The Three Act Structure, Part II: Chapters and Scenes 2

Tools and Techniques

While I write, I see scenes as a series of camera shots with different angles and foci. Those shots include varying levels of macro and micro detail that include at least two of the five senses and—what I’ll term the sixth sense—emotion. In addition, I never, deliberately head-hop.

Head-hopping & POV

Head-hopping is changing the narrative from one character’s points of view to another’s. While there are many, successful authors that do this frequently, I’ve chosen to continue my Indirect Interior Monologue as defined by David Jauss and explained in my post Kill Your Darlings, Part II: Point of View and Debasing Your Language. This keeps the narrative clean and clear to the reader. In fact, I keep the same POV character throughout the entire chapter.

Scenes in Chapters

Regarding the chapter breakdown and how scenes are integrated into those chapters, you’ll see in the image below the current layout for my next novel CHRONICLES OF A WITCH-HUNTER.

Notice that I strictly follow the three-act structure; however, I don’t always have ten scenes per sequence: Ten scenes is just a guideline. Also, not all chapters have just a single scene. Actually, only four of my chapters are composed of a single scene: 9, 11, 15, and 17.

Recall, Steven Shoen in his book The Truth About Fiction defines a scene as “a single unit of time at a single place with a distinct cast of characters. When the time, place, or people change significantly, we start a new scene.” (114) A scene is not narrative.

Chapter 1 begins in a clothing store; moves into slushy, city streets; then into the back room of a bar. Each of those are scenes. Therefore, Act I, Sequence 1, Scenes 1, 2, and 3 defines Chapter 1.

Chapter 2 begins in a second-floor apartment; moves to the same slushy, winter streets; then into the bar’s lounge; then its bathroom; then the alley behind the bar. Act I, Sequence 1, Scenes 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, and 8 defines Chapter 1. Now, the lounge and bathroom could probably be kept as one scene, but there are specific events that make the bathroom scene unique from the lounge scene, so I chose to define those as two scenes.

In these scenes, I can almost see where cameras would be set up and when action and cut would be announced. That’s a good indicator that I have my scenes clearly defined: if the cameras and crew need to move to a new set, then it’s probably a new scene.

My Next Post

I’ll continue this thread of novel structure analysis in my next post: The Three Act Structure, Part III: Scenes & Pacing.

Author: Chuck Lang

Chuck Lang is a writer of science fiction and horror. Influenced by his years as a carpenter, four years serving in the US Navy, and his nearly two decades teaching literature, he holds an MFA in Writing (Fiction) from Lindenwood University. After completing his first manuscript, the supernatural horror novel DEAD GODS, in 2019, he has begun work on its two sequels, DEAD GODS: INHERITANCE and DEAD GODS: RESOLUTION. He is currently developing two additional projects, an urban fantasy horror novel and a military science fiction novel. He lives and writes near the frequently flooded Red River in Fargo, ND with his wife and two redhead sons.

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