Scene was discussed a lot in the McDaniel Romance Writing program. What is a scene? When does it start? When does it end? How does one scene relate to other scenes? At a basic level, a scene is a unit of conflict that advances the story. As Jennifer Crusie repeated over and over, a scene starts when the conflict starts and ends when the conflict ends. One of the cheat sheets (among many) that I have plastered around my writing space is a series of questions that stemmed from conversations during the workshop on structure. When I write a scene, I don’t always think of all this but I do use it afterwards to analyze and fix the scene.
- What is the main conflict in the scene?
- Who wins the conflict in the scene?
- How is the protagonist worse off (further away from his/her goal) at the end of the scene? Or is the protagonist better off?
- How has the protagonist changed at the end of the scene?
- How is the antagonist worse off (further away from his/her goal) at the end of the scene? Or is the antagonist better off?
- How has the antagonist changed at the end of the scene?
- How does this scene throw the reader into the next (or another future) scene?
The conflict between the protagonist and the antagonist should arise from goals that directly block each other. The opening scene of one of my favorite books, Family Man by Jayne Ann Krentz, is Katy versus Luke. Katy’s goal is to get Luke to come to Seattle and take over management of the family business. Luke’s goal is to stay in Oregon and make money through his consulting business. They both have strong motivations for their goals, they can’t both get what they want, and it’s Katy who loses this round. But Luke is changed at the end of the scene and he makes the decision to help Katy which throws the reader into a future scene when he arrives in Seattle.
Another guide tacked to my bulletin board is The Seven Essential Elements of Scene. I found it on Jane Friendman’s website excerpted from Martha Alderson’s The Plot Whisperer Workbook (http://janefriedman.com/2012/08/29/7-elements-scene/)
How does this apply to my new year as a writer? I hope to craft better scenes that do all of the above. The first one I’m going to work on is a scene between my protagonist and antagonist that has been giving me fits for weeks. I’ve skipped it too many times to count and I need to get it down on paper. Then use these two lists (and a bunch of others) to strengthen and tighten it. Off to write a scene . . .