Dawn Montgomery

For Love of Structure by Melissa Blue

In Write Talk on July 30, 2013 at 7:04 am

GuestPostI have a treat for you all today. Melissa Blue is here to talk about scene structure. She breaks it down nice and sweet for us. Please give her some love by leaving some comments and stopping by her site. She has some pretty awesome newsletters for her readers and fellow writers. 

Back when I was crazy, I taught a class on structure. Not just any structure, but the broken way I learned it…that actually worked. Why did it work? Because all structure is similar at its core and everyone already knows how it works on an instinctual level. We’ve all read books. Some of us might watch TV and movies like there’s no tomorrow.

There’s a beginning, middle and end. In the beginning, (I now feel the need to quote the Bible) a character is introduced, you see their normal world and then that world is threatened somehow. The middle is a fight to get back a semblance of normal. The end shows how that world will never be that old normal again. That’s structure, baby.

So, in that class I taught the easiest, won’t-hurt-your-brain-to-understand kind of structure because that’s how I was able to wrap my head around it. One of the simplest forms to learn is scene structure. By no means is this a magic bullet, but if structure has ever made you want to faceplant here’s something simple grasp hold to.

(Some of this is from the class I taught. No need to re-invent the wheel. Some of this is stuff I’ve added with time.)

First things first, you should have an idea of what a scene is. It’s a part of a whole. It should be able to stand on its own, but make a whole lot more sense when you put it back into context. (The book.) In Sandra Scofield’s The Scene Book, she defines scene as, “ . . . those passages in narrative when we slow down and focus on an event in the story so that we are in the moment with characters in action.” She goes on to say, “It’s not a summary of what happened.”

That’s the key: Something has to happen in a scene, in real time. Simple structure of a scene:

Protagonist wants A.

Antagonist wants B.

The protagonist/antagonist gets what they want or they realize something else stands in the way of getting A/B, or both.

That’s the mystery of a simple scene structure, but, of course, that’s not what makes it complicated. A scene is always a component of the whole book. You’re not writing in an echo chamber. Also, there can be a scene protagonist and a book’s protagonist. Often they are one in the same, but you can have a scene antagonist that is not the book’s antagonist. The best examples for this concept are stories that involve solving a mystery.

Jayne Ann Krentz’s Smoke in Mirrors is a romantic suspense about Leonora Hutton and Thomas Walker uncovering the truth about the mysterious deaths surrounding the Mirror House. These two characters share an antagonist (for the book), an unknown person. Yet in the first chapter Leonora is the scene’s protagonist and Thomas is the scene’s antagonist.

Simple Structure of this Scene:

Protag wants A: Leonora wants to pack up her half-sister’s house and finally put the memory of her sister to rest.

Antag wants B: Thomas wants Leonora to help him find the money her half-sister stole from an endowment fund.

In this particular instance, Thomas literally stands in Leonora’s way until she agrees to consider his proposition. He blocks the door, uses threats and speculates about her half-sister’s death. The last part brings up more questions (more wants) for Leonora. By the end of the scene you know the protagonist doesn’t get what she wants—to put her half-sister to rest.

You can write a novel in this episodic way. Someone wins or someone loses. (I wouldn’t recommend it though.) Or, you can make all the scenes cohesive for a novel with an overall goal (Plot. That I do recommend having.)

In Smoke In Mirrors, the first scene weaves it all in. Leonora and her half-sister have been friends since college. Her death bothers Leonora because of the manner—suicide. Thomas needs to find the money to protect his brother. Also, his brother’s wife died in the same mysterious and out of character way. Both Leonora and Thomas want to find out what happened. Both of them have separate needs and that’s the seamless thread in every scene.

I could go on about how it’s not so easy to find a scene protag and antag when they want the same thing, but I think this post is long enough. I’m open to any questions you might have.


Melissa Blue’s writing career started on a typewriter one month after her son was born. This would have been an idyllic situation for a writer if it had been 1985, not 2004. Eventually she upgraded to a computer. She’s still typing away on the same computer, making imaginary people fall in love.

Where to find me online or places to sign up for my newsletter to get the latest news:

Melissa Blue Guest PostDoubleDare_FinalBlurb:

First impressions are lasting impressions…

Pastry baker Emmaline Sharp is one business connection away from turning her bakery into something more than the dessert shop on the corner. She believes she’s found Mr. Right in café owner Tobias Merchant. His Caff-aholic brand of freshly brewed coffee makes him the perfect partner. When she accepts a dare that thrusts her naked self into Tobias’ waiting arms, she jeopardizes her entire future. Emma will have to convince him to give her another chance, and somehow she’ll just have to ignore the unexpected passion he ignites within her.

Tobias needs the connection with Emma’s bakery, Sweet Tooth, in order to liberate himself from the financial and emotional obligations of his past. Unfortunately, Emma’s reckless behavior leaves him doubting she can be level-headed and business savvy. Every one of his instincts tells him to walk away, but she’s a temptation he can’t seem to deny. He’s inexplicably drawn to the lightness in her, especially when he knows just how dark the world can be. Against his better judgment, Tobias ignores his instincts and proceeds to form a partnership with Emma.

When their relationship shifts from business to personal, will Emma and Tobias be able to conquer their demons and find their sweet reward before the deal turns sour?

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  1. Melissa, I appreciate the way you’ve simplified the structure of a scene. Helps keep everything in focus throughout the story.

  2. Thank you, Reese. Structure is pretty easy once you learn it. It’s the learning it that might take a while. 🙂

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