Crafting Fiction: Understanding How Scenes In Novels Are Constructed - Part 2

Posted at 03:35am on 2nd March 2009

I finished Part 1 of this series a couple of days ago by saying that a scene is invariably made up of three simple elements:

  1. Goal
  2. Conflict
  3. Disaster

THE CONFLICT IN A NOVEL IS VITAL TO ITS STRUCTURE

In a previous post, I’ve written about what makes a story a plot, and highlighted the significance of conflict and consequences. Goal, Conflict and Disaster are, in fact, the structure of the entire novel.

  • A novel is a story about people.
  • It’s about their one overall objective in response to a particular set of circumstances, stated at the outset of the story.
  • It’s about the journey towards that goal, which is, itself, pockmarked with a series of mini-goals – each of which is intended to further the achievement of the main goal.
  • It’s about the conflict which assails the characters on the journey toward achieving their goal
  • the disasters that befall them
  • and, ultimately, either victory in achieving their goal. Or complete failure.

SCENES IN A NOVEL REFLECT THE SAME FORMAT

The structure of a novel is a series of Scenes, each of which mirrors this same structure in miniature. Let’s see, today, how this is put together. But before we go any further, I must stress that what we’re talking about here is what is known as an ACTION scene. A REACTION scene (or sequel) is quite different, and we’ll come on to that in Part 3.

So, how do you begin a scene? That is, an ACTION scene? Well, first you must decide which character’s Point Of View (POV) you are going to be writing from. I’ve written on this before, and if you need to refresh your memory, or to understand from scratch the rudiments of POV writing, this is the link

  1. GOAL AS ACTION: What is crucial to the structure of your scene is that the POV character must define his or her goal. The ACTION required by your lead character is what will give your story its impetus. Without this drive to accomplish an objective, your story will simple be a random series of events with no cause and effect. Your reader needs to understand what it is that is so vital for your character to achieve – and why! The importance of the goal needs to be written convincingly; in a way that is true to the character; and it must engage your reader’s emotions so that he or she feels the urgency of the character’s purpose as if it were his or her own.
  2. CONFLICT AS COUNTER ACTION: A series of obstacles preventing your POV character from achieving their ultimate goal is what will make your novel a page-turner for two, three or four hundred pages. Therefore, within the structure of the entire novel, each scene requires its own particular obstruction. This is what makes your character wriggle and squirm, and the more he struggles to overcome each impediment, the more your reader becomes engaged; identifying with him in his efforts; willing him on to victory. The conflict may be external or internal; it may be a conflict of good and evil; it may be the result of human behaviour, or natural disaster.
  3. DISASTER AS FAILURE: We all want to win. But victory without travail is not sweet. Somehow, we feel cheated if things come too easily. What we admire in others, is stickability. The tenacity to see things through. To be knocked down, yes, but to get back up and throw oneself into the race once more. Disaster – the failure to overcome conflict to achieve his goal – is what compels your reader to read on. The worse it is, the greater your reader’s commitment. This failure, this unmitigated disappointment, is what is known as the cliff-hanger. And it is this, above all, that gives your story its fingernail biting, edge of the chair excitement.

I frequently use Bible stories to illustrate a point when I’m leading a workshop, because they have all the components of a plot; they’re usually written in a powerful way; they’re succinct; and, providing the legal requirements are adhered to, there will be no infringement of copyright. Tomorrow I’ll post an example from a well-known parable to illustrate the point.

PLEASE FORGIVE THE BREVITY. I’M CURRENTLY NURSING MY MOTHER WHO HAS FALLEN AND BROKEN HER PELVIS WHILST ON HOLIDAY. I WILL TRY POST REGULARLY BUT ARTICLES MAY HAVE TO BE SHORTER.

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