Anatomy of a Scene



We’ve been focusing on scenes for the last few weeks. This week our focus is on scene middles. Each scene should have a purpose for being there. Each scene should move the story forward. Each scene should provide important information for the reader.

As a reminder, a scene is a small part of the continuous action of your novel and each scene is set in a specific moment in time, and in a specific location.

Each scene should have a beginning, middle, and an ending, and each of these scene parts has a purpose. Scene beginnings set the character in time and place, provide needed narrative and description, and provides your reader valuable information necessary to visualize your character in their mind’s eye.

Once you get past the first part of your scene, the scene beginning which set up your character, you then move to the second part of the scene where movement must happen on our pages. If your scene middle does not have any action, either physical or emotional, then there is a good chance that there really is no need for that particular scene in your novel. Remember that the purpose of the scene is to move your story forward. If there is no action, then you run the risk of boring your reader.

The scene middle is where you complicate your characters’ lives in order to build anticipation for your reader. Your character should never have it too easy. Make your character miserable, or make their life difficult. Think about what will increase the stakes for your characters. What does your character stand to lose? Show them losing it, or almost losing it. What does your character want? They can’t get it. What is your character’s motivation in this scene? There is something in their way. If you keep your character from achieving their goal you will increase the stakes for your character, and increase tension for your reader.

Can you add an element of physical or emotional danger? Putting your character in danger is a great way to increase the conflict of your story. You can also show your character reacting to the danger, which will provide information about your character to your reader. Or, put your character’s love interest or family member in danger. This danger ups the stakes in a different way. The risk of losing someone your character, and reader, loves can force your character to act in a different way, or take more risks with their own life. It is this kind of conflict created by putting your characters in danger that creates page turners.

Is there some unexpected discovery that will affect your character and surprise your reader? Revealing surprises in the middle of your scenes forces your characters to change direction, or change motivation, or start something completely new, either as a way to solve the puzzle of the new information, or to suppress information from reaching other characters. A new discovery could change your character’s fate for better or worse.

Your scene middles are the meat of your story and are the place to increase the stakes for your character. Scene middles get all the glory. Make sure the middle of each scene has movement and action.

Next time: Scene endings


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