Crafting Fiction: Understanding How Scenes In Novels Are Constructed - Part 4

Posted at 22:16pm on 7th March 2009

By now I hope you’re beginning to understand the importance of conflict in a novel, and how to incorporate the three elements of Goal, Conflict and Disaster into each ACTION scene. I’ve had some feedback from readers via Twitter, but it would be great if you could post your comments and queries at the end of this article.

Last time, in Part 3, we looked at REACTION scenes (or Sequels), and learned where the three elements of Reaction, Dilemma and Decision have their place. I used a well-known parable to illustrate the points about the construction of scenes in novels and, after a resume of what we’ve already covered, I’ll continue the story and analysis.



For fuller explanation see PART 2a

“There was a man who had two sons. The younger one said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the estate.’ So he divided his property between them. GOAL – Independence from Dad: i.e. a life ‘of his own’.

“Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country . . . GOAL RESTATED – Independence from Dad.

CONFLICT “. . .and there squandered his wealth in wild living.

DISASTER: “After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need. SUSPENSE. END OF SCENE.


For fuller explanation see PART 3

REACTION “So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country,

DILEMMA: “who sent him to his fields to feed pigs. He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything.

DECISION: “When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired men have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired men.’ So he got up and went to his father.


The story continues with the son making his way back home to his Dad. If you were writing this as a novel, you’d show this – going home to Dad – as the son’s next goal. He’s going to have to swallow his pride big-time. He’s not quite ready yet to admit that he was wrong to leave in the first place. But if he’s going to fill his belly, he’s going to have to beg Dad to give him a job among the hired-hands. Wring your readers’ hearts. Tug at every emotional string you can muster. Make them feel as if they’ve gone through the wringer with our boy.


You might, of course, choose to write this scene from the POV of the Dad, because we then read:

“But while he (the son) was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.

“The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.

“But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate.”

As a novelist, you can imagine the remorse felt by the son and would want to write this in for your readers. There he was, expecting rejection; convinced that he would have to grovel, to plead with his Dad. But convinced, nevertheless, that Dad being who he is, he would not, ultimately be turned away.

And then, to have his father run out to meet him! The scene you would paint as a writer would be of a desert land: somewhere desolate and remote. Because the son is not only there in a physical sense, but also emotionally and spiritually. The geology of location would thus become part of the emotional landscape of the novel.

From a practical point of view, it would also be a place where you could see a visitor approaching from a long way off. Did the father recognise his son’s gait? Had he been watching in anguish for his return from the moment he departed? Was he dismayed to see him – dragging his feet, hungry, downcast, dejected . . . ? But what joy the father must have felt. What relief!

It’s important to keep in mind that the overall Goal of the story was for the son to lead an independent life. And every scene has its own Goal – each of which is a step on the way to achieving the overall Goal.

But not every story Goal succeeds. If the initial Goal is flawed – as this one is – then a happy ending may only be achieved by its failure. I’ll be writing more of this in another article. Until then, I’d be glad of your comments or queries on this one.

How have you constructed the scenes in your novel? Have you changed them as a result of reading this series of articles? If so, consider sending this on to your writer friends. And make sure you subscribe to future articles on writing by clicking on the RSS feed. You can read all about how to do so via this link What Does It Mean To Subscribe.

Mel Menzies is a Bestselling author, and an accomplished Speaker at live events, as well as on Radio and TV.



Follow Mel on Twitter.

Quotation from: Luke: 15: 11-24 NIV

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