A Look at the 20 Key Scenes of a Fantasy Novel

Let’s jump right into this week’s contribution to our look at the ten key scenes you need in your novel. We’ve been spending a lot of weeks delving into my 10-20-30 Scene Builder Concept, and we’ve looked at what those first ten scenes are that provide the framework for a solid story.

I also showed you how you can layer in the next ten scenes with a subplot or a romance plot. This layering of ten scenes can be done with any genre and any POV structure. Just know this: if you don’t have your foundational scenes in place, and in the right place, your novel may collapse.

While every novel is different, notwithstanding genre, those that align closest to strong, expected, tried-and-true novel structure usually have the better story. Readers expect novels to follow a certain structure (though they may never realize it). It’s what they’re used to.

Today we’re going to look at a fantasy novel by Azalea Dabill called Falcon Flight: Chronicle II (Book 2 in her series). Azalea has a number of subplots (great!), but in this chart she’s going to focus on one that she layered in over her ten key scenes.

Here’s her synopsis:

Kyrin Cierilong lost keeper of the keys and unfit first daughter, is the hope of Cierheld stronghold or its doom. She returns to Britannia from slavery, the king dies, and a treacherous hand wounds Kyrin’s father. Ambitious lords and the intrigue she thought she left behind in Araby engulf her stronghold. For the caliph’s wazir seeks the ability Kyrin guards: to kill with a touch, the fabled death touch.

Talik Wyman, holder of secrets, is more than a low-born messenger for the northern lords. Torn by love, loyalty, and intrigue between Talik (a lord’s son she’s sworn never to handfast), her father’s life or her people’s, and the wazir’s vengeance, Kyrin must find the strength to become who she was born to be or all will end in ash. For behind them all lurks the tiger of destruction.

Yet Kyrin carries at her side the falcon dagger, the key to life, death, and a traitor deeper yet when the wazir accuses Kyrin’s family of murder. The dagger reveals its secrets, the lord of Cierheld is bound, and the hidden traitor strikes. As warrior and first daughter, Kyrin steps into the gap.

So, let’s dig into Azalea’s chart (my comments in bold). If you haven’t checked over the chart that layers subplots, take some time to see what kinds of scenes go where. Don’t let the numbering confuse you. Scenes #1-10 are the foundational structural scenes that get laid out first. The next ten (#11-20) are the layered subplot scenes.

If you have many subplots, which is fine so long as they all “orbit” around and enhance the main plot in theme and purpose, just pick the main one that parallels your main plot the most. Be careful you don’t throw in a lot of random subplots that clutter and bog down your novel. Sometimes too many subplots can muddle the premise and protagonist’s goal for the novel. And that can be a bad thing.

I’ve added a few comments (in bold):

#1 – Setup. Introduce protagonist in her world. Kyrin Cieri, stronghold daughter of medieval Britannia, has been two years a slave in Arabia. She is determined to escape across sand and sea with her mentor, an exiled warrior from early Korea, and a peasant girl, closer than a sister by blood. She will return to her father’s side and take up her place as first daughter.

#11 – Introduction of subplot. Set up the situation between the characters to show the existing tension and attitudes that is causing conflict. The wazir Sirius Abdasir takes Tae, Alaina, and Kyrin captive, and executes their master for treachery to the caliph. The wazir confiscates the falcon dagger of Damascus steel Kyrin took from her murdered mother’s body. The wazir seeks to wrest the knowledge of the touch of death from Tae.

#2 – Turning Point #1 (10%): inciting incident. Taken to Sirius’s quarters, Kyrin listens to the wazir’s surprising demand. He will send her to Britannia with Alaina to find someone of his family, Hamal, who has been enslaved there. Tae, he will hold hostage to keep Kyrin to her word.

#12 – Show how the inciting incident affects the subplot. Kyrin gives her oath, but plans to free Tae and Alaina and ride for the desert, then find the wazir’s ship and fulfill her oath to him after her friends are out of his hands.

#3 – Pinch Point #1 (33% roughly): Give a glimpse of the opposition’s power. In the hold of the wazir’s ship, Kyrin suspects treachery and musters courage to find Hamal and free herself, Tae, and Alaina from the price the wazir has set on their heads. [I’m not sure how this scene reveals the opposition’s power, but by putting a price on their heads, it implies he does wield much power and has set the stakes high for them.]

#13 – New subplot development that mirrors or is opposite of the main plot. Kyrin fears she is not enough to be first daughter—that she and her unwomanly skills will not be accepted by her father or her people. [I don’t see a scene here, but I’m guessing something happens here that makes Kyrin feel the need to be worthy of the first daughter position, and leads to some decision and course of action.]

#4 – Twist #1:  Traveling in Britannia disguised as a boy, Kyrin rescues a servant woman from a beating. A Benedictine priest accuses Kyrin of interfering with justice, and she is accused of witchcraft. Father Ulf, her uncle, refuses to help her and hands her over to Lord Bergrin Jorn, who compels her to stay in his stronghold for unknown reasons. [Good complication.]

#14 – Progress with the subplot. Blackmailed, Kyrin wins an arranged fight for Lord Jorn and must give account of herself to refute the charge of witchcraft by the men she defeated in the fight over the woman. Her strange martial skill, the copy of the Vulgate translated by Alaina, and the falcon dagger’s Damascus blade she carries bring Brother Rolf more questions than answers. [This subplot focuses on the dagger and its importance in the story. This is good.]

#5 – The midpoint (50%): Kyrin finds Hamal, the wazir’s daughter, and puts her on the ship back to Araby. Kyrin’s father is attacked at a neighbor stronghold and severely wounded. The face of their enemy is yet unknown, and Kyrin must take up the key of stronghold first daughter. [Good midpoint, thrusting Kyrin into a situation from which there is no turning back.]

#15 – Things start coming to a head and creating high tension with the subplot. Cierheld stronghold prepares for the death of its lord, Kyrin’s father, and Kyrin has spent all they have for healers, to no avail. Things look bleak. Then Kyrin discovers jewels hidden in the haft of the falcon dagger. Her father refuses they be spent to pay another healer and says they must go for food and men to defend their people. Kyrin agrees outwardly but saves one of the jewels. Her love interest, Talik, confronts her, and they part in anger. She will take all the jewels to Father Ulf, who will take them to the appropriate parties to purchase food and men, and Talik departs for their allies’ camp in the north. [Great bits of tension and more complications for the heroine.]

#6 – Pinch Point #2 (62% roughly): Their enemy sends a secret attacking force against Cierheld, and Kyrin is the only one in position to warn her stronghold of the coming attack. She rides from the allies’ camp for home.

#16 – Developments with the subplot reach critical mass. Kyrin saves a friend, fights on Cierheld’s wall, and the stronghold is overrun. On his horse before the great hall, Lord Nidfael Keffer declares he will give every man his freedom except for those of the house of Cieri, who will be executed. Forgotten at the stronghold’s gate, Kyrin kills Nidfael.

#7 – Twist 2: Kyrin wakes to find Cierheld saved and her father mending. Tae and Alaina arrive, with news the wazir follows them. He wants to reward Kyrin himself for freeing his daughter and thus fulfilling her task. Tae tells Kyrin she will also test for the black sash in Subak—before the eyes of all her people. [Good unexpected twist.]

#17 – Subplot feels at a standstill. Kyrin has found her people accept her joyfully, and all look forward to her test. That very day, the wazir arrives with Umar, an old enemy. The falcon dagger mirrors Kyrin’s sudden suspicion. [This feels more like a twist to me than a standstill. I’m not sure what is meant by the dagger mirroring her suspicion. I’d like to see how this issue with the dagger lies unresolved and causing tension.]

#8 – Turning Point #4 (75%): Major setback. Kyrin completes her test with honor and all is well until the wazir’s men take her captive at an opportune moment. Kyrin is accused of murdering the nephew who owned the falcon dagger. Then he finds out the jewels are gone too, and he will destroy all of Kyrin’s family, starting with her father. Kyrin offers her own life when Father Ulf betrays them all, and the wazir accepts her offer—to live the rest of her life as his slave in Araby. [This, to me, includes the setback with the subplot#18.]

#18 – Same issues with the subplot. Umar attacks Kyrin against the wazir’s will, and Kyrin kills him. Though in a good position to take the wazir out too, she does not, held by her word. Convinced of Cierheld’s honor, the wazir releases them all. During the confusion, Father Ulf kidnaps Alaina and several of Kyrin’s friends. Tae goes after him. Kyrin, her father, Brother Rolf, Talik, and the wazir set off in pursuit with their men. [This seems to be more about the details leading up to the climax rather than about the dagger, which is what the subplot is about.]

#9 – Turning Point #5 (76-99%): In the ruins of the stronghold where Kyrin’s mother died, Kyrin faces her uncle, the brigand, and his men. Revealed as the traitor, Father Ulf seeks to kill Kyrin and her party. Tae saves Kyrin from Father Ulf’s dagger strike, killing him with the death touch.

#19 – The key scene that resolves the subplot. The Damascus blade in Sirius’s sash reflects Kyrin’s new state—the bronze had been cleaned away to the polished steel. And she is first daughter in truth, and no longer doubts it. [Good climax for both main plot and subplot in these scenes.]

#10 – The aftermath (90-99%): Kyrin’s falcon dagger goes to witness a good man’s return home. She has Truthfinder, the young falcon Talik freed for her. Her friends and her love beside her, Kyrin has found her eyrie. [Nice use of bringing the subplot into the resolution of the main plot.]

Azalea’s book is long and complex, but I hope you’ve seen how she’s developed a strong, detailed story that has her key scenes in place. When you have multiple subplots, the lesser ones can make up those next ten (the 30 in the 10-20-30 Scene Builder structure).

As I’ve mentioned repeatedly, there are no hard-and-fast rules, especially when it comes to the layerfalcon-flight-covers. The key to success is getting those first ten scenes in the right place so that the framework holds up the story. Subplots are like the sand you fill into your jar full of rocks.

Thanks to Azalea Dabill for all the hard work put into this and being willing to share her chart! Everyone who has submitted charts to me has expressed that they enjoyed the challenge and learned some good insights about their story.

Buy Falcon Flight HERE!

Your thoughts on her chart? What key turning points or strong plot points stood out to you? Any questions about any of the key ten scenes needed?

One Response to “A Look at the 20 Key Scenes of a Fantasy Novel”

  1. Maria Hossain October 10, 2016 at 12:57 pm #

    Hi, there! I loved how you broke novels into such useful portions. Question: can this structure be used in other genres too such as historical or realistic or contemporary fictions? Mine is historical but not spec-fic. Can I use this structure to lay down my story? Thanks, 🙂

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