Writers: How To Arrange Your Scenes and Structure Your Novel

20 11 2018

Do you attend writers’ conferences? I did recently…

Not a conference in my location, mind you. This was held by the Oak Park library of Johnson County, Kansas USA, a rather well-funded facility hosting a well-run symposium. There were only two lecture tracks, but one author had done panels at the 2019 SFWA Conference in Pittsburgh. Cora Carmack flew in from Austin to talk writing.

She recommends Jack Bickam’s Scene and Structure. For her, many years of figuring things out on her own clicked together after having read this book.

Here are my notes from her lecture with added explanations.

A) Story Goal

1) What will a character do to restore their self-worth (“Get things right”, “Get back to Hobbiton safe in time for elevenses”). a) Self-worth is based on self-perception. i) The character goal is to restore their perceived original values and regain control of their environment.

2) A story raises a Question  a) every event is filtered through accomplishing the Goal.

B) Cause and Effect  1) Every specified element in a story must have later purpose  2) Every effect or event must have a cause tied to an earlier element.

C) Stimulus and Response  1) Stimulus MUST BE EXTERNAL  a) action or dialogue   2) Response MUST BE IMMEDIATE   a) if the response is illogical, that illogic must be explained internally (have the character reflect that maybe it’s not the right choice, but it’s the right choice FOR THEM because [add rationalization here]).


D) Scenes = Building Blocks  1) State the goal of the scene (“the 3 oclock meeting was to summarize the events for the boss”), 2) Introduce conflict/opposition (“Jimmy and Helen did not agree on the ramifications”)   3) FAIL TO REACH GOAL (“Meeting left us more confused and doubtful”)  a) The scene’s goal could be met, but the Story Goal must be made more difficult


F) SCENE Goals  1) Always from POV character  2) IMMEDIATE  a) Clear goal that both      i) relates to long-term goals   ii) raises the Scene Goal

G) Conflict Development  1) IS the scene   2) MUST be about the scene goal  3) Details the Conflict

H) HOW-TOs  1) Dialogue  2) Action  3) MUST BE VISIBLE  a) Non-POV characters can only respond to sensory data (even if telepathic or magical, still counts as sensory).

I) The Scene Ends In Disaster   1) MUst be a) a Straight Denial of the Goal or  b) YES, BUT (adding a complication) or c) NO, AND FURTHERMORE YOU LOSE THIS TOO.


Before writing a scene: Set goals, arrange escalating loss, and figure how it moves the story forward.


Introduce these elements in this order:

Setting + Protagonist + Problem + Antagonist + Conflict + Goal


Reading this again, it clarified a lot of things needed for my first draft in NaNoWriMo. I’m at 10K words, and while I have two POV characters (slight burden), one has a goal he is concealing from non-POV characters (more difficult), whilehaving to delineate a magic system and backstory from a previous novel (eek).

I’ve laid out the novel elements well, I think. The problem is maintaining the POVs cause-and-effect while giving each character an arc.

Oh and I’m pantsing, which means I’ll be freaking out in another 10K words as the elements have to be amended.

Write Towards Your Conflict, Delay Your Resolution

4 06 2018
man couple people woman

Photo by Gratisography on Pexels.com

While I was at the SFWA convention in Pittsburgh, a panelist mentioned Jim Butcher adding just-one-more conflict to resolve before the story concluded. Stumbled across an article that agreed with Jim Butcher’s plotting.

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