These days there’s an increasing interest in gaining insight — accepting the loaded word “gaining” for now.

On the whole this is a good thing. For a long time many in the West have been doubtful about whether awakening is a realistic goal. “Maybe we’re too messed up,” and “Maybe the modern world isn’t conducive to awakening,” were common doubts. As the years have gone by, however, more and more practitioners have had insight experiences, and this has been very encouraging for others. More people now think not just that awakening is possible, but that they personally are capable of it. This is great! How can there be a downside to this?

One thing I’ve … Read more »

4 Reasons You’re Confused About Scene Structure (With Examples)

4 Reasons You're Confused About Scene Structure (With Examples)Scene structure is the backbone of strong narrative storytelling. Built properly, scenes effortlessly link one to another to create a chain of give and take, cause and effect, action and reaction, question and answer.

The whole point of scene structure is to create an ebb and flow that mimics how humans balance forward momentum with the necessary introspection to process that momentum (another analogy might be: extroversion and introversion).

Structuring Your Novel IPPY Award 165

Classic scene structure (as I discuss in my book Structuring Your Novel) looks like this:

Part 1: Scene (Action)

a. Goal (character wants something on the scene level that will ultimately help him reach his overall plot goal—and he tries to get it)

b. Conflict (character is met with an obstacle to obtaining his goal)

c. Outcome (usually disastrous, in the sense that the character does not achieve the goal or achieves only part of it)

Part 2: Sequel (Reaction)

a. Reaction (character reacts to the outcome)

b. Dilemma (character must figure out  how to overcome the new complications and still move forward toward his main plot goal)

c. Decision (character decides upon a new scene goal to cope with the new complications and move forward toward the main plot goal in a—hopefully—more effective way)

>>For an even more complete discussion of scene structure, see my series How to Structure Scenes in Your Story.

5 Reasons You’re Confused About Scenes and Sequels

I receive a lot of questions from writers who seem to be confused about scene structure, but in fact, know a lot more than they’re giving themselves credit for. Here are five important facts about scene structure that can help you stop overthinking the process.

1. Structural Scenes Have Nothing to Do With Scene Breaks

Let’s just get this one out of the way right at the start: a structural scene is one that includes all of the structural pieces mentioned above. It has nothing to do with the popular concept of scene as a portion of the story divided from the rest of the story by a scene break or chapter break.

Several structural scenes can reside within one chapter or “scene.” Or a single structural scene can span many chapters.

>>More on that in this post: 7 Questions You Have About Scenes vs. Chapters.

2. Scene Structure Isn’t Always Exact

Even if you’ve already mastered the basics, scene structure remains a complex subject if only because it isn’t always a rock-solid principle. The idea is to create an overall framework within your story that follows this give and take of scene and sequel. But this doesn’t necessarily mean every single moment within your story must nail every one of these beats.

The various parts of scenes and sequels will often bleed over into one another, sometimes expanding, sometimes compressing, sometimes combining. It’s an often intuitive dance that authors have to be confident enough to feel their way through.

3. “Incidents” and “Happenings” Don’t Follow Proper Structure

Sometimes you’ll write a “scene” that doesn’t follow proper structure at all, but is still necessary to the story. If you’re trying to religiously follow proper scene structure, this may have you freaking out.

Techniques of the Selling Writer by Dwight V. SwainBut actually, it’s totally acceptable to write the occasional scene that does not include the above-mentioned integers of proper structure. In Techniques of the Selling Author, the late great Dwight V. Swain defines two possible approaches:

An incident is a sort of abortive scene, in which your character attempts to reach a goal. But he meets with no resistance, no conflict.

A happening brings people together. But it’s non-dramatic, because no goal or conflict is involved.

You’ll want to use incidents and happenings sparingly and with care, since too many of them will quickly derail the forward progress of your plot. But neither should you be afraid of including them where necessary.

>>Find out more here: Incidents and Happenings: Scenes That Aren’t Actually Scenes.

4. Scenes and Sequels Can Be as Big or as Small as You Want

Harking back to the beginning of this section, your scenes and sequels can be so big they span many chapters or so small there are several of them within a single chapter.

This is especially true of the sequel portion of the structure. Very often, in the heat of action, characters will experience a disastrous outcome, immediately process their reaction, face the dilemma, come to a decision, and begin acting upon a new goal—all within the space of a few sentences. Indeed, the whole concept of action/reaction can be found in “Motivation-Reaction Units” on the sentence level.

>>Find out more about Motivation-Reaction Units (or MRUs) here: Motivation-Reaction Units: Cracking the Code of Good Writing

So, although you don’t need to particularly worry about the size of your scenes/sequels, there are two key things to keep in mind:

1. With few exceptions, you want to make sure all the pieces of the structure are present (at least implicitly), no matter how short or long your scene/sequel.

2. Scene structure controls your story’s pacing. Rapid-fire scene/sequel pairings, or even lengthy scenes with short sequels, will contribute to a fast pace. Longer scene/sequels or disproportionately longer sequel segments will slow down your pacing. You’ll want a good mix of both options.

The Thematic Way to Approach Scene Structure

Most of the questions I receive about scene structure are from writers who understand the structural aspect but are trying too hard to make it “perfect.” There’s no need to obsess about your scene structure. It’s there as yet another of those infamously piratical “guidelines.”

Pirates of the Caribbean Barbossa Geoffrey Rush More What You'd Call Guidelines

Solid scene structure throughout your story will help you create a cohesive narrative, in which you never have to wonder whether or not a scene is necessary or causal. But don’t feel there’s no room to breathe, to flex, or to let the narrative itself dictate the ebb and flow.

Previously, I talked about how one way to look at scene/sequel is to think of them as question/answer. Today, I’m going to give you yet another helpful analogy, this one inspired by a John Truby talk I listened to last year.

Scene = Action

Sequel = Lesson

I like this view because it emphasizes the importance of the sequel. We all get that stuff is supposed to happen in a story—action is supposed to happen, goals are supposed to be pursued.

But that’s not enough. And that is where scene structure becomes so powerful in linking plot structure with character arc. With this in mind, we could reinterpret the original approach to scene structure more like this:

Part 1: Scene (Action)

a. Goal (character wants something but tries to achieve it in a way that isn’t fully informed by the thematic Truth)

b. Conflict (because the character is not yet mentally or spiritually equipped to understand how to pursue his goal with the Truth-empowered tools he needs to accomplish it—he meets obstacles, which he either partially created himself and/or simply failed to recognize)

c. Outcome (when the character fails—partially or wholly—to reach his scene goal, he is presented with the opportunity for growth and learning)

Part 2: Sequel (Reaction/Lesson)

a. Reaction (character reacts to the outcome with the growing realization that his Lie-based tactics are failing him)

b. Dilemma (character is presented with the opportunity to learn from his failure: not just how to do better next time, but, more importantly why did he fail this time?)

c. Decision (depending on his thematic arc, the character will either learn something about his Truth or further reject it—and form a new plot goal that will help him act accordingly)

>>For more on character arcs, see: How to Write Character Arcs (Complete Series)

What Scene Structure Looks Like in Action

Once you know what scene and sequel look like, you’ll start spotting them in all your favorite books and movies.

Rule of thumb: whenever a character looks confused and/or suddenly has that “I got it!” look in his eyes, he’s probably in the midst of a sequel.

Not long ago, Wordplayer Becky Jones Fettig  requested:

I would love to see a scene from one of KM’s books dissected into the Scene and Sequel format for instruction purposes. Is that possible something KM?

Sure thing!

Below you’ll find an interplay of several different segments of scenes and sequels within a single chapter from my historical/dieselpunk novel Storming. (For context, you can read the story summary here.) I’ve created images of the text below, which you can enlarge by clicking on them.

Storming Chapter 16 Page 1

 Storming Chapter 16 Page 2

Storming Chapter 16 Page 3

Storming Chapter 16 Page 4

Storming Chapter 16 Page 5

Storming Chapter 16 Page 6

What Should Your Book Outline Look Like Free Download of Complete Outlining Transcript of Storming by K.M. Weiland

Scene structure offers writers a reliable set of guidelines for crafting scenes that work. Understanding the interplay between scene and sequel can also help you open up the vast options for enhancing them within your plot and theme.

Wordplayers, tell me your opinion! How do you feel about scene structure? Tell me in the comments!

I Hope You Dance

Some time ago my son inspired me to write a post I called “The Boy with the Biggest Smile in the Room”. He had just endured a major health challenge and had not only powered through it but had done it with such grace. And although almost two years have passed he hasn’t changed a bit (except when he’s possessed by the “terrible twos”!). He constantly reminds me of the magic in our sense of wonder and how our willingness to “dance” through life is what makes our time in this world worthwhile.

Every time a song plays Alec just gets up and starts dancing. And not only that. He makes sure I get up and dance with him too. Although at first I have to admit I don’t really feel like it, once I’m up and dancing, I remember how the little things in life are actually the ones that make all the difference. I remember the person I used to be once and realize how much I miss her.

I had forgotten how much I used to be like my son. I could dance for hours, laugh incessantly about nonsense, and endlessly watch in awe life’s wonders. I would sit outside just to watch the rain, go to the roof to look at the stars at night, and tried making shapes out of clouds in the sky. I would marvel at the beauty of the universe every time I had a chance. I would dance even when no one was dancing. Crack up even when it wasn’t that funny. And always pursued my sense of curiosity trying to discover as much as I could about the world and seeking adventures to explore it.

And then life happened. I got so focused on being an adult that I forgot the free and wild spirit inside me. I started taking life too seriously and working very hard on achieving what I thought adults were supposed to accomplish. Challenges that gave me a sense of direction but that stopped me from enjoying the life in front of me. Without realizing it, I stopped dancing. I stopped laughing. And I stopped living the moment.

Many of us go through life so focused on accomplishing “great” things that we forget along the way to enjoy the ordinary. We are fooled by the idea that happiness is only possible once we reach whatever goals we’re after. And suddenly our life is all work and no play. We start working harder thinking the harder we work the happier we’ll be. Looking aimlessly for happiness in all of the wrong places.

Some years ago I wrote a post about happiness and an 80-year old woman reached out to me. She mentioned how she had pursued various careers throughout her life, lived in different countries, been in a number of marriages, and despite it all, she still at her age had not found the key to happiness. She kept looking for it but just couldn’t find it anywhere. And that was exactly the problem! She was looking for something that was nowhere to be found. It was something she had to build for herself. And after everything she’d been through, she just still couldn’t see it.

Unbelievably so, our life’s circumstances only account for 10% of our happiness. We can move to a paradise, make more money, and establish a thriving career, yet after a while our happiness level won’t be much different. With time we adapt and these circumstances that at first made such a difference, don’t make a difference anymore.

So what does? The day-to-day decisions and choices we make. Connecting with the people we love. Engaging in passions our soul is thirsty for. Being present enough to notice the wonders of the world around us. And feeling grateful for all that which we tend to underestimate but that is actually so magical if we could only open our eyes to notice it.

Now, I’m not advocating for a purposeless life filled with only passive enjoyment. I don’t believe true happiness is possible that way. We all need a “why”. A reason to get out of bed every morning and seize opportunities we find meaningful. Yet as much as we need to find goals and dreams to aspire to, we need to learn to find contentment along each step of the way. Enjoying the small wins and realizing it may not even be about winning at all. It may just be that we’re here to make the most out of our journey as we mindfully build every step with meaning and purpose. Cherishing the moments with those we love and having a hell of a time while we’re at it.

So today I hope you have the courage to create a life that you find rewarding. A life that you feel proud of and that reflects your soul’s deepest yearnings. But above all, I hope you find it in you to actually enjoy it. To let yourself get carried away by every moment. And when you get a choice to sit it out or dance. I hope you dance.


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