4 Functions Every Scene Must Have
By: Caitlin Lambert
Hi everyone… I’m Caitlin! Today I am visiting Claerie’s blog to talk about 4 necessities of every scene. Claerie is over on my blog, Quills & Coffee (www.caitlinlambert.com), talking about how to create magic systems, so make sure to go check it out!
Thank you, Claerie, for having me! Let’s get started…
A great manuscript (and therefore a great story) is made up of many things – good pacing, great plot, gripping action, three-dimensional characters, big stakes (to name a few). Just like atoms make up all matter, scenes make up all stories. They are the building blocks and the foundation of your writing. It may seem easy to string words together, but any writer knows it is MUCH harder than it looks ;D
A scene carries a lot of weight, and considering each one’s importance and structure can help you both write great scenes and edit out any unnecessary ones.
I will be talking about four things every scene should accomplish. Now, each scene does not need to check off all four boxes, but each does need to function under at least one. Missing all of these aspects could contribute to slow pacing, shallow characters, or broken flow.
Of course, scenes which accomplish more than one thing are ideal. If you can combine, for example, description into a scene where the characters are moving location, all the better!
However, each scene should do at least one of the following:
ADVANCE THE PLOT
These scenes get your characters from point A to point B. In other words, something happens. The story arc as a whole advances. If you imagine your story like a staircase, with the first step being page one and the last step being “the end”, scenes make up every stair in between. If your characters never do anything, you will go nowhere, and your plot will never advance.
There are a number of things which might fall under this category. A critical piece of information might be revealed. Your characters might physically move location (i.e. a journey, location change, etc.). An event takes place where there are stakes, a choice, and a result. In the end, your character stands in a different position (where literally or figuratively) than they were initially.
BUILD THE WORLD
World-building is a critical part of any story. Characters do not function apart from a world. A narrative which is firmly grounded in a setting (complete with rules, landscapes, environment, people, etc.) will be much more realistic and engaging than a story which takes place in a weak world.
Scenes which build the world may be descriptive or informative in nature. They could illustrate the history, or the laws, or the structure of the world. How does the justice system work? What do the surroundings look like?
FLESH OUT A CHARACTER
This might include flashbacks or dreams, for example. Dreams, more than likely, don’t advance the plot. However, they often explore a character’s fears, or a memory that haunts them. It strengthens the reader’s understanding of what drives the character. What scares them, motivates them, fuels their anger or passion.
Conversations can also function in this way. While dialogue can many times advance the plot (here’s a great place to kill two birds with one stone!), it can also flesh out a singular character, and a relationship (see next point). In my current WIP, for example, there are quite a few scenes between my MC and her brother that really delve into her brother’s personality and strengthen his character. Even if the plot isn’t necessarily being advanced by their conversation, a very important part of his nature or personality is.
STRENGTHEN A RELATIONSHIP
As I mentioned above, dialogue is a great place for relationship building. In real life, this is also the case. Think about how often we interact with each other through our words (whether verbal or technological). You learn a lot about a person by talking to them. It is one of two major ways to understand a personality – (1) words, and (2) actions.
We writers tend to focus a lot of attention on plot. We are afraid that our story might move too slowly, and so we strive to keep the pace moving, so we don’t bore our readers to death and cause them to lose interest. Am I right? 😉
But while plot is definitely important, relationships should also be given attention. It does not matter AT ALL what is happening in a story if the reader doesn’t care about who it’s happening to. When you care about a character, you care about their struggles, their flaws, their losses. You care that they reach their goal, whatever it might be.
Give attention to your MC and secondary characters – their individual personalities, but also their relationships with each other. Make the reader care.
HOW DOES THIS ALL APPLY?
So what do these four functions mean for your story? When you are writing, try to identify the purpose of a scene. Generally, you want every scene to advance the lot in some way. The other three things are “builders”, but they can double as plot-advancers as well. Even if a scene is absolutely beautiful, it might need to be cut, if it doesn’t have a purpose.
Every scene must matter. Every scene must add something to the story.
When you are editing, re-evaluate your scenes. How do they function independently, and how do they work as a whole? If you find that your story is dragging, or your characters are flat, your scenes might not be serving any of these roles. Evaluate, and if necessary, cut!
Thank you for having me! I hope you all enjoyed this post! I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below… Do you struggle with finding a purpose for each of your scenes? What have you struggled with when it comes to pacing and character depth?
I’d love to connect with you all! Here is a little about me, and where you can find me…
Caitlin Lambert is the mind behind Quills & Coffee, where she shares tips, tools, & encouragement for writers. She writes YA sci-fi/fantasy novels, and is currently querying her second book, WHAT LIES ABOVE, while drafting her third. When she’s not writing or working, you can find her reading, composing piano, and adding endless destinations to her travel bucket list. Or quite possibly eating dark chocolate.
Website: Quills & Coffee www.caitlinlambert.com