader knows about the characters and the situation, it must be a believable next step.
- A scene should have a mood or attitude
This is the underlying emotion in your story. Is it comedic, solemn, dark, light? Are there underlying urges or desires that drive your characters? These will play into your scene in subtle or overt ways, coloring the actions and goals, informing the responses of both the characters and the reader.
- The final element is the all-important element of
The change can be big or small, but you should be able to both identify it and see how it moves your storyline forward. This forward motion can come either through revelation or a relevant honing of character, world or plot. Again, something must change as the result of your scene – if it doesn’t, then, no matter how lyrical or elegantly crafted, no matter how invested you as a writer are in it, the scene must be ruthlessly deleted.
The way to create an engaging, well paced story is to make certain your scenes propel your story to a satisfying, fulfilling ending in an entertaining manner. Using this checklist will aide you in making your next work a page-turner.
What happens when a straight-laced young widow’s home is invaded by ten rambunctious orphans and their handsome caretaker just in time for the holidays?