Best way to end scenes?

by Shelby

Hello there!

I've fallen prey to the hundreds of writing books out there. So naturally, I have read some contradicting information and was wondering if you could help me out. My current WIP has scenes ending sometimes when a big reveal is about to happen (a hook/disaster) and others when the location changes. I've read once that scenes take place in one single location, meaning the next scene should be a new location. But I've also read that scenes should all end in disaster or dilemma. Even the Sequel/reaction scenes I've read should go reaction, dilemma, decision and some say to leave off the decision till the next scene and just leave them with a dilemma. So my question is how to end my scenes? Can I have two side by side scenes with different GCD even though they take place right after each other/same location?

Example: Character A sees some alarming scene but then finds a secret compartment. I ended with her reaching into the secret compartment (hook)

Scene 2 is her going through the compartment and it ends with getting chased by someone (another disaster)

But should these two scenes be tied since they are right after each other in the same location? And what about scenes that end with something being resolved? How can I possibly leave every scene on a disaster/dilemma? Help! Thanks!

Answer: First, the definition of "scene" as a piece of action that takes place in continuous time at a specific place is a very old definition taken from drama. In most classic plays, each scene presented one event (change) and you would switch locations for the next event.

Over the centuries, writers have realized that there are many exceptions to that concept. For example, you can have a play in which all the events from start to finish take place at one location (one set). You can also have a film sequence in which one event involves action that is occurring in several different locations at the same time.

I find that it is much better to think in terms of events rather than scenes. An event is an irreversible and meaningful change that gives characters new purposes or sends them off in a new direction. An event can be either an action or a decision.

It is often true that one scene will be about one event. (That's a very neat way to write it.) However, events
can happen one after the other at a particular place and time. So one scene can contain many events. Also, one event can involve action in several different places. An event can also be divided into a sequence of smaller events that take place at different times or locations.

The way you tell where one event ends and the next begins is that the resolution of each event will be a change. Someone acquires a new purpose, makes a new decision, or acquires a new problem.

It's often quite helpful to think of each major event in your story as a four-part sequence consisting of ...

Setup --> Complication --> Crisis --> Resolution.

That's the basic dramatic arc that applies to not just events but also your overall plot, subplots, or even trilogies. A novel is one big event, one change, that is composed of a series of smaller events (acts), composed of still smaller events (scenes/chapters), etc.

Now, for your question about where to end a scene...

Think about how each event will be resolved. Most events in your story will resolve themselves with the character(s) taking on a new purpose. That's what propels the story forward. The reader wants to see what happens when they follow through on that purpose. Only the last event of a plotline will resolve the entire sequence of action by bringing the overall purposes to a peaceful end.

So a logical place to end a chapter or a scene is just when an event is resolved and the characters have taken on a new purpose. The reader is looking forward to seeing what will happen next, and so is more willing to read "just one more chapter."

In the example you give, you might ask yourself what the big event or change is. Is it the character moving from being a bystander to a potential victim?

If so, you can make it a sequence such as (and this is just an example; I don't know your story)...

Setup: Heroine witnesses a crime.

Complication: Villain sees her and realizes she witnessed his misdeeds.

Crisis: She attempts to escape with him in pursuit.

Resolution: He catches her. (Now her new purpose is to escape, protect her own life, or possibly stall him until help arrives.)

If you ended the scene/chapter there, the reader would be compelled to keep reading to find out what happens next to the heroine.

Hope that helps.

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Wonderful explaination!
by: Shelby

Thank you so so much! That was a beautiful explanation. I am still stuck on if scenes should end in resolution or disaster and how I tell them apart from the crisis. Your scene flow goes setup--complication--crisis--resolution when others go goal--conflict--disaster. So does every "resolution" have to be a disaster? Or do you extend the scene until something else goes wrong and end it there, so you can start the next scene with the next goal?

Ex: Character A is tracking down Character B. Goes through some complications. Ends with him calling a mysterious Character C for help. Eventually finds info he needs and succeeds in his goal.

Technically that is the end of the scene right? But it is not a disaster. I'm sure I'm over thinking this waaaay to much. I just worry if there is a resolution at the end of the scene, that doesn't stand for a very good "hook" if the resolution isn't disaster. And I feel if I split it where there is disaster, it's probably at the crisis. I just need to wrap my head around resolution/disaster and how that differentiates from the crisis of the scene. I understand if you can't respond to this second part. Thank you so so much for your help!

by: Glen

Not every resolution has to be a disaster. Some events should end with a success - so long as it's a success that propels the story forward. For example, in a classic happy ending story, after the crisis (or the darkest hour) there is often a series of events that are small victories leading to the big victory at the end. The reverse is true for classic tragedies.

But even in a worsening, you need your characters to have small victories along the way to keep up the reader's hope.

In Dramatica terms, you have Requirements (events that bring the characters closer to victory) and Forewarnings (events that bring total disaster closer). By alternating these, you create an emotional roller coaster that oscillates between hope and fear. It's much more effective than just going from bad to worse.

To take another example, let's say your character is trying to discover the identity of a criminal. And let's say the quest is successful and at the moment of resolution, the criminal's identity is discovered. However, it's not what the detective was expecting. Maybe it turns out the criminal is the detective's old teacher or lover or brother, etc. Now the detective has a slightly different purpose because he now has confused feelings abut the criminal and must try to resolve those feelings by understanding why this person turned to crime. In this way, little successes can deepen the bigger story and heighten the drama just as much as little disasters.

by: Glen

Some writers think in terms of 3-part structures (goal --> conflict --> resolution), while others think in terms of 4-part structures (setup --> complication --> crisis --> resolution).

Both are acceptable. Often the two middle parts of a 4-part structure run together, making it seem like 3 parts. At the same time, most 3-part story models include a turning point in the middle of part 2 - which is an acknowledgment that it's really a 4-part structure.

Use whichever model makes sense to you for the event you're writing.

Again wonderful!!
by: Shelby

Thank you a million times Glen! I know I'm trying to make things harder for myself but there is a formula for a reason: it works! I think I prefer the 4 part sequence so I am now looking at my scenes thinking "Is this really a resolution? Or just a disaster which should really just be the climax of the scene, not the end." It's really helping me! Thanks so much Glen!!

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