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Composing The Scene

Once you have the scene outlined, it is time to develop the content.

1. Opening Line: Set up the conflict in the scene.

2. First paragraphs: Orient us: where are we, when is it, who is present, and what do they want? 

3. Introduce theme and make sure the goal is understood.

4. Follow a logical chain of eventsThe action or conversation is followed by a visceral response, then a conscious response, then recovery/thinking/planning, then the outcome which should result in a new goal.

Make sure you show a recovery after all key scenes and turning points.

5. Vary the speed to create a flow that keeps a reader interested. 

1) Slow, fast, slow. 
2) Slow, medium, fast.
3) Fast, medium, slow. 
4) Medium, fast, slow. 

Vary sentence structure. Vary the speed within the scene. Nonstop action without resting beats is too fast. All internal narration and narration without action beats is too slow. Highlight the fast parts. Are there peaks and valleys? Have quieter, slower conflicts between big turning points and reveals.

Every tense action scene should have a rise, impact, and fall. Every tense conversation should have a lead up to a tense exchange, a verbal zinger, and a response. Show the recovery, leave a hook with the new complication.

Slow speed includes blend of description, narrative, internal dialogue and narrative, and exposition (i.e. background information). Long cumulative sentences are slow (use sparingly). Facts, review, summary, backstory, and flashbacks are slow.

Use Medium/Normal pacing when the  story is progressing but nothing special is happening. Good for setting a scene or transitioning between two dramatic scenes. Give readers a break from the action and slow down the pace. Use an even blend of description, dialogue, narration, and exposition. Include step by step detail. Use compound sentences with limited detail. Use fleshed out dialogue interposed with action beats and short internal thoughts. Focus on a specific encounter or activity.

Use Atmospheric pacing to create a mood or feeling in a chapter. Set a scene, establish tone, or foreshadow events, often all at the same time. Blend physical and psychological description to set the mood. The story is moving forward but the blend of descriptions suffuses the scene with the desired effect.

Use Suspenseful pacing to keep readers on the edge of their seat. Focus on step by step detail and action that work toward but delay the ultimate payoff. Use short, choppy rhythm, then long beats, then short, choppy beats. Suspense is slow but seems fast because the reader speeds up as he rushes to see how events play out. 

Someone is being hunted or struggling. Allow the reader to feel anxiety. Dialogue with a little action and description thrown in can be suspenseful, tense. Use description to set up scary mood. Drag out tension. The verbal camera is at a wide angle. The catalyst could be sights, smells, sounds, touch, anxiety. Zoom in closer until on the face or inside head. The climax should be in virtual slow motion, blow by blow focus on the words and actions.

Use fast pace to create tension. Dialogue is fast with little action or thoughts and lots of white space. High action scenes or characters engaged in emotional confrontations are fast. Short summary can be fast. Short dialogue and action beats, base clauses, and short sentences add speed. The verbal camera is zoomed in all the way. Save high speed for important turning points. Focus on one element to the exclusion of all others, just dialogue or narration of action. Leave out description beyond physical action. Use short snappy sentences. Avoid details like left and right that force your reader to think about it. Once involved in the action, switch to longer compound and cumulative sentences. Pause when characters pause to maintain the illusion.

6. Closing line: End with a hook to set up next scene and convince the reader to turn the page.

For more about how to craft plots using conflict check out, Story Building Blocks: The Four Layers of conflict available in print and e-book and check out the free tools and information about the series on my website.

The Scene Construction Sheet

Now that you have the basic concept for your plot and have developed ideas for scenes, it is time to write them. Let's examine what constitutes a scene.

A scene consists of specific characters in one location going after a specific goal at a specific time. Characters can enter and exit a scene. Characters can move from one location to another. The  important part is to not waste page time on the boring details of transport from one place to another and to avoid timeline plot holes with starting out in the morning and having it pitch black night ten minutes later. In every scene, we need to know where we are, when it is, who is present, and whether they get what they want.

Scene# ___ 
What are the obstacles involved?:
It the goal achieved? ¨Yes   ¨No   ¨Yes, but    ¨No and furthermore
Type of Conflict: ¨External # __  ¨Antagonist # ___   ¨Interpersonal #____ 
or ¨Internal # ____
Source of Conflict:_____________________________________________________________
Who is involved: ¨ Protagonist  ¨Antagonist  ¨Love Interest   ¨Friends # ___________   ¨Foes#_______________
¨Main Plot or ¨Subplot____
Physical Location:(geographic, room or building, outside, inside, in a vehicle, etc.).
Date: ____________________ Day of Week:_________________________________
Time ___ o’clock
¨  Morning  ¨ Mid Morning   ¨Noon   ¨Afternoon ¨ Evening  ¨Night
Season: ¨ Spring   ¨Summer   ¨Fall   ¨Winter
Holiday or other special occasion_____________________________________
Weather or Room Conditions:____________________________________________________
Opening Line: __________________________________________________

Closing Line:___________________________________________________
For downloadable forms please visit
For more about how to craft plots using conflict check out, Story Building Blocks: The Four Layers of conflict available in print and e-book and check out the free tools and information about the series on my website.

Layering the Plot

Once you have the premise, the antagonist, the friends, foes, and overall story problem. It is time to break it down into layers. By coming up with at least ten scene ideas for each conflict layer, you can keep the plot moving forward in satisfying curves and twists, keeping the verbal camera on the move.

Layer One: External Conflict

What is the main story problem that all of your characters are dealing with? 

These conflicts will test the protagonist’s courage, nerves, and determination.

List at least ten things that will happen to escalate this conflict: snags in the plan, unexpected discoveries, increasing levels of threat, and arrange them in an order that will make the most impact with the final scene being the resolution.

(Examples: finds gun, interviews suspect, confronts best friend, goes on date, looks for answer, can’t find someone).

At each step is the protagonist moving toward or away from the goal?
Layer two: Antagonist Conflict

How will the protagonist and antagonist face off? Use these scenes to reveal how they will pursue and evade or influence one another. 

These conflicts will test the protagonist’s knowledge, ingenuity, and strength. 

They are battles of will and wit. If the story involves multiple points of view and the antagonist is one of them, these scenes would be written following his or her point of view. All of the conflicts lead to the climactic confrontation with the protagonist.

List ten ideas.

Is the protagonist moving toward or away from his goal?

If these scenes follow the antagonist's POV, is he moving toward or away from his goal?
Layer three: Interpersonal Conflicts

How will the protagonist be affected by his friends and foes? 

These conflicts will test the protagonist’s friendships, and loyalties.

Friends and foes can be used in any combination of scenes that fit with your story line. Make a list of Interpersonal Conflicts and who they will be with. Remember, not all are negative. There can be positive encounters. 

List ten ideas. 

Which friend or foe is involved? Are they helping or hindering?
The fourth layer: Internal Conflict

These scenes test the protagonist's will to continue the fight.

These scenes explore the personal dilemma of the protagonist that will lead to the point of change. He can do this through internal dialogue or dialogue with someone acting as his foil. 

This is where you reveal the event that happened in the past and how it changed him. This is him dealing with the death of his partner, the loss of his wife, the child he didn’t save. These scenes can show him struggling with a habit or addiction or an ailing parent or wife. 

This often culminates in the section after the climax, where we find out if the protagonist is going to live happily ever after. It can also culminate just prior to the climax. That does not mean other characters cannot be in these scenes or that he is not doing anything. It means his thoughts, reactions and actions illustrate the dilemma that is driving him toward his point of change. 

List ten ideas. Is the protagonist solving or complicating his dilemma?
Now arrange the conflicts in the order that work best for your story. Try not to stack too many scenes of any one type together. Keep the flow steady.

For more about how to craft plots using conflict check out, Story Building Blocks: The Four Layers of conflict available in print and e-book and check out the free tools and information about the series on my website.

Framing the Plot Part 4: The Synopsis

Let's take the information we've developed and place it into a basic synopsis.

In my (word count) _________________ (genre)_______________________ novel,

(title) ____________________________________________________________,

(protagonist)____________________________________________is confronted by

(inciting event)_______________________________________________________,

leading to (overall story problem)______________________________________

and forcing him/her to (story goal)_______________________________________

Along the way he/she needs to resolve (personal dilemma)_____________________

which results in (point of change)________________________________________

Standing in his/her way is (antagonist)_____________________________________

who is determined to (antagonist’s goal)___________________________________.

 As a result, the protagonist:
o succeeds and feels good about it
o succeeds and feels bad about it
o fails and feels good about it
o fails feels bad about it)

and learns (theme)___________________________________________________.

These are the bare bones of a synopsis. Making it sparkle requires your word polish.

For more about how to craft plots using conflict check out, Story Building Blocks: The Four Layers of conflict available in print and e-book and check out the free tools and information about the series on my website.