Updated: Aug 23, 2020
Today, let's discuss some tips for writing great scenes. What I mean here is how to craft the events of your scene, and I'll also touch on dialogue. This won't be a discussion on how to write actin or fight scenes.
It's very common for new writers to write scenes where nothing actually happens. Most often this is a symptom of not knowing exactly where your story is going yet. They want to establish something about the character, but don't know enough about their story to do it through action that moves them toward the ultimate goal. Which means it's a really terrible, static, often useless scene.
Let's talk about how to remedy that, shall we?
Scene vs. Chapter
You can put your chapter breaks wherever you'd like. I'd write in terms of scenes first, and from there you can decide whether each scene is a chapter or whether there will be multiple scenes per chapter. Most writers do a mixture of both in their books.
To craft your scenes, you can:
1. Can use the 9 Essential Plot Points
2. Can use any Story Craft Structure (i.e. 3 Act Structure)
3 Elements Every Great Scene Should Have:
1. Something Needs to Turn/Point of No Return - This is how you ratchet up tension throughout book.
In other words, something should happen in each scene that the character can't return from. They simply can't go back to what life was before because of that thing.
2. Get New Info They Didn't Have Before - This is often the only thing a scene turns on, but even if it turns on something more action-oriented, you should always introduce something new as well. (Right up until the climax of the story, that is.)
3. Characters should be at odds with one another - Even if they're on the same team or fighting for the same thing, they should be at odds with one another in some way in order to create tension in the scene.
Star Wars: Luke Skywalker and Han Solo are pretty much always on the same team, but they're also always arguing about something. Luke wants to go save Leia, but Han doesn't. Luke wants to do what Obi Wan says, but Han doesn't. The characters ultimately fight for the same thing, and certainly don't hate one another, but often disagree on the details. Doing this in your scenes, even if the details are small, creates a great tension that keeps the audience engaged.
The Last Samurai: I talk about this in more detail on the podcast, but go watch this film. There's a point of no return in every scene. At no point can Tom Cruise's character, Captain Algren, go backward. So he starts out being an alcoholic with a severe case of PTSD. He screws up and loses his job. Because of that, he really has no choice but to take another job offered to him, even if he doesn't want it. While at that job, he's ordered to go into battle. No choice in the matter. While in battle, he's taken captive by the enemy (obviously not his first choice). And so the story progresses. There isn't a single stagnant scene where the character can go back to how things were before that happened. Your story should ALWAYS be this way.
Make sure to check out James Scott Bell's book, How to Write Dazzling Dialogue.
For more details and examples, pop in your earbuds and give the podcast a listen!