Mastering Scene Writing

I started writing a post about writing and realized, what makes me think I should be telling anyone how to write. Everyday is a learning experience for me.

Oh, I can give advice on how to create characters, that’s one of my strengths. I’m good at critiquing – or so I’ve been told. But I have nothing to recommend me as an expert on writing. Other than I do write.

So, instead of giving you a lesson, I’ll share something I’ve learned.

The first thing we learn when studying the craft of writing is that every story has a beginning, middle and ending. Common sense, right? Well, I’ve always had a problem filling in the gaps between those three.

I found help by reading You Can Write a Novel by James V. Smith Jr. In it, he breaks story structure down even further using master scenes, major scenes and minor scenes.

Master scenes portray “your novel’s most powerful action and master characters at the most critical points of the story. The critical points are always turning points characterized by complications, reversals, and conflict for the master characters.”

“A Major scene’s function will be one of the following: to move the master story line ahead, to develop characters, to worsen a problem, or to set up later scenes.”

Minor scenes should do the same things as major ones but on a smaller scale.

Back to the Master Scenes. These are the meat and bones of your story. For a novel, you should have approximately nine master scenes. Keep in mind that when you begin writing, the story becomes a living, breathing entity within your mind (at least it does in mine). Just because the Master Story Model has nine Master scenes doesn’t mean you can’t have more or less.

Let’s break down the master scenes even further:

Beginning (setup a problem)
1. Opening Scene
2. Pivotal Setup Complication
3. Point-Of-No-Return Complication

Middle (complicate the problem)
4., 5., 6. Pivotal Complications
7. Worst Complication Possible
8. Worse Than Even The Worst Complication Possible – The Climactic Scene

End (Problem Solved)
9. The End

If you know what your master scenes are going to be, it’s easier to fill in the gaps with major, minor and narrative devices. While I don’t follow Smith’s model to the letter, it has helped me a great deal with planning and writing stories.

Why not use your favorite story, book or movie, identify the master scenes and see if they jive up with Smith’s model. I did it using Doctor Who and the third season episode entitled Blink, written by Steven Moffatt. It was a wonderful exercise that taught me a great deal about storytelling.