Scenes, the Lego bricks of Story Structure

Have you ever seen a child learn to use Lego bricks? The youngest child builds a tower one brick on top of another. An older child interlocks the first two or three bricks but ends up with unconnected towers. The older the child gets, the more he understands that interlocking the bricks makes a stronger structure. Her structures grow taller, sturdier, and more complex. So it is with understanding story structure. There’s the big picture that most everyone understands: the beginning, middle, and end “bricks.” Dive deeper into story structure and you learn about the three-act structure, the four-act structure, the five-act structure, and so on. Just like legos, some bricks have only two connectors, others have four. Some are thin and some are thick. Scenes are the interlocking “bricks” for building stories, the Lego bricks of story structure. And like Lego bricks, scenes come in all sizes.

Learn about Scenes, the Lego bricks of Story Structure

What is a Scene?

“A scene is a unit of conflict, of struggle, lived through by character and reader. It’s a blow-by-blow account of somebody’s time unified effort to attain an immediate goal despite face-to-face opposition.” Techniques of the Selling Writer, Dwight V Swain

Swain’s definition tells you what the parts of a scene are. There’s an immediate goal, there’s face-to-face opposition, a blow-by-blow struggle, and the effort to attain that goal is contained in a time unified way.

But that’s the surface level of what’s in a scene.

The Scene’s Purpose

Every scene must have a purpose, preferably two or more. What purposes do scenes serve? The set up for what is about to happen is delivered in a scene. Scenes serve the plot with the “what comes next” step-by-step action. Character building through action and reaction happens at the scene level. Scenes put ground beneath the readers’ feet with time, location or setting, and backstory. Mood and intensity are built into the scene. Deepening of the theme or any of the story elements also happens at the scene level. Layering and interlocking scenes with these things creates a more complex and textured story.

Scene Structure

Scenes have beginnings, middles, and ends. They begin with a hook and a set up that draws the reader in. The middle shows us the struggle and the end shows us the results of that struggle. The results of the struggle can be positive—the goal is achieved, negative—the goal is lost, or neutral—neither party won the goal. The end of the scene contains another hook, or prompt, that makes the reader want to turn the page.

The Emotional Impact of a Scene

If every scene ends the same way, the hero always wins the goal or the antagonist always wins the goal, the story loses emotional impact. The writer must balance give and take. If the first scene is a win, the next must be a loss, or neutral. The results rotating through win, loss, or neutral is part of what makes the story feel like it is moving forward. It’s in this struggle where your reader will find the most satisfaction. Your reader will be asking, “will the hero win the day?”

Scene, the Lego Brick of Story Structure

At the very basic, lego brick level, scenes convey the “what happens” in the story. But an interlocking, layered scene will convey so much more.

The “bricks” of story, scenes convey the face-to-face action.
Scenes begin and end in a hook.
Strong scenes build in tension, release a little tension, then crank it up again.
Scenes reveal the back story in tiny shards that expose the character’s motivation.
The time and location of a scene can increase the emotional impact of your theme, your characters motivations, and the characters’ successes and failures.

Scenes are the Lego bricks of story structure. Build scenes that work for you, work for your story. Use your scene’s structure to carry your reader deeper into the story. When you interlock your scenes, you create a solid story, and you have a happy reader who is ready to buy more books.

On the Wings of a Story

Won’t you take fifteen minutes to view this short story in video form? There’s not a word of dialog, yet I’m betting you’ll find a story that takes you on the wings of a story. This is the kind of story that flies. A story that can be interpreted in different ways.

The video was filmed in 2011. It won more than a dozen awards including an Oscar for Best Animated Short Film. If you want to learn more about the video go to the official website, or to  Wikipedia. You’ll learn about the inspirations, the production process, and a lot more.

The best stories take you on a journey.

If you’re like me, you might just want to enjoy the story.


Did you watch it?

What did you think this story was about?



More than a Game

When I was a child, about eight- or nine-years-old, my mother went to the hospital to have her third child. My brother and I were packed off to an aunt and uncle’s house. There we got involved in a game that was more than a game.


Now, this aunt and uncle had five children. The two oldest were off to college. The two youngest were about the same age as my brother and I. The middle child was a teenager, uninterested and uninvolved in the lives of children.

My aunt and uncle’s old farmhouse held an attic with two bedroom spaces, each holding a pair of bunk beds. The second-floor held four more bedrooms. A living room, kitchen, dining room, and den made up the first floor. And there was a basement, the realm of the children. The basement had several rooms of bookcases and cabinets and a door to the outside.

Outside was a wonder. A  grape arbor and an orchard gave us plenty of room to be rowdy kids running around.

The three boys and I invented an adventure game. Being the only girl, I was the heroine or the damsel in distress, depending on the turn of the play. The boys were the heroes and occasional victims. The evil villain was invisible, an unknown who left threatening notes. We dashed in and out of the basement, zig-zagged through the spooky fruit trees and grabby grape vines, uncovered clues and threatening notes, did heroic deeds, and wore ourselves out with fun.


Memory fails to recall what quieter activities filling the evening after our meal. What I remember is climbing upstairs to the attic bedroom, into the lower bunk, and falling fast asleep.

I woke gasping for air. Ice cold hands were around my throat, choking me! I couldn’t see who the cloaked villain was but screamed for help. The three boys rushed to the room and pounded the villain with their fists. Lights came on, the villain disappeared. I sobbed my tale of fear to my aunt and uncle.

The boy heroes identified the dastardly villain as my teen-aged cousin. My aunt and uncle punished him. They soothed me. The visit was short (probably not to my aunt and uncle). My brother and I went home and welcomed our new baby sister.

Today, I feel bad for my teenaged cousin. He took the game a little too far, perhaps, yet, the choking was minimal and momentary, or I wouldn’t have been able to scream.  Looking back, I was frightened, but the fright was temporary.  I have a fun-to-tell memory, my brother and cousins got to be real heroes, and I got a story, two blog posts, and a novel out of the adventure!

What do you recall fondly? Childhood memories? Adventures as a Teen? Trials and Tribulations of being an adult? Were any of your experiences more than a game? Any lessons you learned from these? Please share your story below in the comments below.



It’s Not the Dust Bunny’s Fault

I’ve got a secret. My house is a mess. And it’s not just a mess because I hate housework. (I do!) But, there’s a story I learned that taught me, it’s not the dust bunny’s fault.

My theory on housework is, if the item doesn’t multiply, smell, catch fire, or block the refrigerator door, let it be. No one else cares. Why should you? – Erma Bombeck

Image of sweeper and cleaning supplies. It's not the dust bunny's fault.
Vintage Triang dolls house cleaning supplies by AMCSviatko Flickr CC

Time Spent

Unfortunately, I have found very little that doesn’t multiply, smell, catch fire, or block the refrigerator, or some other important access point. No matter what you call it: household duties, home economics, domestic engineering, or home management; Women still spend more time doing it than men. According to the American Time Use Survey, women spend 2.6 hours per day on household activities, compared to 2.1 hours for men. To add insult to injury, reported on a Norwegian study that revealed the divorce rate was higher in couples who shared homemaking duties equally.

Shocking how much time women spend doing housework in this modern age of multiple electronic conveniences, isn’t it? True housework in the nineteenth century was difficult, full-time work. And modern conveniences relieved many back-breaking chores.  Yet by the mid-twentieth century, women spent more time cleaning than their predecessors. By 2012 more women work outside of the home than ever, and still, women spent more time performing household duties than in 2011. How can this be?

The Mysteries of Housework

I first suspected a something was amiss when, as a young woman, I lived alone in a one-bedroom apartment. I was proud of that abode and cleaned it till its shine forced any who entered to wear sunglasses. But there were problems. A single girl does not create much mess. Picking up, putting things away, a wipe here and there and it should be good, right? But, nnnoooo. Dust bunnies plagued me. Socks disappeared overnight. And woe betides the barefooted sleepwalker expecting to step onto a warm carpet in the bathroom, for mystery of mysteries, the carpet moved to a different corner of the bathroom EVERY night.

Later, as a married woman, my chores didn’t just double, they quadrupled! Wishing to work smarter, not harder, and determined to uncover these mysteries, I set up housework cams (long before someone stole my idea and called it a nanny cam). I viewed hours and hours of video and could see the dusty, soap scum aftermath and clutter appear mere hours after I’d cleaned, but I could not spy the culprit. At least, not until I slowed the camera speed way down.

Armies of dust bunnies and legions of dust mites whirled around the room, leaving eddies of filth behind them. I was certain I could beat them. I cleaned and dusted and vacuumed around the clock. Alas, I soon collapsed with housemaid fever, a rare and serious malady that starts with a stuffy head and quickly progresses to debilitating joint pain and oh-my-aching-back-itis.

Dust Bunny Trap

By the time I recovered, filth and grime covered my home. It was time to get serious. I laid a dust bunny trap and caught one that very night!

It's not the dust bunny's fault.
Dust bunnies from outer space- by Indieink Flickr CC

I interrogated the culprit. It took hours. But eventually, the poor dust bunny confessed that he was nothing but a minion of the soap scum bubblers.

More determined than ever to rid my home of this plague, I devised a trap for the scum. Catching the darn things was trickier than the dust bunnies, but I prevailed. Lest you follow my lead, heed my warning, interrogating a soap scum bubbler is not for the faint of heart. And after many days of devious interrogation efforts, I learned that even the scum were mere minions. He sent me in search of the notorious web-makers.

Oh, the horror! I dread spiders more than rodents or snakes. Still, I needed to find the answers, not just for me, but for all womankind! I’ll never know where I found the courage, but one dark and stormy night I succeeded! I trapped a spider. A big one! I shudder to remember the torments I heaped upon the many-legged one. Finally, deprived of yet another web and the food it would bring, she collapsed and told me the secret.

Not the Dust Bunny’s Fault

It began, she whispered, in the Garden of Good and Evil. The garden was not only peaceful and beautiful but scrupulously clean. Each creature took pride in picking up after himself, even Adam. And then Eve came along. Adam and all of earth’s creatures adored Eve and she, them. So when Eve dropped the first apple core, the creatures figured she wasn’t feeling well and picked it up for her. Their love for her was so great that when she and Adam moved from the Garden to a one-level, one room condo-by-the-sea, all the creatures went too.

Soon it wasn’t just Eve dropping a few crumbs. Adam began dropping things, too. From a few leftovers, it quickly grew to carelessly tossed togas, waste parchment, and stinky abandoned sandals.

As if that weren’t bad enough, Adam and Eve did the same thing outside. Soon the creatures had to organize three shifts, working 24 a day to maintain the same garden-like quality to their home. Finally, the creatures grew tired and resentful of the humans’ thoughtlessness. So the creatures got together and went on strike.

During the strike, things grew grimy. The filth and clutter piled up. Adam and Eve were oblivious. So the creatures encouraged the soap scum bubblers and the dust bunnies to double their efforts. Soon, there were knee-high piles of dust bunnies and the soap scum so thick that Adam could only get one foot in the tub. Eve screeched at the sight of so many dust bunnies. Adam thundered at the soap scum. And the two of them dove into a mighty cleaning effort. They picked up and scrubbed and swept in a mad flurry. Unfortunately, in their madness, they didn’t see that they were throwing their friends, the creatures, out of the house.

From that day forward, the soap scum bubblers and the dust bunnies had a new purpose in life–to make themselves visible to the humans so that housecleaning would happen at least once a week.

The spider breathed the last of her story, laid a bellyful of eggs, and died. In honor of their mother’s sacrifice, I released them.

Housework Rebel

And to tell you the truth, I haven’t had the heart to move a single dust bunny nor scour away a single ring of scum bubblers ever since. In fact, after a great deal of thought, I’ve realized there’s no excuse for allowing one creature to be a minion of another. Don’t you agree?

You do? Then join me. Put down your brooms, your dust mops, and scrubbers! Free the dust bunnies, scum bubblers, and spiders! Let’s end this housework conspiracy once and forever!

It's not the dust bunny's fault.
dust bunnies by Stephan Walli Flickr CC

Now confess, are you a housework diva or

a housework rebel?

No real dust bunnies, scum bubbles, spiders, or other filth were harmed in the process of creating this story. Won’t you share how it’s not the dust bunnies’ fault at your house? Please tell me I’m not alone!

Art Glass Lessons for Writing

The earliest known manmade glass is in the form of Egyptian beads from between 2750 and 2625 BC. My interest in art glass (more commonly known as stained glass) doesn’t go back that far, but it goes back more than a few years. I have always loved the way sunlight brings a stained glass piece of art to life. About a decade ago, I decided I would take a couple of classes on how to create with stained glass. I found, to my amazement, that I could do it and do it well. Recently I was surprised to realize there were art glass lessons for writing.

I can’t teach you how to do stained glass in this blog post, but I’ll show you part of my process and at the end of this blog, you’ll find links to places where you can learn a lot more.


Working with stained glass you need a few tools and a flat surface.  (It helps if you don’t mind glass splinters littering the area you’re working in!)

This is my wonderful glass studio built for me by my DH. (I know he’s a keeper!)
art glass cutting table in my glass studio

Subject Matter

One of fun parts of doing a stained glass window, is picking the pattern. (If you’re really talented, you can design your own pattern – my talent covers construction, sadly, not design.)

pattern titled Wild Rose Pattern


Once you have the pattern, then you must choose which style of construction you’ll do: leading, foiling, mosaic.  Then you must decide which glass to use. This is not as easy as it sounds. Do you want Full Antique Glass (made using antique methods), Semi-Antique, Machine-made Antique, Cathedral, Opalescent, or Glue-Chip. The machine-made glass comes in different textures. And don’t even get me started on the colors that are available.

This is the glass storage area in my studio.
glass storage shelves in my studio

With the pattern and glass chosen, then you choose how large you want this project to be. You have a couple of copies of your pattern made to size.

Crafting the Pieces

There are several ways to transfer the pattern to the glass. If you are using Cathedral (transparent) glass you can put the pattern under the glass and cut to the pattern. You can cut the pattern out and trace it. Or you can cut the pattern out and glue it to the window. Each of the methods of transfering the pattern requires that you cut the glass a little differently to ensure that you keep everything to the correct size. Additionally, the type of construction (the type of cane, copper foil, or grout) requires that the glass is cut to leave a specific amount of space between each piece.

pattern pieces glued onto blue glass, ready to cut

I learned to cut the border pieces of the window first, so that you maintain the size and shape you desire. Note that I have a second copy of the pattern beneath the glass so I can continually check size and be certain of placement.
image of the pieces of cut glass on the pattern

Putting the Pieces Together

Once you’ve cut out all the pieces then you must use either lead cane (relatively soft extruded lengths of lead with channels that hold the glass) or adhesive-backed copper foil so you can solder the pieces together. I prefer the more fluid look of foiling for a pattern with lots of detail like this one.
piece of glass, cut and edges wrapped with copper foil

Once each piece of glass is wrapped with foil, you use flux and solder to solder the pieces together. (Sorry, I don’t have a picture of me soldering). To give the piece a finished edge you can use a lead cane or a metal cane.

Final Preparations

After soldering comes cleaning and polishing. Then it’s ready to frame or place in the window.
finished stained glass project on tablestained glass project being mounted in the window, viewed from the outside


Then, just step back and admire it.  This picture is from inside the kitchen with full sunlight hitting the window. (between the sun and my cheap camera, the green hill she’s sitting on looks orange :p)

From inside, the stained glass window glows with sunlight

There are a number of reasons that I love constructing with stained glass. Putting together a stained glass window is very similar to working a jigsaw puzzle, a favorite pastime of mine. And for a long while, I thought that was all there was to it. Of course, it wasn’t. Because while creating suncatchers and nightlights are quick and fun, what I love doing is constructing windows. Why? Because windows tell a story.

Do you see other parallels to writing or storytelling?

Links to learn more:

Your visit is much appreciated. If you have a moment, I’d love to hear what you think!