Tag Archives: Scenes

Review of Scene and Structure by Jack M. Bickham

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Review of Scene and Structure by Jack M. Bickham

I actually read this book twenty years ago—and remembered nothing from it. But it was full of my underlining and border notes in my handwriting, so I definitely read it.

The late Jack Bickham wrote 75 novels (two of which were made into films) and six books on the craft of fiction. He understands how to write a story.

Yet, as I was rereading this book over the course of more than a year, I found myself resisting much of what Bickham expounds. For example, Bickham says every scene must end with a disaster. I rejected that idea, because many of my scenes don’t and I couldn’t picture what would have to happen to follow that convention.

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Then I read Children of Blood and Bone. Every scene in Children of Blood and Bone ends with a crisis. (Except maybe one.) And I couldn’t put CoB&B down. The pacing was so fast. The problems were so compelling.

So I began to take Scene and Structure more seriously.

Some of the terms in S&S I’d seen before, but I thought they meant something different. For example, I thought a scene goal was the author’s goal for the scene. It’s actually the viewpoint character’s goal for the scene. I suppose I would have known that if I’d majored in creative writing in college instead of music education.

Here are some points I learned from Scene and Structure:

  • Moment by moment, transactions occur in your scene that involve this progression: stimulus, internalization, response. A cause and effect relationship exists between the stimulus and the response. The response should make sense as a reaction to the stimulus. If the response would confuse the reader, an explanation is necessary; this occurs while the character processes the stimulus during the internalization phase.
  • At the beginning of the story, the main character must state a goal. The reader unconsciously forms a story question: i.e. will the character achieve his goal?
  • At the beginning of each scene, the viewpoint character states a short-term goal related to the story goal, and the reader again formulates a scene question about its attainment. The next element of the scene is conflict. In order to keep the reader engaged, the scene must end with a disaster.
  • Each scene disaster is followed by sequel (sometimes with a connecting transition) in which the character processes what’s just happened. Sequel consists of emotion, thought, decision (creation of the next scene’s goal), and action, which launches the next scene.

Scene and Structure covers much more related to writing the novel, including suggestions on how to create a master plot for your book, and an appendix of excerpts of published novels illustrating some of the concepts introduced in S&S.

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This was not an easy book to read. I often had to read sections over and over to understand them. I don’t know if my confusion was the fault of the author or of my own limited intelligence. However, I will be reading this book again, and filtering my manuscript-in-progress through all the bullet points listed. I would recommend Scene and Structure for authors who are not satisfied with their own work but don’t know what’s wrong with it: you may have structural deficiencies.

Guest Post: The First 10 Scenes You Need to Plot for Your Novel by C.S. Lakin

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A big ARHtistic License thank you to C.S. Lakin for this article about story structure. Lakin is a prolific writer and professional editor and critiquer. She writes about the craft of writing on her website, Live Write Thrive, where this article originated.

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Now that we’ve spent weeks looking at most of the key scenes you need in your novel and that will form the foundation for your entire story, we’re ready to look at the “10” in my 10-20-30 Scene Builder concept. These are the first ten scenes you will do well to lock in first.

Of course, if you haven’t taken the time to develop a strong concept with a kicker, the protagonist and his goal, the conflict with high stakes, and the themes with heart, you should hold off until you do so.

You can take my free online video course to understand fully what those four essential corner pillars of novel structure are. Just enroll at cslakin.teachable.com and then click on the free course. I want you to nail this! Also think about studying my 12 Key Pillars of Novel Construction and use the workbook to flesh this all out. Then you’ll be ready to dive into laying out all these scenes.

Last week I gave the example of filling a jar with rocks. These first ten scenes are your rocks. You put them in first, then you add the pebbles (the next twenty scenes) to fill in the spaces. From there you’ll move into sand, then water—all those other scenes that will round out your story within the strong framework you’ve fashioned.

Want to write a perfect scene every time? Download this PDF worksheet with 8 simple steps to success! Click here to get your free worksheet!

So, here are the ten scenes you’ll want to get working on:

#1 – Setup. Introduce protagonist in her world. Establish her core need. Set the stage, begin building the world, bring key characters on stage.

#2 – Turning Point #1 (10%): inciting incident.

#3 – Pinch Point #1 (33% roughly): Give a glimpse of the opposition’s power, need, and goal as well as the stakes.

#4 – Twist #1: Something new happens: a new ally, a friend becomes a foe. New info reveals a serious complication to reaching the goal. Protagonist must adjust to change with this setback.

#5 – The midpoint (50%): No turning back. Important event that propels the story forward and solidifies the protagonist’s determination to reach her goal. “I’ll never go hungry again!”

#6 – Pinch Point #2 (62% roughly): The opposition comes full force. Time to buckle down and fight through it.

#7 – Twist 2: An unexpected surprise giving (false?) hope. The goal now looks within reach. A mentor gives encouragement, a secret weapon, an important clue.

#8 – Turning Point #4 (75%): Major setback. All is lost and hopeless. Time for final push.

#9 –  Turning Point #5 (76-99%): The climax in which the goal is either reached or not; the two MDQs are answered. (Be sure to read my posts on MDQs if you haven’t nailed that concept).

#10 – The aftermath (90-99%): The wrap-up at the end. Denoument, resolution, tie it all in a pretty knot.

Twists and Turns

I haven’t gone into twists yet, and we’ll talk about them further. Twists make good stories terrific. They are surprises, reversals. Just when you think . . . then the unexpected comes out of nowhere (or maybe it’s expected, but here it comes anyway).

You can have lots of variations on your twists. The movie Outbreak comes to my mind with twist #2. Dustin Hoffman’s character finally finds the monkey carrying the disease. He flies to the family’s home and the monkey is caught. They now have great hope to get a cure made before everyone in the quarantined town (and possibly the world) dies.

BUT he learns upon returning that the president has authorized full cleansing, and the bomb is en route to annihilate the town. Hope is raised but then so are the stakes, and that barrels the story toward turning point #4—that major setback.

There’s nothing more fun than raising someone’s hopes to the heights, then dashing them. No, I’m not mental. This is good storytelling! Raise your character’s hopes at a moment when he really needs hope. Then smash it into pieces and send him reeling. That’s the build to the climax.

Yay! More Charts!

And since I love creating charts and handouts, as you’ve probably noticed, I’ve put these first ten scenes in a list in two formats for you: An Excel chart(which will come in handy when you go on to paste your scene summaries into the final thirty-scene chart) and a PDF, for those of you who can’t access Excel (or don’t want to use it).

Print out your chart (maybe multiple copies so you can play with ideas) and get working on your ten scenes.

I’ll talk more next week about these twists. And then we’ll move on to the next twenty scenes: the pebbles that go into the spaces in the jar between your ten rocks! There are countless ways to approach the next ten scenes, and over the next weeks we’ll play with some ideas.

Share some thoughts in the comments. Do you have all these ten scenes figured out? What are some great twists you can think of from a movie or book?

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