Remembering a few basic essentials about writing scenes can be very helpful when crafting a new story.
Essential 1. Every scene needs a goal.
Essential 2. Scenes start with conflict.
Essential 3. Scenes end with conflict.
Essential 4. Scenes MUST move the story ahead.
Essential 5. Usually it's best to use only one point of view per scene.
Look for these scene essentials in this excerpt from A PARTNER'S PROMISE, my award-winning young peoples' novel. Previous to this scene, Axel, a homeless boy in 1880s New York had been in a fight. He'd been injured and unable to work to earn his food so he stole a loaf of bread. He was arrested.
Axel appeared before a judge later in the afternoon the day he was arrested.
Judge Thomas, a stern-looking man with glasses and a mostly-bald head, studied a paper as Axel stood silently before him.
“This report says you stole a loaf of bread,” Judge Thomas said, peering over the top of his glasses at Axel. “Is that right, boy? Did you steal a loaf of bread?”
“Yes, sir,” Axel said, looking down and placing his hand over his stomach.
“Speak up, boy. I can’t hear what you’re saying!” Judge Thomas shouted.
Axel raised his eyes and looked at the judge. “Yes, sir. I was very hungry.”
“Hungry, were you? That’s no excuse for breaking the law. If you want to eat, you should work for your bread. You young people must learn.” Judge Thomas stared hard at him. “What do you have to say for yourself, Mr. O’Grady?”
“I’m sorry, sir. I do work. I’m a newsie, but another boy beat up my friend and me and took our money. I have been too hurt to work. I ran out of food, and I was so hungry, sir.” Axel prayed Judge Thomas would accept his explanation and give him a chance to pay for the bread when he could work again.
“I’m not your mama, boy. Your problems are your problems, not mine,” Judge Thomas said firmly. “If you steal you go to jail. It’s as simple as that. Besides,” he added, running his gaze over Axel carefully, “if you got yourself beat up, it’s your own fault. You Irish are always causing trouble.”
Axel wanted to cause the narrow-minded judge some trouble right now, but he couldn’t. Instead, he swallowed back his anger and meekly replied, “Please, your honor, sir, please don’t send me to jail. I’ll pay for the bread.”
“I thought you didn’t have any money.”
“I don’t, but I’ll work again soon. I’ll pay for the bread when I can work again.”
“Not good enough,” the judge said, shaking his head. He looked at the papers before him. He rubbed his chin and thought a moment before he went on. “You got any folks?”
Axel shook his head. “My parents are dead.”
Judge Thomas nodded slowly. “I suspected as much,” he said, staring down at Axel over his glasses. He stroked his hand along his jaw and narrowed his focus on Axel. “Have you heard about the trains which take orphans west to be placed out in new homes?”
He not only sold newspapers, he read them too. He’d seen stories about city children finding new homes in the country. “Yes, sir, I know of them.”
The judge took off his glasses. “If you’ll agree to go to the Children’s Home and wait there to be sent west on the next train, I won’t send you to jail.”
Axel felt as though an anvil had fallen on him. Jail or leave New York City. How could he stand either one? No matter which he chose he’d have to leave Nate.
“Well, boy? What will it be?”
He decided there was only one choice he could make, and it wasn’t jail. “I’ll go to the Children’s Home, sir, and take the train west.” He spoke in a firm, decisive voice. He wanted to be sure the judge wouldn’t change his mind and put him back in jail.
“Fine,” the judge said, putting his glasses back on. He wrote something on his papers. When he finished writing he looked up at Axel and pointed his finger. “Don’t you try to run off either. If I see you in this court again you’ll go to jail for sure.” The judge turned Axel over to a police officer and told him to take the boy to the Children’s Home right away.
Scene essentials 1. While the goal is not revealed until late in the scene, it's easy to see Axel's goal is to stay out of jail.
Scene essentials 2. Conflict doesn't rise much higher than that between a judge and an accused person.
Scene essentials 3. Conflict at the end of the scene is even higher than the beginning. Though Axel has achieved his goal, staying out of jail, it has cost him his best friend.
Scene essentials 4. There is no question this scene moves the story ahead. It evokes lots of questions for readers, but the main one is: what will happen to Axel when he must leaves everything familiar and goes to a strange new land?
Scene essentials 5. The entire scene is told through Axel's point of view.
With writing as it is with many other pursuits, it is always important to remember basics.
Fran Shaff, Award-Winning Author