Structural breakdown of a Scene

I am going through the opening of my current WIP and find this technique useful when I get stuck.

The first few pages are so crucial I want them to be as powerful as possible. So I am hitting my words hard with as many questions as possible.

I am  the type of person who has to know where this scene fits into the overall story – s0 I HAVE to have written a decent outline and story map, with a character arc and plot line before I start this process, so that the start and end of each sequence of scenes make sense at this point, but each to his own.

Questions I have to ask about the scene.

  • Who is my viewpoint character? Is this the best person for this scene? [ Only one point of view per scene is my rule.]
  • What does the hero want in this scene? Why are they here? Why now?
  • Who, or what, is going to block that want?
    This links to all levels of Internal and External Conflict for that character. Psychological, Personal, Social, Physical.
  • What are the turning points? How does the scene move and churn?
  • How does the whole scene turn from start to end? So if it starts with a positive position, what has changed to switch to a negative by the end?
  • What is the purpose of this scene – does it reveal something about the plot or the character and move the entire story forwards?

Example – and this is not something I am working on, so please feel free to use if you want,

The character – let’s call him hunky sad Jake, is driving in winter in Alaska on a snow covered road in a hire car he picked up at the airport. Jake is on is the way to his daughter’s 16th birthday party.

He is divorced. He promised to be there for his daughter and has flown in from Mexico just for the occasion. 

[ Goal, motivation, internal conflict, location, timing.]

It is dusk and there are no road lights in this rural location.

A deer runs out from the dense forest, and he swerves to avoid hitting it and goes off the icy road and hits a tree. Car wrecked. Deer long gone.

He has no mobile phone signal. There is no other traffic on the road. He will have to walk to the ski lodge which his ex-wife runs with her new boyfriend. The big shot ski professional.

[ Turning point = physical and environmental conflict, internal conflict]

He starts walking down the road as light snow started to fall.  He is dressed for a party.

The headlights of a car come up behind him. Great, Jake thinks. A lift! Only the car speeds past, forcing him off the narrow road and into the deeper snow which soaks into his shoes and trousers.

[ Scene has turned from comfort of a warm car seat to cold and wet clothing and shoes and the snow is falling.]

Sensory layering comes next.

Can the reader experience the intense cold of that night in the fading light ; the deep scary darkness from the trees either side of the road, the silence of a country road away from street lights, the hot metallic smell of the smashed car and the crisp crunch of Jakes’ shoes on the ice?


Hope that all makes sense. Now I have to apply it to my first chapter…and then the next… and the next before even thinking of submitting the first three chapters.

With a bit of luck, I will discover new layers and extra depth to my characters which I can feed in later.

Gulp. Lots to do. Pass me another espresso please? And a sticky bun.

2 thoughts on “Structural breakdown of a Scene

  1. LOL and thanks for the food and drink Lacey. Glad my geeky girl paranoia of my ineptitude is of some help. Enjoy!

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