This post is mostly inspired by the Scene-Creation workshop on Holly Lisle’s site. I love reading what she writes because she puts it in concrete ways – easy to grasp.
A scene is a single thing that happens in a story, usually out of one point of view and usually one place. But what is a scene, and what should a scene be?
Conflict. That is one part of a scene that is pretty important. The characters in the scene must have something they want, and at the end of the scene, they must either get it, or not. Things will stand in the way – these generate conflict.
Plot movement. A scene must move the plot forward in some way. Something in the scene must drag onward to the conclusion – instigate movement, development, whatever is needed. It can be a character that realises something (important), or it can be the discovery or mastery of some artefact. Whatever the case may be, the show/plot must go on.
That is the two most important things in a scene, I think. A character must want something that will move the plot forward, and something has to stand in his way. Then he must either overcome it or fail. End of scene.
Holly Lisle says it in the most concrete way possible, and I will remember those words every time I wonder what should happen in a scene. A scene must change something. In her words, “it isn't a scene until something changes; and once something changes, it's time to move on.”
That is the matter at hand. The thing that is important. Before a scene ends, something must change, be it a relationship, ownership, general feeling, the quality of the earth’s crust. When that something changes, you have a scene.
As a scene is the smallest piece of story, per se, that a book can be broken down into, the same can probably be applied to larger pieces. Could it be that each chapter must bring a change? Each novel must bring a change? Each series must bring a change? When you look at it, that should be exactly what happens.
Every piece of story brings a development of some kind (if it doesn’t, it probably doesn’t belong in your story). A scene is the smallest piece, but a very important one. Initiate change, move on. That is a formula I’ll keep in mind.