Six Elements of an Effective Scene

Not all conflict has to be physical such as shown in this photo. But every scene must contain some kind of conflict. This photo shows the U.S. 23rd infantry in action in the Argonne Forest in World War One.

Scenes should be a mini-version of a novel. That is, they should have a beginning, a middle, and an end. The end of each scene should have a climax that hooks readers and leads them into the next scene.

Five Elements of a Scene

  • Point of View (POV): Write the same scene several times using different characters’  POVs to determine which POV is most effective. Once you make a determination, use that POV.
  • Purpose: A scene’s purpose should be to advance the plot or reveal something about a      character. If a scene doesn’t do these things, get rid of it. Also, a scene must include       action and begin in medias res (in the middle of things) and be able to stand alone. 

In my Civil War novel Vengeance & Betrayal, one scene shows its hero, Danny, a ship’s boy serving officers in a naval vessel’s wardroom, getting mocked. The purpose for this scene? To show the prejudice of certain characters, because Danny is an escaped slave this ship rescued.

  • Conflict: Be sure every scene contains conflict, either internal or external, or both. The     conflict must contribute to the plot or show us something about a character. Back to my hero, Danny.

When Danny is finally reunited with his wife, Nancy, after the battle of New  Orleans, he discovers she’s betrayed him by marrying her master’s butler. Danny fights  the butler and stalks off. This external conflict shows us Danny has a fierce temper,  which further develops his character. Also, readers see his internalsuffering over Nancy’s betrayal. The reader is left to wonder: Will Danny forgive her for what she did?

  • Characters: How should readers feel about the characters in a scene? Should the reader be pulling for or against a character, sympathize with or loathe a character? Every character should evoke some kind of emotion in a reader.
  • Tension: Scenes should include tension. By the end of a scene, readers should be asking, “What will happen next?”
  • Sensory detail: Every scene should include sensory detail. Include as many of the five senses as possible. What a character sees, hears, touches, tastes, smells.

I hope everyone found this helpful. Meanwhile, keep on writing, friends!

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