How to construct a scene in a story

All stories are constructed of smaller parts, known as scenes, in which the main character attempts to resolve a primary, central problem. This overarching problem is what set the story in motion, and the main character’s resolution of it essentially marks the tale’s end.

In each scene, the main character must address a different aspect of this central problem on his way to resolving it. This might involve attempting a solution (which must fail unless the scene is the story’s climax), learning specific skills to help him resolve the problem, doing detective work to find out who he must be stopped so the problem can be resolved, and so on.

In a sense, each scene is a mini-story with an opening, rising action (steps the main character takes to overcome the scene’s central problem), a decisive action in which the main character enacts his plan, and ultimately an ending, which shows the main character succeeding, realizing he’s failed, or recognizing that he must move on to the next step in addressing the overarching problem. When constructing a scene, you then should treat it as a mini-story that is part of a larger piece.

As writing a scene, ask yourself these useful questions:
• What problem is our main character attempting to resolve within the scene? This problem should relate to resolving the story’s central problem.
• What obstacles does the main character face as resolving the scene-specific problem? Answering this question will help shape how the scene unfolds.
• What do you want to reveal about your main character and other characters within the scene? This should tie into the development of the main character through the entire story.
• What is the scene’s setting? Is should be interesting yet fit into the overall story’s plot. 
 How many characters will be in the scene? Make sure the majority of them are minor characters. If you don’t, some of the major characters will seem flat or you’ll have to focus on developing a lot of characters, which can be difficult for readers to follow not to mention result in a convoluted plot. 
 How long should the scene be? It does not need to be exactly the same length as all of the other scenes, but it should not dominate the story or be underwritten either. 
 Does the scene make the situation direr for the main character? Scenes should build in intensity and seriousness toward the story’s climax. 
• How does it move the story to the next scene? Information the main character learns in the scene or how the solution to the scene-specific problem plays out should point to the need for another problem to be resolved, which will be addressed in the next scene.


My name is Rob Bignell. I’m an affordable, professional editor who runs Inventing Reality Editing Service, which meets the manuscript needs of writers both new and published. I also offer a variety of self-publishing services. During the past decade, I’ve helped more than 300 novelists and nonfiction authors obtain their publishing dreams at reasonable prices. I’m also the author of the 7 Minutes a Day… writing guidebooks, four nonfiction hiking guidebook series, and the literary novel Windmill. Several of my short stories in the literary and science fiction genres also have been published.