last updated: 21 November 2018 (approximate reading time: 2 minutes; 397 words)
A scene is the basic unit of a story. It is a self-contained element of a story that can exist on its own. A novel is then a series of scenes. Each scene fits together within a larger framework to build a story.
Each scene needs to perform certain basic tasks and in the same way that I outline the entire story, I outline each scene.
I have a simple template—a series of headings—to put some structure around my thoughts for each scene. These headings work as a series of prompts for me (hence they are a bit long and rather wordy in some cases). I’ve then added a few scratchy notes to elaborate on how I’m prompting my self to think.
In case there’s any doubt, these are my headings that I use to prompt myself when I’m outlining a scene. These headings/notes are not intended as a guide to how a scene should be constructed.
The location of the scene—the place where the action occurs.
The time (of day) when the action occurs.
point of view character
Each scene will have one point of view character from whose perspective the scene plays out.
Dramatic purpose of scene/what changes for the scene point of view character?
The change is the meat of the scene—this is the reason the scene matters in the context of the larger story. Again, if you haven’t followed the link above, you should read my scene basics note.
What decision is the point of view character making/How is that character driving the action?
This scene is about what the point of view character does. Here. Now. If that character is not driving the action, then they’re a passenger in the scene and should step off.
At the heart of every story is a conflict. Each scene has its own conflict. If there’s no conflict, then there’s no scene.
What keeps the reader turning the page?
In short, what question does the scene pose, but not answer.
Bullet point synopsis
A quick list of bullet points noting the main events of the scene.
It’s not necessary to record dialog fragments, but this is the place I note any pieces of dialog.
You know what notes are? If I have any notes, this is where they go. If I’ve got nothing to note, this heading is empty.