Nailing That Ten-Scene Foundation for Your Novel

Over the last month or two, we’ve been looking at the ten key foundational scenes you need for your novel. I shared a couple of examples of what these scenes might look like, and you could take just about any best seller and pencil in those ten key scenes and note how they are in just the right place.

I sent out a call for writers to create a chart of their published novel’s ten key scenes. Many took me up on this, and all said it was both fun and challenging. So over the next few weeks, I’m going to show you just how helpful and easy this can be—by sharing these charts submitted by published authors that follow Live Write Thrive.

I’d like to challenge all of you to lay out your scenes using this chart—whether you are just brainstorming your novel idea or have already written or published it. Doing this will save you perhaps weeks or months of time as you struggle to figure out how to tell your great story.

You don’t need to suffer! It doesn’t take all that long to come up with those key scenes once you’ve got a killer concept and terrific characters and strong themes.

In other words, get those four corner pillars of novel structure solid before you tackle the ten key scenes. I created a FREE fun online video mini course called The 4 Essential Pillars of Novel Structure. I’m trying to make this as easy as possible for you! How hard is it to listen to a slide show?

Get Those Four Corner Pillars Solid!

All you have to do is enroll in my online school, Writing for Life Workshops, create a password, then click on the free course and take it. Hundreds of writers have taken this short course. And I truly believe if you nail these four corner pillars, you will have the basis for a terrific novel.

If you don’t, it’s likely your story is going to fail. Why? Because if you don’t have a compelling protagonist that is pursuing a clearly visible goal, your story will feel random and won’t have focus.

If you don’t have clear high stakes—personal and public—and no strong conflict/opposition in the way of your hero pursuing his goal, the story will be flat, lacking tension, and will drag. More than likely, you’ll lose readers within a few pages.

If you have a weak, boring, or ordinary concept that is the same old, same old, without a new unique twist to it, you won’t have a story worth writing or one anyone will want to spend hours reading.

And if you don’t have any themes at the heart of your story, you won’t move readers. A story without a theme is like a body without the spirit of life. It’s dead.

So, take a couple of hours and watch the videos and get those pillars nailed. Here’s the LINK to my school.

Now . . . I’d like to share a number of charts that some of my readers shared with me, and each week this month we’ll take a look at one submitted by one of my blog followers. If you’d like to create a chart for your published novel and want to send it to me, I’ll consider sharing it on Live Write Thrive. Also send me a 2-3 paragraph summary of your novel.

Take some time to look over these charts. Download my template for the ten scenes and give it a spin! You’ll be glad you did.

The Battlefield Bride by Renee Yancey

Renee Yancey is one of my editing clients who’s learned a lot about novel structure from my blog and critiques. Here’s Renee’s plot summary for her historical romance novel:

After the Battle of Bull Run in 1861, the Secretary of War names Dorothea Dix as superintendent over the female nurses assigned to the US Army. “Dragon” Dix established strict criteria for any woman who desired to serve. She had to be at least thirty years of age, wear only plain dark colors, and have no “ribbons, curls, bows, or hoops” about her person.

Katherine (Kate) Wilkes fits all the criteria but one—she has a head of curls so tight even God couldn’t straighten them. When Kate decides to give all she has to nursing the Union wounded, she faces opposition from the male surgeons, but she will stop at nothing to get what she needs for her “boys.”

Chief Surgeon Major James Logan resists Kate’s assignment to his ward, believing it’s no place for a woman. Major Logan has suffered war casualties himself, including the loss of a leg, his fiancée, and his future. He feels himself half a man, even though he knows he should be thankful to be alive. But when he sees that cholera, piles of bloody amputated limbs, and the stench of gangrene do nothing to faze Kate, she gains his grudging confidence.

Sparks begin to fly between Kate and Major Logan, but Kate hides a secret that won’t allow her to fall in love. When her husband was slow to join the Union Army, she called him a coward. He left home the same night without saying good-bye and joined a unit in Tennessee. Not long after, he was taken prisoner, and was sent home to die after a tortuous three months in a Confederate prisoner of war camp. Kate blames herself for his death.

And that drives her to do dangerous things.

You can see from Renee’s summary she has terrific characters with past emotional wounds and psychological baggage that make for great inner and outer conflict. She also has a terrific situation with her main character in an interesting vocation, which helps put a twist on the usual love story. All elements that promise potential.

So let’s look at her ten-scene chart (my comments in BOLD):

#1 – Setup. In Paducah, KY, 1862, Kate Wilkes arrives at an army hospital determined to nurse wounded soldiers. Her own husband is dead in the war. [notice how Renee starts the story in just the right place!]

#2 – Turning Point #1 (10%): inciting incident. She finds the men unattended in a church commandeered by the Union Army and spends the afternoon bathing the men and cooking dinner. Until the surgeon, Major James Logan, arrives after a long day in the amputation tent and tells her to leave. No women allowed here. Kate refuses. [inciting incident is the Meet, which of course gets the premise underway.]

#3 – Pinch Point #1 (33% roughly). Major Logan sees that the men are responding to Kate so he backs off. Then a second surgeon arrives, Dr. Benjamin Drake, an arrogant, loud-mouthed man with a penchant for alcohol, who demands that Kate be removed from her post and makes trouble for her every time he can. [introduction of a strong antagonist and higher stakes.]

#4 – Twist #1. #5 – The Midpoint (50%). Now Dr. Logan is defending Kate’s right to be here, and falling in love with her. [The midpoint should show also how Kate has reached a critical point in her decision to stay, do her work, relate to Logan, etc. My guess is she has that here at the midpoint.]

#6 – Pinch Point #2 (62% roughly). General William Tecumseh Sherman visits the hospital to find out why the mortality rate has been halved. He invites Kate to accompany him as he moves south into Tennessee. Major Logan thinks he is going to lose her. [Great complication.]

#7 – Twist #2.  Major Logan figures out that Kate has a secret. Something that makes her careless of her own life. [Great twist that throws obstacles in their getting together.]

#8 – Turning Point #4 (75%): Major setback. Kate catches Major Drake stealing brandy meant for the patients. When she confronts him, he smashes her lantern out of her hand, setting the ward on fire. [Always great to bring in a high-stakes disaster or incident here.]

#9 – Turning Point #5 (76-99%): The climax. Kate discovers a Confederate soldier in the ward when she washes the blood off his body. Another patient, Lt. Baldwin, who lost his leg, also notices the unconscious patient is a Rebel soldier. Kate has Baldwin transferred to another hospital to protect the Rebel boy, but Baldwin returns with a rope and a pistol, determined to hang the Reb. Kate pulls her own Colt Baby dragoon out of her pocket and tells Baldwin he’ll have to kill her first. [Terrific conflict and opportunity for the heroine to have to stand up and make a crucial decision—high stakes. Renee doesn’t mention here how Logan is involved, but no doubt it impacts how he feels about her.]

#10 – The Aftermath (90-99%): The wrap-up. Major Logan helps avert the situation with Lt. Baldwin. Then he has it out with Kate, tells her he loves her, and tells her to stop putting her life in danger. She realizes she loves him too but tells him he won’t love her when he discovers what she has done. When her husband was slow to join the Union Army, Kate called him a coward. He left that day, joined a Tennessee unit, and was killed shortly after. Kate believes she caused his death and everything she has done to nurse the men is in expiation for her sin. Through Major Logan she realizes she is forgiven, and she agrees to marry him. [This sounds to me as if some of this is in the climax and not the Aftermath, but you can see how nicely this all resolves!]

Excellent job, Renee! I hope by reading through this you see how the situation for the premise is set up right away. Way too many writers take too many scenes to get to the inciting incident and also fail to set up the premise well.

Also, I hope you saw how Renee used a subplot (the incident with the Rebel soldier) to create conflict and force her heroine to make tough choices. It would be best if a choice like that risks everything, including (especially) the man she is falling in love with. We spent a few weeks discussing romance structure and I showed you how you might layer in the twenty scene types in that genre.

Keep this in mind: the best, strongest inner conflict you can create near the climax is to have your protagonist be forced to make a choice between two options, both of them with huge consequences and risk of loss.

I hope this look at Renee’s novel has sparked your desire to nail your ten scenes.12 Key Pillars ebook cover FINAL

Renee is one of my editing clients who has become a terrific novelist because she’s worked hard at learning novel structure!

Need help? Hire me to review your scene outline and/or your ten-scene chart. And be sure to get The 12 Key Pillars of Novel Construction and the workbook! It has everything you need to help you create a solid novel with clear, easy explanations. Cut out the guesswork and nail this!

Renee’s novella is included in a collection called The Courageous Brides Collection. Get your copy HERE.

Your thoughts on the ten-scene chart? Renee’s scenes?

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One Comment

  1. Thanks, Susanne. I have learned so much from you and your books on core needs, inner and outer motivations and goals, and how to set up an engaging plot. Couldn’t have done it without you!

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