Michille: Reasons for Scene

Red Stage Curtain

My goal for the next week or so is to get several powerful scenes written. By powerful, I mean scenes with multiple purposes in the story. As we have discussed here many times, every scene is a unit of conflict. I want to write scenes that go beyond a unit of conflict.

Debra Dixon, in Goal, Motivation & Conflict, suggests that there should be at least three reasons for every scene and at least one of those must address a characters goal, motivation or conflict. Dwight Swain talks about scenes and sequels with the sequel consisting of reaction, dilemma, and decision. Other purposes I’ve come across are to establish atmosphere, develop pathos, or create suspense. I’m hoping that by combining reasons for a scene, I can eliminate backstory, narrative summary and other ‘reasons’ that drag a story down.

But maybe I should say, restrict backstory, narrative summary, etc. Because stories need backstory. They don’t need big narrative passages that dump it all on the reader (especially in a series when the author does a soap opera style “as you know” rehash). I am re-reading the Julia Quinn’s Bridgerton series (because she is doing a promotion so they are being released at $1.99 a week until her new one is out). There is a scene in An Offer From a Gentleman that is repeated in Romancing Mr. Bridgerton. In the first story, it is in Benedict’s head (as I recall). In the second, it’s in Penelope’s. I suppose it’s more of a prologue scene in the second book, but it happens before the real story starts – therefore backstory. It’s a good scene, but since I read the preceding story, I didn’t need a rehash – just a few lines would have done it woven into another scene. Of course, since Julia Quinn makes a lot more money writing romance than I do, she can’t be doing too many things wrong.

Conflict is a given. In trying to apply the three reasons to my scenes, I have identified some of the reasons for my scenes that are in addition to the main conflict. Some introduce new characters, increase sexual tension, build or break down trust, expose backstory, or foreshadow a future event.

What reasons do you have for your scenes? How many have you been able to include in a single scene?

5 thoughts on “Michille: Reasons for Scene

  1. My goal for the next week or so is also to get several powerful scenes written, Michille. I’ve always written sequentially, but this time I got a really clear picture of some powerful, important scenes towards the end of the book, so I’m trying to get them down while they’re fresh in my mind. I think they’d pass the ‘three reasons’ test, but I’m not worrying about it yet, just trying to capture the essence and the emotion. If I can get that right now, hopefully I can build on it when I start revising.

    • Certainly, don’t let craft get in the way of getting words on the page. Craft gets in the way often enough after they are on the page. I always write out of order. I usually start with ideas for the big scenes then have to figure out how the characters get from point A to point B. Good luck with your scenes.

  2. Argh! I just spent two hours working on three scenes in one chapter—fleshing out, adding emotion, expanding conflict, deleting redundancies and inconsequentialities—and I now have 300 words fewer than when I started. That’s good, I guess, if it improves the whole thing, but it sure doesn’t feel like the right direction. As for making sure each scene has three elements—that’s a good rule of thumb. Tomorrow when I go back, I’ll check for that. Every scene that has more elements has greater richness, so it’s well worth the effort.

  3. I’m first drafting, so the only thing a scene has to do is tell me more about the story. This week, I’m working on the villain — what’s her motivation, and just who is she? It’s all headwork right now, but since I’m commenting late, I’ve got a new week ahead of me, and I hope to get several scenes down on paper over the course of the week. Then I can work on making the scenes powerful!

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