Types of scenes in fiction
| A scene is a tiny story within the larger story. This means it has to be constructed like a story with a beginning, a middle, and an end. Scenes are important, because they move the story forward. |
To move a story forward, a scene has to add to the unfurling of or the surging up of the action by creating tension through conflict build up, character development, and emotional impact on the reader. Although dramatic scenes are the most important because they add to the suspense, not all scenes are dramatic.
A scene can be written as exposition when it establishes a setting or a mood or can be handled like a transition that smoothes the flow of the story as a character or an idea moves from one place to another. In this type of a scene, conflict is not needed. Here is an example for an exposition scene from Jane Austen's "Pride and Prejudice."
"Elizabeth, as they drove along, watched for the first appearance of Pemberley Woods with some perturbation; and when at length they turned in at the lodge, her spirits were in a high flutter.
The park was very large, and contained great variety of ground. They entered it in one of its lowest points, and drove for some time through a beautiful wood stretching over a wide extent."
The second type of scene is just there to thrill the reader and to add zing to the story. As a spectacle scene, this one does not contain conflict and has a fleeting effect, but it helps to titillate the senses. Imagine the dance scene in the movie Anna and the King, when Anna dances with the king. Although the scene has little to do with the storyline, which means the story could be told without this scene, most people who have seen the movie remember this dance scene. The following scene from a short story by Guy de Maupassant about a mother and her children has little to do with the plotline, but it adds pizzazz to the story.
"I heard 'birr! birr!' and a magnificent covey rose at ten paces from me. I aimed. Pif! paf! and I saw a shower, a veritable shower of birds. There were seven of them!"—And they all went into raptures, amazed, but reciprocally credulous."
The dramatic scene is the most important type, in which a conflict is a must. Conflict arises from the need or the desire of a character, most of the time the protagonist--although this is not etched in stone--when his need or desire meets an obstacle or some form of a resistance or mishap. Two polarized forces that are equally dedicated to their opposing desires offer the most heightened conflict. A dramatic scene has to create the strongest emotional impact on the reader, as it moves the plot or changes its direction or adds to a change in or finishes the portrayal of a character. In a dramatic scene, purpose, location, time, and even weather play significant roles. A dramatic scene also belongs to a character, not necessarily the protagonist but an important character to the story nevertheless, or one unique group of characters. This dramatic scene is from "A Drama on the Seashore" by Honore de Balzac, showing a father, a fisherman, throwing his son into the sea to kill him.
"Cambremer carried him alone; he laid him in the bottom of the boat, tied a stone to his neck, took the oars and rowed out of the cove to the open sea, till he came to the rock where he now is. When the poor mother, who had come up here with her brother-in-law, cried out, 'Mercy, mercy!' it was like throwing a stone at a wolf. There was a moon, and she saw the father casting her son into the water; her son, the child of her womb, and as there was no wind, she heard _blouf_! and then nothing--neither sound nor bubble.."
Just as any story plot twists and turns, the plot of a dramatic scene may twist and turn. Also, some scenes create positive emotional impact whereas others create negative impact. Thus, it is wise to vary the scenes, by making a positive impact scene follow a negative one and two negative impact scenes follow a positive one, but without settling into a detectable pattern. It is also imperative to make the passage between the scenes as smooth as possible to strengthen the flow of a story.
A scene is one of the basic units to build up a story. The more importance a writer gives to his scenes, the stronger his story will be.