The different types of Scenes

scene type

What is scene?

Scene: a unit of dramatic action that takes places in a single location in a single point in time.

In film,  a scene is generally thought of as the action in a single location and continuous time. the term scene refers to the continuity of the observed action – an association of time, place or characters. In drama, a scene is a unit of action, often a subdivision of an act. It is a division of an act presenting continuous action in one place.

A scene is a mini-story, with a beginning, middle and ending. It shows actions, embedded in description and background material. Creating them means finding ways for your story to show itself, rather than ways for you to tell it. Scenes are the specific stages by which your main characters motivations are enacted against opposition, internal or external (or both). A scenes has a cause-effect relationship with other scenes. Each scene shows something crucial or established at that point in the story.

How many scenes per story? Film 40-70, novels 80-140

Prep work before writing a new scene

Answer the following questions for yourself:

  • What is the objective world (as you, the author, knows it)?
  • What does each featuring character believe at this point? Do these beliefs contradict each other?
    Consider making a timeline chart of “who knows what when”, listing each scene and what the major players believe at that stage & what the reader believes at that stage.
  • How do the characters act on their beliefs?
  • What does the reader believe/know at this point?

What every scene must do

  • State the protagonist scene intention. A scene intention has to be related to the significant situation of the narrative and can be different for every scene. In every scene the protagonist should be motivated by two things: his scene intention at the start of the scene and his personal history. Personal history shows character nature which explains why the person is the way he is and why he reacts the way he does.
  • It advances the plot: It either starts something new or reacts to what happened before.
  • It demonstrates the characters: at least one character goes through some kind of change.
  • Each scene must give at least one piece of new information that relates to one of the major plot questions: Who? What? Where? When? Why? How? The how and why are the most elusive and often unanswered until the very end. New information fills a piece of the puzzle, it changes the path of the character and pushes the plot forward. Spread the information like planning a five course meal. Each plate satisfies a little, yet leaves you wanting more until the desert satisfies you fully.

Scene types

Proactive & reactive scenes

There are two kinds of scenes, proactive and reactive. Proactive scenes include a goal, conflict and a setback (also known as SCENE). Reactive scenes include a reaction, dilemma and decision(also known as SEQUELS).

And now you’ve come full circle. You’ve gone from proactive scene to reactive scene and back to the Goal for a new proactive scene.

Key Scenes vs minor scenes

Every story needs memorable moments. These moments are set-pieces and they lead the reader right up to the final destination. Each set piece is a major scene, or turning point. It changes the story and the characters, giving it a new direction. Each individual crisis leading up to the set-piece, presents a fresh opportunity and offers new insight into the nature of the problem the protagonist faces. The outcome of the set-piece is of vital importance to the story. It matters, so deeply that the story and characters are changed because of it. They are meaningfully affected by the event, in a narrative and emotional way.

Step 1. Announce an upcoming event. Important: say why this event is important. Without anticipation, the event comes as a sudden knock against the back of the reader’s head. He didn’t see it comes, it was brief, a jolt and then it was over. No biggy. He will barely remember it.

Step 2. Prepare the reader for the major event. Using contrast increases the impact the set-piece makes when it finally happens. Use shorter scenes leading up to it, so your reader is comfortable to settle in for something more intense when the moment finally arrives. Use emotional contrast to avoid draining the reader’s sympathy. Is your set-piece fearful? Have a hopeful tone in the scene leading up to it.

Step 3. Deliver. These set-pieces make or break the story, which is why some authors find it easier to build up to them rather than actually writing them. The reader has grown expectations and now it’s your job not to let him down. Making the promise (by building up the moment), does not mean you necessary have to deliver in the way the reader expects. Throwing a curve-ball is perfectly acceptable and a nice surprise for your reader. If you promised a certain character will definitely betray the protagonist, you could make it so he didn’t have a choice, or didn’t mean to do it. If you promised a big fight by people who are known for wearing guns, make them use TNT instead. Give it a little twist and keep it fresh and exciting.

Flash-backs and flash-forwards.

Use these to move the story forward, not as a way of introducing back story. Show information that directly affects what’s going on in your story right now. Only flash back to moments where action is happening and keep it short. Most readers don’t have a high tolerance level for things that draw them out of the moment. Stick to about a page, roughly 300 words.

*Keep the scene list flexible and open to change

Clark, R. P. (2006) Writing Tools: 50 Essential Strategies For Every Writing.
Cron, L. (2012) Wired for story: the writer’s guide to using brain science to hook readers from the very first sentence.
Haven (1999) Wright Right; Creative Writing Using Storytelling Techniques