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Story beats and scene structure (1 Viewer)

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KeganThompson

Senior Member
I realized my pacing of my story was off a while ago. The beginning is too drawn out with unnecessary fluff. Along with the big plot change, I decided I needed do revising before completing my draft. When I first started I thought story structure was a basic theme, characters at the bottom-rising action multiple events, climax and resolution-the chart they taught in school.
Then I learned about STORY BEATS. and I was like oh shiz. does my story have proper structure. NO. That's why the pacing feels off. Then I heard about scenes and didn't think about how it applied to writing.
Dumb question. How do you know when a scene in a chapter ends and a new one begins? Subject change? Moving topics? or can that multiple topics be part of the same scene? LOL what is Shakespeare because I clearly don't remember much from high school.-now I'm questioning my grasp on acts.
My brain divided stories by chapters instead of diving it by scenes. I am working on flowing and transitioning paragraphs so one "scene" doesn't hop to another one without a clear space/ divider. along with my story structure I think my scene structure is having issues. Parts I need to slow down and emphasize and parts I just need to move along. any recommendations/ books/ advice to help figure out structure better?
I'm at that self awareness stage of writing where I can look at something and go "something aint right." but not able to fully get a grasp on what it is so I can fix it...
 

Ajoy

Senior Member
How do you know when a scene in a chapter ends and a new one begins? Subject change? Moving topics? or can that multiple topics be part of the same scene?
I change scenes when I'm ready to move forward in time or events in my story or change POV, and I typically try to do the whole 'arrive late, leave early' thing with each scene to keep the pace from dragging.


any recommendations/ books/ advice to help figure out structure better?
This author has these and other videos about story structure that are pretty nicely explained.
 
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Terry D

Retired Supervisor
Best advice I can give to find a structure which works for your story is to look at books you enjoy and deconstruct them. It's a lot like diagraming sentences in school only you'll be working with stories and authors you enjoy, which makes the whole process more fun. What works? What doesn't? How is their structure different from yours? There are lots of instructional/self-help books out there and many of them work for different writers, but, in my opinion, nothing is more helpful for me than looking at work I enjoy. Good luck.
 

notawizard

Senior Member
I usually end a chapter either when there's a substantive transition between scenes (for example, time passing, or a setting change, or a character viewpoint shift, etc.), OR when there is a break in the action that I think of as almost cliff-hangery. The MC is running from someone and trying to escape, and then they turn the corner and the person they were running from is standing in front of them, for example. In that sort of instance, the scene will continue in the next chapter unabated, but there was a moment of (hopefully) shock or surprise to end the chapter on.

I have always liked the experience of getting to the end of a chapter and feeling like, "OMG I have to keep reading to see what happens next!" I also think, though, that this sort of thing shouldn't be used for every chapter and only for really big moments. I do, however, use the same thing on a smaller scale for choosing the ends of certain scenes within a chapter, too.

This is going to be dependent on the genre you are writing, I imagine.
 

notawizard

Senior Member
This doesn't address chapters/scenes directly, but my husband and I were watching a video yesterday on what's called the story circle, which is a super simplified version of the classic Western-style hero's journey.

It discusses a basic structure that is very familiar, starting in a familiar world, then chaos, characters changing and adapting to the chaos, and then returning to the new world a changed person (there are loads of videos that will explain it better). My favorite thing that the author we were watching yesterday said is that each character should have their own story circle if you looked at the story from their perspective.
 

KeganThompson

Senior Member
I change scenes when I'm ready to move forward in time or events in my story, and I typically try to do the whole 'arrive late, leave early' thing with each scene to keep the pace from dragging.



This author has these and other videos about story structure that are pretty nicely explained.
Haha joke is on you. I have already seen these. This is what made me realize what a story beat is lol

I think what I'm wondering is...what constitutes as a single scene? Honestly I'm probably over thinking it
 

notawizard

Senior Member
I'd pick up my favorite books (especially if they're in the genre you're working on) and literally write up an outline of each scene and analyze them to see how those authors handled it. On one hand, you could be overthinking it, but I think looking at what is done well and figuring out WHY it works is a great idea. You might find a pattern that could help you out in your own writing.

Are you a pantser or an outliner for your own writing?
 

KeganThompson

Senior Member
I'd pick up my favorite books (especially if they're in the genre you're working on) and literally write up an outline of each scene and analyze them to see how those authors handled it. On one hand, you could be overthinking it, but I think looking at what is done well and figuring out WHY it works is a great idea. You might find a pattern that could help you out in your own writing.

Are you a pantser or an outliner for your own writing?
A hot mess of a pantser. :D I definitely need to start reading as a writer not just someone who enjoys story
 

KeganThompson

Senior Member
This doesn't address chapters/scenes directly, but my husband and I were watching a video yesterday on what's called the story circle, which is a super simplified version of the classic Western-style hero's journey.

It discusses a basic structure that is very familiar, starting in a familiar world, then chaos, characters changing and adapting to the chaos, and then returning to the new world a changed person (there are loads of videos that will explain it better). My favorite thing that the author we were watching yesterday said is that each character should have their own story circle if you looked at the story from their perspective.
Can you provide a link to the video please :)
 

notawizard

Senior Member
I used to be a pantser, but I couldn't write a story to save my life LOL. Now I know the basics of the plot before I start.

I don't actually have the link right now, but I'll try to figure it out later. He was the one who put the video on and I don't even remember who the author is. He might remember, though. I'll check with him later on. :)
 

KeganThompson

Senior Member
I used to be a pantser, but I couldn't write a story to save my life LOL. Now I know the basics of the plot before I start.

I don't actually have the link right now, but I'll try to figure it out later. He was the one who put the video on and I don't even remember who the author is. He might remember, though. I'll check with him later on. :)
I had a skeleton for a plot and basic events planned out but as I was writing it started forming into something else and i scraped a main plot or one that was similar enough. I think I threw up on the pages and now I'm cleaning up my ideas and getting a better vision of what I want. Hopefully refiguring out the beginning will help motivate me to finish the end and have more assurance of what I want for the second half/ end of the story. :)
How long have you been writing for?
 

Ajoy

Senior Member
I don't actually have the link right now, but I'll try to figure it out later. He was the one who put the video on and I don't even remember who the author is. He might remember, though. I'll check with him later on. :)
Is it this one?
 

notawizard

Senior Member
I had a skeleton for a plot and basic events planned out but as I was writing it started forming into something else and i scraped a main plot or one that was similar enough. I think I threw up on the pages and now I'm cleaning up my ideas and getting a better vision of what I want. Hopefully refiguring out the beginning will help motivate me to finish the end and have more assurance of what I want for the second half/ end of the story. :)
How long have you been writing for?
Haha, I feel like this is where I'm at with my revision, and I outlined the whole damned thing. :p I'm just hoping that once I get the beginning redone, I can figure out what on earth to do with the ending.

It's hard to say how long I've been writing. I started thirty years ago, wrote through college, got discouraged by some feedback a professor gave me and gave up, then started writing again a few years later. I spent about five years on craft to the point that I felt like I was ready to play with the big boys, and wrote three novels I felt were professional, then stopped writing for another five years or so for a zillion reasons, and I've only just gotten back into the game again the past month. So on and off since I was a kid, but it's not really accurate to say I've been writing for 30 years, either.
 

Cephus

Senior Member
Honestly, things become so much easier when you understand story structure before you start to write. Now I've been doing this for so long that I automatically think in those terms. I understand what beats need to be hit where in the story, so when I'm plotting, it helps slot all of those elements into the right places. I've even seen people who have put together guides, telling you what kinds of things ought to go into what chapter and as a framework, that works very well. It keeps your pacing consistent and allows you to keep your story coherent. If you can balance story structure and genre expectation, you're way ahead of the game.
 

TheMightyAz

Mentor
Breaking your work up into scenes is extremely handy. It allows you to look at each in isolation and keep note of each one for easy access on bigger project. I use Word and insert '..........SCENE 1...........' etc. in between each one. It is sometimes difficult to see when a scene ends and another begins. I see my structure as a roller coaster ride with down time, stretched moments of tension before the sudden drop, shallower up and downs, twists, turns and spins. At each moment of that ride, I sense where a scene should end and a scene should begin. Once you've got those isolated, you can then concentrate on each scene and ask yourself 'now, what am I trying to achieve here and is there any subtext?' Rather like extended paragraphs.
 

KeganThompson

Senior Member
Honestly, things become so much easier when you understand story structure before you start to write. Now I've been doing this for so long that I automatically think in those terms. I understand what beats need to be hit where in the story, so when I'm plotting, it helps slot all of those elements into the right places. I've even seen people who have put together guides, telling you what kinds of things ought to go into what chapter and as a framework, that works very well. It keeps your pacing consistent and allows you to keep your story coherent. If you can balance story structure and genre expectation, you're way ahead of the game.
With everything that being said I don't think I'm ahead of the game. 🤣
I learn by doing. Could I have been better prepped as a new writer going into writing? yep but I think if I didn't immediately start writing I would've gotten intimidated by everything and not do it. Now I'm in too deep lol
 

Kyle R

WF Veterans
The most common definition of a scene is that it's a single unit of conflict, in which the POV character strives to accomplish a certain goal. They encounter conflict. Then the scene ends when the character successfully accomplishes the goal ... or fails.

Example:

Girl is suddenly dizzy at a party, and wants to escape to the balcony for some air, before the feeling gets worse (goal).
But an old acquaintance spots her, grabs her by the elbow, and strikes up an animated conversation (conflict).
Unable to escape from the conversation, Girl finally can't hold it in any longer, and she vomits all over the acquaintance, much to her own (and everyone else's) horror (failure).

The goal can be external (something physical) or internal (an emotional goal). The outcome could be negative (a disaster) or positive (success!), or a combination of both. As long as it moves the story forward in some way.

Though, stringing together scenes isn't the only way to write a story. Some writers do particularly well by stringing together vignettes -- which feel like scenes but don't really have any clearly defined elements. Mostly, the vignettes accomplish a sense of tone or mood.

Then there's also the old-school screenwriting definition: that a scene is a unit of drama that takes place in a single location, and the scene ends when the location is changed.

I don't believe that you have to follow any particular definition, though. You could even create your own style of "scene", if you like. As long you find something that works for you. 👍
 
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vranger

Staff member
Supervisor
The most common definition of a scene is that it's a single unit of conflict, in which the POV character strives to accomplish a certain goal. They encounter conflict. Then the scene ends when the character successfully accomplishes the goal ... or fails.
Generally, my scenes may encompass a conflict, but they may also simply be an errand, information gathering, meeting a new character, something that happens at one location as opposed to a different location, an important conversation, what the MC is planning while eating breakfast ... etc.

I started a thread months ago speculating about a story with no conflict (there are some big names in the field who support the possibility), and was lambasted here for the notion. LOL
 

vranger

Staff member
Supervisor
With everything that being said I don't think I'm ahead of the game. 🤣
I learn by doing. Could I have been better prepped as a new writer going into writing? yep but I think if I didn't immediately start writing I would've gotten intimidated by everything and not do it. Now I'm in too deep lol
It's a good plan. My first professional writing began with the idea I could do it, and no preparation whatsoever. I did it for years successfully. However, looking back at that material now, it was imaginative but raw. It's perfectly valid for us to begin an avocation and learn as we go ... as long as we KNOW that's what we are doing. LOL
 

JBF

Staff member
Board Moderator
I started a thread months ago speculating about a story with no conflict (there are some big names in the field who support the possibility), and was lambasted here for the notion. LOL

I am intrigued, but also failing to wrap my mind around this would work.

I sort of want to attempt it.
 
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