Writing a Scene? Frist Ask the Right Questions.

I found myself off track with my current Work In Progress (WIP) and was forced to back up, regroup, and figure out where the story was going. I lost time because, in writing, I was doing improvisation instead of focused acting. I finished a great scene and started knowing that my purpose to introduce the main antagonist, show the conflict between the main protagonist, explore two characters Tau Tepe and Vyre Gauz (allied antagonists), and explicate and aspect of the Dramatic Question of the novel. For a first draft, I think it is successful.
I moved forcefully to the next scene without stopping for a minute to consider those for characteristics of a scene and just asked, what is the POV doing next.


Scene Word Cloud Created by Frank Darbe

Purpose? Conflict? Characters? Dramatic Question?

A scene is the basic unit of a story or a play presenting continuous action, a dramatic situation, dialog, or love scene in one place. A scene must propel the dramatic arc of the plot, character, or both towards the denouement of the story. To fulfil the purpose of the scene, a writer needs to know answers to the questions to above. It is possible to improvise a scene by the seat of your pants, but the danger in such a case is to fall into the trap of following the character in the midst of doing nothing.

Purpose: How Does This Scene Propel the Plot Forward?

The end of scene four and five fixed the purpose of scene six in the story. I had placed my Protagonist in a holding cell in a sky city awaiting a Competency Exam by Robot Medical Staff before his trial for piracy and murder. I started in the bleak holding cell with his conflict with other prisoners to establish his place in the pecking order that defined his existence from how much food he could eat to where he could sit. Though I felt that was an exciting beginning, none of the characters he interacted with had a bearing on the dramatic flow of the novel. The purpose of the scene to get him into his Competency Exam failed and did not move my plot forward at all.
The answer was to change the location to the exam room where he the reader will see him interact with other characters important to the story.

Conflict: What Struggle Propels the Story Forward?

Conflict in literature is a struggle between opposing forces. It can be a fight to the death with an enemy, an attempt to control an aircraft about to crash, a disagreement with a friend, a seduction of two lovers. A scene to determine the main character’s competency to stand trial, demands that the characters be those who will make that determination. The answer in this case was to move the scene’s location and place my character in direct conflict with the authorities who would make that determination. Not a single one of his fellow prisoners, or the inside of a holding cell would focus the narrative on the conflict.

Characters: What Specific Characters Belong in the Conflict?

Answering those first two characters went a long way to set up my scene so that it would work to propel the plot forward. My protagonist facing trial and immediate execution if he is found competent must be in that examination room. Medical Robots who perform all physical and mental healthcare tasks in the universe created for the story are the authorities who determine competency. There must be more to the competency hearing that just sanity. The character in conflict with antagonists has something they want. Tossing him out of an airlock puts what they want forever beyond their reach. Vyre Gauz or his Allie the Alien, Tau Tepe, is the focus of the conflict. Knowing the answer to the first two questions helps me answer the third. Vyre Gauz works behind the scenes at this point in the novel, so in order to get what they want from the protagonist, Tau Tepe must convince the Medical Professionals of the characters lack of competency.

Dramatic Question: What Part of the Question Planted in the Readers Mind Must be Answered?

In any novel or story, the writer places a question in the readers mind that is the core of the novel’s plot. In a Romance novel, it might be, will my protagonist find love and sexual fulfillment with the devilishly gorgeous person with whom they are attracted? In my novel, the Dramatic Question asks, why did unknown forces steels the protagonists ship and his crew but keep him alive? Every scene must contribute to that answer. The Competency is recognized as a sham by the protagonist, and discovering that nugget propels the story forward. Why do the people who stole his space craft want him alive?

Getting To Work!

Going through the four questions allowed me to fine tune the content of a critical scene in the novel. By the end of the second question, I felt I had enough information to move on with writing. Only by following up with the final two did I understand how this scene fits in my overall story. With Purpose, conflict, and characters, I know how the scene helps or hinders my readers form answering the dramatic question. That, along with entertainment, is the purpose of the story.

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