6 Elements of a Scene

I am taking an online course through ACFW called “Unputdownable”. The course covers the elements that make a book impossible to put down. One of the lessons focused on scene writing.

When I read this lesson, a big light switch flipped on in my brain. It was definitely an AH-HA moment. Believe it or not, when I wrote novels in the past, I didn’t think in terms of scenes. Often, I’d just write whatever came to mind that day. But really, books are just like movies, and each scene needs to have a purpose. Each scene needs to drive the overall plot of the book forward.

My course instructor laid out 6 defining elements each scene should include:

1. Point of View (POV) character: each scene needs to be told from one – and only one – character’s point of view

2. Goal: this POV character needs to have a scene goal – there should be something this person wants to accomplish or prevent throughout this scene.

3. Motivation: there should be a logical reason why this character has such a goal.

4. Conflict: this is the tension – every scene should have it. What is preventing the POV character from reaching his/her goal?

5. Climax: the high point of the scene – the part where emotions are running the highest and the reader is most engaged

6. Resolution: how does the scene end – usually, the resolution should end with some sort of hook – something that makes the reader want to keep going.

My crit buddy thinks I am OCD – and I don’t question her assessment (she is a licensed therapist, after all) – but I actually went through Velvet Sky and made a document that outlines every single scene in my book. For every scene, I address each of the six elements.

It took FOR-EVER (Sandlot style) to do this. But now that I have it done, I feel very secure in the direction I am headed. Does that mean my characters won’t throw me for a loop every now and then and take my story in an unexpected direction? Of course not! But it does mean each scene I write from here on out will have a purpose. Each scene will drive the overall plot of my story forward, which feels good.

Here’s another bonus to my OCD behavior. Some writers have an overall word count quota they set out to accomplish each day. I’ve never been good at this. Now, instead of a word count quota, my goal is to write one scene a day. And what’s even better – I can pick and choose. If I’m having problems with motivation – I can skip to a high-intensity or fun scene and write away. If I’m particularly focused that day – I can choose a scene that I know is going to be painful or hard to write. So, regardless of the time and effort this outline took, I think I’m going to be doing it with every story I write from here on out.

Question to ponder: What has been an AH-HA moment in your writing journey? Have you ever read or heard something that just flipped on a light switch, and your writing is better because of it? Please share, as your AH-HA moments will probably teach me lots!!removetweetmeme

14 thoughts on “6 Elements of a Scene

  1. […] more help with scenes, check out 6 Elements of a Scene, Examining a Scene, andΒ Scene and […]

  2. Maryann Miller

    What a helpful blog piece. I found it by doing a Google search for elements of a scene. I'm in the middle of an edit for a client and wanted to be able to tell her some of the basics of creating a scene. These six points were perfect and I will send her to your blog to read some of your other articles. This is like an online writing workshop. Thanks.

  3. Sonia Rumzi

    Turn off my grammar and spell check and keep writing instead of worrying about every word. Later I can do the edit. Just keep writing. The more you write, the more you write.

    Great post. Thanks.

  4. Suzie

    The six elements play in perfectly with scene and sequel that Dwight Swain wrote about. Good stuff.

    Scene and Sequel's were my Ah-Ha moment! It's a great aide in pacing. My writing has gotten much stronger since I've incorporated Scene and sequel into my WIPs.

  5. Katie

    I feel you bro. Just write. Just write. We need to keep telling ourself that. Like jam the key down and have it play in repeat in our head. Or we could add “Doesn’t need to be good. Just write. Doesn’t need to be good. Just write” Then when we’re done, that’s when we can make it good. πŸ™‚

  6. Ryan_McGivern

    Sweet Sandlot reference! (here is my contribution…”How can I have some more of something if I haven’t had anything?”, “Your killing me Smalls!” πŸ™‚

    Great advice (now i just need to work on actually writing some scenes πŸ™‚ I can’t say that I have had a Ah-ha moment as I need to actually start writing instead of just collecting a bunch of ideas, but for now the best Ah-ha moment that I need to continue to focus on is that the first draft is allowed to be horrible, just write!

    I really enjoy your posts…thanks for sharing what you are learning in your writing process πŸ™‚

  7. Katie

    HA! My husband thinks he’s ADD. Less passive and more action was another one of my AH-HA moments.

    Erica – so was the POV! When I first wrote my novel, As High as the Heavens – I head hopped all over the place. I didn’t know any better. Then I paied for a professional critique through CWG, and boy, did they set me straight. I’ve learned SO much since then! πŸ™‚

  8. Jaime

    OCD, huh? I can’t relate. I’m so all over the place if you remove the O and C and insert an A and a D, you probably describe me! πŸ™‚
    My crit partner has given me a few ah HA moments in just sentence structuring. Helping me make my sentences more ACTION and less passive. But, my main ah-HA moment comes every morning when I take the first sacred sip of coffee πŸ˜‰ … sorry I’m a bit squirrelly tonight (too much coffee) πŸ™‚

  9. Katie

    I’m glad it was a helpful post ladies! And I have no problem being OCD. I will embrace my neuroses (spelling??) with a smile. πŸ™‚

    And you know I love you back Jeannie!

  10. Tracy

    There’s nothing wrong with being OCD (of course, this is coming from another OCD person)! Anyway, this was a helpful post for me. And bonus points for the Sandlot reference…

  11. Jody Hedlund

    What a great outline for each scene!

    I do a detailed outline for each scene I write too. But I do this as I go, usually by chapter. So for example, the chapter I’m currently working on has two scenes. At the top of my notebook paper, I write Date, Setting, POV, Sensory Impressions (details I want to hone in on), and then Hook. I list these for every scene, then I go through most of the six points you mentioned and write down my goals for the scene, the conflict, the historical details I need to include.

    I have a general outline for each chapter and what I hope to accomplish throughout the book. But going chapter by chapter for each scene has allowed me the flexibility to develop the story deeper and keeps me focused.

  12. Jeannie Campbell

    okay, okay. maybe you really aren’t OCD, just a conscientious writer. it’s helpful to have that kind of information on hand before writing a scene, whereas i’ve found myself going back after a scene to try to pick the elements. if i’m weak in one area, i can tweak it. for me, it was the FOR-EVER (sandlot style, of course) that prohibited the OCD-ish outline. πŸ™‚ you know i love you.

  13. Cindy

    I love how the 6 elements are laid out so simply, but they really are the most important aspects to think of when approaching a scene. And thanks for the Sandlot reminder. I loved that movie! Ah-ha moments have come slowly but surely throughout my time as a writer. I think the first was just like number 1 on your list, making sure I didn’t go all over the place with my POV. Many of the others have involved tips with characters and building a tension filled scene.

  14. Erica Vetsch

    My a-ha moment came with SHOW VS. TELL. Right now I’m hot on the trail of a couple of other elusive fiction tools for my toolbox.


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