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The scene is the basic building block of any story. It contains actions and reactions, and dialogue (inner and outer). A scene has ONE point of view, and takes place (with few exceptions) while the POV character moves within a single setting.
On TikTok, I posted an overview about how to structure a scene.
So let’s look at this structure a little deeper using an example.
Entering the ballroom, Cinderella was immediately overwhelmed by the opulence on display. Smartly dressed footmen in the kingdom’s livery of purple with gold trim carried trays of champagne and aperitifs among the dancing and chattering guests. Those privileged guests from all across the land were arrayed in their finest suits and fanciest dresses. She glanced down at her own dress for a moment to compare herself and nervously checked that the chignon the back of her head still neatly held her hair.
“Your invitation, please.” A slender man, with narrowing gaze and wearing a sash designating him an emissary of the king himself, held out his hand.
She reached into her reticule and found the invitation she had carefully stashed. The edges had been singed by the fire and soot stained much of the thick vellum. But it was an official invitation.
“I’m here to meet the prince,” she said simply.
We have a setting – the ballroom at the palace – and a character – Cinderella – taking her chance at her scene goal – to meet the prince.
“Over there, with the other ladies in line,” he replied, nodding toward a tight cluster of young women with their mothers and other matrons supervising them closely. “What is your father’s name so that I may announce you?”
Cinderella thought quickly. If she gave her father’s true name, the masquerade tonight would all be for naught. Her stepmother would hear and frown. Eyes full of venom for her disobedience, Stepmother would send Cinderella home.
“Miss?” he prompted, and his narrowing gaze told her his patience was wearing thin.
“My… my father is deceased, my lord,” she said the truth quietly.
“Your guardian then?” he asked after a moment, his tone now gentle.
She remembered her Latin lessons. “Caeru Turchina,” she described her fairy godmother. “Lady Caeru,” she added quickly.
“And your name?”
“Sandra,” she said, mangling the French pronunciation. She’d never been very good at French, according to her tutor.
He smiled and took her hand, leading her forward. “Miss Sandra, ward of the Lady Caeru,” he announced when the musicians reached a pause in their orchestral piece.
Lifting her belled skirt and the crinoline beneath, Cinderella stepped down the staircase, gaze scanning the floor.
She found her stepmother and stepsisters first and so steered herself to the left side of the staircase to avoid coming down near them. Just as she turned her head to look in the direction of her feet, she collided with a broad chest covered in medals.
“Oh my goodness, I’m sorry.”
She lifted her gaze up and up and found the smiling countenance of a young man with thick golden hair cut short in the style common for soldiers.
Broad hands cupped her shoulders d righted her with surprising gentleness. “No harm done,” he said. “It is a pleasure to meet you.”
“I…yes, hello,” she stammered, trying to find her tongue, which seemed to have been swallowed in her surprise.
Our character takes actions, dialogues, and deals with obstacles, always with her goal in mind.
“You’re probably looking for the prince,” he said.
He sounded so disappointed that Cinderella was surprised to feel regret that this young man was not who she was looking for. His blue eyes crinkled at the corners, a sign of a man well-used to lightness and laughter. She smiled at him. “He’s caught in the crush,” she reasoned.
“Well, then, certainly a young lady like yourself would enjoy a dance?” he asked. “I warn you, I will probably be a poor substitute.”
“You shouldn’t be so down on yourself,” she scolded. “It’s not everyone’s fate to be a prince. But we can all be good people.”
He chuckled. “That I’ll take for a yes.”
When he held out his hand, she took it and they swept together into the next phrase of the waltz. Warmth traveled up her arm and into her chest when he shifted his hold on her fingers to cup her hand tenderly in his own. A shiver slithered up her spine when his other hand cupped the small of her back, just above the waistline of her gown.
He was far from a poor dancer, Cinderella thought, still gazing up into his face as he led her around the floor. They swirled and twirled, and she laughed, and he laughed.
“You are a delightful young woman,” he said.
“And you are a delightful young man,” she replied.
“Would you consent to a pause in our dancing?” he asked.
“Why? Are you so tired of my treading your boots?”
“You have not trod them once. I consider this a delight. I only wish to pause a moment and see to my father.”
“Your father is elderly?” Her dance partner nodded. “Well then we must see to his comfort at once.”
Again he lightly laughed. “Another delight.”
Cinderella followed his dancing guidance and together they circled and swirled ever closer to the edge of the floor, near the raised dais where dignitaries were allowed to take a moment’s repose. She scanned the faces and found an older man whose look was quite like an older version of the man holding her now.
That must be his father. She was unsurprised when her gentleman stopped dancing only a few feet away. “Dad,” he said warmly.
The older man got to his feet. He was extravagantly dressed, wearing military regalia and a breastful of medals himself. Cinderella thought briefly that her father would have liked him. His countenance was open, and he had the bearing of a man who knew when to be serious and when to be jovial. “Son,” he said. “Who is this?”
“Miss Sandra, I’d like you to meet my father. Father, please meet Miss Sandra, a ward of the Lady Caeru.”
She glanced at her gentleman’s face. He’d clearly noted her since the very moment of her introduction. He had met her at the bottom of the stairs. “Sir Ronald,” she said, dipping in a quick curtsy. “I am pleased to make your acquaintance.”
“And my son is apparently very pleased to make yours,” he replied, sketching his own bow. “You are the first he has brought to my attention all night.”
Hearing a note of warning in his voice, Cinderella glanced toward her gentleman again. She shook herself, knowing she should not get in the middle of a father-son spat. But she could not countenance someone speaking to this kindly elderly man as if he would turn him across his knee. “Your father only wishes to see you well-matched, my lord.”
“Indeed, my girl, that’s why we threw him the ball at all!”
Cinderella gaped. She looked her gentleman up and down in alarm. The military uniform, the chest full of medals, all took on new meaning. “You-You’re the prince!”
She yanked her arm from the touch of his hand upon it.
“You lied to me?”
The climactic midpoint of the scene is when she realizes she has been dancing with the prince all along. The fallout from this discovery – and the moral consequences – drive us to the end of the scene:
“I didn’t say anything about anything,” he replied defensively. “I am not interested in women who want only the elevated station in life that marriage to me would afford them.” He gestured toward his father. “I wanted someone who would see me as a man first, a son. A soldier, perhaps, and not a prince in waiting.”
She hesitated. He was right. He had not been dishonest with her. She had simply assumed. And in that assumption, shown him a woman he wanted to wed.
Only she was not who she said she was.
“I…I’m sorry. I-I can’t.” She could feel tears of frustration welling behind her eyes. Quickly she closed them and blinked, unwittingly releasing one lone tear down her cheek. She backed up, swiping it away and stumbled over her own feet.
Turning quickly, she ran from the hall, heedless of her uneven gait, caused by the loss of one glass slipper.
She has left the ball, her goal of meeting the prince fulfilled, but her departure shows us another quandary. The prince revealed wanting a sincere and honest woman – what he thought she was – only she realized that she stands upon a stack of untruths. So it would never work. Her chosen action to deal with that? Flee. She’s given a false name, so it’s not like he could find her again, right?
Of course not.
But that’s all to be unraveled in other scenes. And so, the story goes on.