Writing Tip: Scene Structure
I’m not going to lie, I learned this way later than I should, but I’m glad I did.
The standard story structures are common knowledge. You’ve got the Three-Act structure, and the one we all learned in English class, with your rising action all the way to the climax and resolution. We’re taught these because they are effective. But it’s not just the story that should have your structure, it’s a scene—every—scene—that should mirror that same structure.
Every scene has a beginning. It might lead directly on from a previous scene. Maybe it’s the fallout from a devastating bombshell you just dropped. Whatever it is, it’s a beginning. It has a middle, a revelation, a climax, and a resolution. Or, if you are feeling particularly evil, you could end it on a cliffhanger. And then they have to turn the page, but I wouldn’t recommend doing this too often. The revelation is key. It might be such a subtle piece of information, so small it could be dismissed. You could be setting it up with subtle foreshadowing. But each revelation needs to change the character’s goal. Whatever they intended when they entered the scene, their intentions should change ever so slightly.
In this post I want to talk about two parts of scene structure: the arc, and the revelation, and I’ll break each down by using scenes from my fantasy novel Torchbearer. If you haven’t checked it out, the link is on my website.
In chapter 9, Eli, one of my protagonists, needs information on how the Eternal Order is moving against other power players in the realm. He is very much out of his depth and, after help from a street urchin, approaches a shady shopkeeper named Fallin. The scene opens with a quick interchange between Eli and Amora, the urchin. Tension starts rising as he enters the shop and begins bartering for information. Fallin drops a small piece of information, that the Ghost was captured. As Eli leaves, the armlet which he was near starts glowing.
I selected this scene not because it’s particularly action-packed. Indeed, if you read it, you might disagree with me. I wanted to illustrate how you can still use that arc even in a scene that’s not action-packed.
So, we’ve discussed scene structure, but the second thing I wanted to point out is the revelation, even in scenes that may not be particularly impactful.
In chapter three, Eli is struggling to reconcile an atrocity he’s witnessed with his friend’s refusal to do anything about it. When his friend is uncharacteristically passive, despite claiming to be a warrior, he says this: “I’m doing something about it. With or without you.” The revelation that Alsair is unwilling to act spurs him on and forces him to leave in search of answers. I doubt he intended to leave on his own. However, Alsair’s revelation changes his mindset and solidifies his goal. Again, this may have not been a massive bombshell. Alsair didn’t tell him where he’d hidden a body. But every revelation, no matter how small, should have an impact.
Here is the question to ask yourself: if this scene had not been in the book, would your character have made the same choice?
(Please have them make a choice, we like active protagonists on this blog) If your character began the scene with something in mind, and that didn’t change, unless they are the stubborn type, you may need to think about the revelation in that scene.
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Question for today: how do you deal with revelations in writing? Let me know in the comments below!