We now know that there are many different types of scenes and that some scenes are more crucial to the story arc than others. Despite their differing functions, to be compelling there are elements all scenes need to have and things all scenes need to do.
Elements All Scenes Need to Have
Goal – whichever character takes centre stage in the scene needs to have a goal. They aren’t wandering aimlessly; they are striving for something. Ask yourself what that character wants, what they need to do to get it, and how this desire ties into the larger plot.
Setting – all scenes need to take place somewhere. The setting can help establish the scene’s mood. There are many ways to think about setting: time period, geographical location, weather, buildings, etc. Obviously not all of these need to be established in every scene. For example the time period and geographical location may only need to be established once in the story and can be quite vague.
Each scene needs its own clear setting so make sure your reader knows if the character is in a busy park, or sipping tea in the living room.
Time – when does the scene take place in the grand scheme of your narrative? While sometimes it’s appropriate to let the reader know the events are happening at two in the afternoon you don’t always need to be so specific. If one scene ends with a character hopping on a bus out of town and the next scene starts with them showing up to work, the reader may become confused. To avoid this let them know roughly how much time has elapsed between events.
Things All Scenes Need to Do
Advance the plot – all scenes need to provide the reader with information that advances the overall plot. If you remove the scene from your story and the plot remains unaffected then you either need to revise the scene to include plot relevant information or leave the scene out of the final draft.
Character development – all scenes should contribute to the development of the scene’s viewpoint character. If the scene also develops secondary or non-viewpoint characters, that’s great. The key here is to be constantly developing characters who are crucial to the plot.
Sometimes it’s okay if your scene only does one of these two things: either advance the plot or develop an important character. It must do at least one of these things though otherwise you should question its importance to the story you are telling.
There are many other elements involved with crafting a good scene but these are the foundational ones. If you have any questions about what elements should be included in a scene, leave them in the comments.