What is scene structure in fiction? It’s exactly the same as the structure for the chapter and for the whole story. Scenes are the building blocks of story; you can treat each scene as a short story in itself. But it has to have a satisfying structure in order to keep the reader turning the page.
Following Mary Robinette Kowal’s fractal design for stories, drilling down through the novel we find novels, chapters and scenes need the same essential elements in order to keep the reader turning the page.
- An inciting incident
- A turning point
- A crisis
- A climax
- A resolution
The scene is upset by the inciting incident, disrupting the ordinary world with some kind of conflict. A turning point creates paths to resolution. But only when the characters experience a crisis can they move to action or a decision in the scene climax. This climax leads to a resolution. The resolution may provide only one small block in the overall story pyramid, or it may close an immediate plot point.
The important thing is that every scene has to be a complete story in itself. The reader may not appreciate its significance right away, but it has to tell part of the overall story in a recognisable form. Otherwise, the reader is baffled and loses interest.
In practice, this is a lot more subtle than it sounds.
There is a longer analysis on the Pages and Platforms by Anne Hawley, whose presentation for a writer’s conference got me to look at the essential elements of scenes in this way.