Steven James is a national best-selling author with over three dozen books to his credit. Visit his blog at www.asktheauthor.net and his website at www.stevenjames.net.
People often ask me what a scene is, what a scene includes, how long a scene should be, and if scenes are included simply to reveal character traits. Since all of these are related topics, I decided to tackle them together. Let’s see how much we can cover in this one blog post. First of all, a scene is the account of a character, rooted in time and space, working toward an objective that he wishes to accomplish.
The scene begins when a decision on his own, or an obligation thrust on him by another, places him in this situation where he must accomplish a certain task. It might be buying a bag of Cheetos or negotiating to get a good deal on a new car, or seducing a lover, or saving a child who fell into the lake. There is a task that is related to a goal. The scene shows what happens when the character attempts to accomplish this task or reach this goal.
Scenes are made stronger when there is tension, conflict, unmet desire. Look for that; bring it out.
Regardless of which draft you're in, you will want to work your scenes around objectives—on the part of the characters. I’m not a fan of bland scenes in which nothing is sought or altered, but the actions are just there “to show characterization.” This might be a scene of internal reflection or dialogue or exposition in which nothing is sought and the reader is left in the dark about what the characters really want.
The best way to show characterization is when a character is accepting to overcome something or rise to an occasion, so the scenes that best reveal characterization are those that do more than show action, they show action with intention.
Identify the goal. Let the characters seek it, fail to get it, process what just happened, and then make a decision that leads them on to the next scene.
Seek. Fail. Process. Proceed. This is what well-crafted scenes will do for you. This is the pathway your character will move through, scene by escalating scene, toward the climax.