Fiction Is Better Than Real Life

Have you ever thought about the structure of a scene?

I know I hadn’t until I began studying the craft of writing to improve the act of writing.

Books are typically written following the three-act structure, an Aristotelian concept.  The first act is the setup for the story and includes the story goal.  Using the romance genre as an example, we’ll call the story goal “boy wants girl”.  The second act, the longest part of the book, contains the majority of the conflict, hazards,  and roadblocks along the journey to the story goal.  Act three brings it all together for a climactic ending that achieves the story goal.

Scenes are written in a similar manner.  The initial part of a scene sets up the scene goal, which is the immediate goal within that scene.  It has to tie into the story goal but it’s a momentary thing.  If the story goal is “boy wants girl”, then the scene goal might be “boy wants a date with girl”.  Once the goal has been established, the scene continues with conflict related to the scene goal.  As in the three-act structure, the conflict portion of the scene runs the longest.  Finally, the scene must end in disaster.  Disaster doesn’t have to mean earthquake or hurricane or fatal accident, although it could.  Instead, if the scene goal was “boy wants date with girl”, then the disaster could be “girl adamantly refuses.”

It’s important that your conclusion answer the scene goal.  If the scene goal was the boy wanting a date with the girl and the disaster has the girl washing her hair, it doesn’t tie up that loose end and the reader is likely to sit there and say “What the…?”

The conflict portion is of equal, if not greater, importance.  Readers are fascinated and threatened by change in their real lives.  This fascination carries over into fiction where the reader can root for the Lead to succeed and can sit on the edge of his or her seat during the greatest upheavals.  Our self-concept is our most precious mental and emotional possession.  Any significant change can, and likely will, threaten the self-concept.  People will go to almost any length to protect it as it stands today.

Here’s the twist: fiction needs to make more sense than real life.  That actually appeals to me because sometimes, real life makes absolutely no sense.

What are your thoughts on scene construction?  Should fiction make more sense than real life?  Does your life make sense?


2 thoughts on “Fiction Is Better Than Real Life

  1. I have to confess that I’ve never consciously thought about scene construction. I just write it where it flows well and, when possible, I like to end the chapter with something to pique the reader’s curiosity so they will choose to read one more chapter instead of going to bed.

    I agree that fiction does have to be logical, even though life sometimes isn’t. If I wrote that the boy dunked the basketball, and then himself, through the basketball hoop, the readers would say, “yeah, right. That’s so stupid…” But it really did happen (I just saw it on TV not too long ago.)


    • I never thought about it either until I started reading up on craft. Honestly, all this “education” is a bit intimidating but I know it will be worth it in the long run. In the moment, it makes me question my construction, which results in writer’s block. Writing this post freed me up and pushed the block to the side. I’m going back to writing with the flow like you do.

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