Essential Components of a Scene

Essential Components of a SceneBuilding a story at the scene-level, we have to understand the essential components of a scene in order to give it focus. The scene has to advance the story else it fails in its purpose, which is to drive action or reaction in the characters.


I’ve formulated my approach to scenes based on advice from several writing coaches including Troy Lambert and Savannah Gilbo. It comes down to four elements.

Scenes have to have structure and intent:

What do these actually cover?

  • Goal of the author – what does the scene contribute to the story?
  • Goal of the character(s) – what do the characters want in this scene?
  • Motivation of the characters – why do they want to achieve the goal?
  • Conflict – what is the conflict between the characters in this scene?
  • Resolution – what is the outcome of the conflict within the scene? What do we take forward to the next part of the story?


Let’s take my 500-word flash fiction piece: The Serpent in the Sands

One scene; one conversation, two characters, one location, one conflict

  • Goal of author – encapsulate a WWII spy story
  • Goal of characters – narrator wants to capture a spy; the spy wants to escape
  • Motivation – narrator wants to see justice served
  • Conflict – narrator versus the traitor; accusation and denial
  • Resolution – the spy is arrested; justice is served

Pride and Prejudice Proposal Scene

One scene; one conversation, two characters, one location, one conflict

  • Goal of author – deliver a key turning point in the plot; encapsulate pride and prejudice theme
  • Goal of characters – Darcy proposes; Elizabeth tells him exactly what she thinks of him
  • Motivation – Darcy thinks he’s in love. Elizabeth tells truth to power
  • Conflict – Pride versus prejudice made concrete
  • Resolution – Proposal rejected; Darcy and Elizabeth part permanently(!)

Embedding Focus

I’m using this Goal-Motivation-Conflict-Resolution method in two ways now:

  • As a plotting tool, making sure I have focus before I begin writing a scene. Plotters can use it as a short-cut to outlining an entire book. Free-writers can use it as a minimal tool, either to stay on track or for accountability if the text goes off in a different direction.
  • As a revision tool, making sure I maintain focus when I work through the manuscript. I can spot when I lose focus or deviate from my four route markers.

If you consider a typical length novel contains 40-60 scenes, this kind of focus is highly valuable.

5 thoughts on “Essential Components of a Scene”

  1. Guard rails. You just invented guard rails for fiction. Perfect before or after tool to make sure you stay on-path.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *