Beats and development within scenes

As a writer it is important to understand the segments a book can be broken down into. At the macro level a novel can be segment into acts or parts, the three-act or four parts structure, being the most common. Please see my previous post on the 4 part structure for further information.

Next the acts or parts are broken down into chapter and then finally into scenes. How many scenes there are in a chapter depends on the length of your chapter and the genre you are writing in. Personally, I tend to have between 1 to 3 scenes in a chapter (1,300 to 2,700 words, with 1,800 being the average length), in the YA fantasy genre.

So what are beats then? Beats are present in each scene and are the outer changes and inner emotional shifts that are occurring.

For example, if scene A depicts a quarrel between lovers, the beats could be the following:

Beat 1: Marta is joyful over the wedding invitation she received, she asks Tim to accompany her to the wedding, envisioning the great time they would have together.

Beat 2: Marta notices Tim’s hesitation, starts wondering whether Tim isn’t ready to commit to her. In need to cool down she leaves the bedroom and goes to the kitchen for a glass of water.

Beat 3: In the kitchen Marta discovers a piece of paper with a telephone number. Marta jumps to the conclusion that Tim is seeing someone else and is hurt and speechless.

Beat 4: The insecurity and pain soon turns to anger as Marta asks Tim questions that she believes give him the chance to come clean and that are met with resistance and vague answers by Tim.

Beat 5: Most likely vexed by Marta’s aggressive behavior Tim wants to leave, Marta is in shock over him wanting to walk out on her.

Beat 6: Marta quickly recovers from her shock and tells Tim that if he leaves now, he doesn’t need to come back.

Beat 7: Tim gets angry too and slams the door on his way out.

The change that takes place in the scene is Marta and Tim going from being together to breaking up (at least for the time being). The emotional development for Marta is joy/optimism about her relationship to fear/doubt to shock to anger to fury.


Each scene should have ideally both an internal and external shift that takes place.

At the very least it should have one of the two. If you find scenes in your book that are lacking change you either need to rewrite the scene or cut it.

Scenes that are info dumps (no action is occurring and the reader receives a chunk of information) or pure descriptions often lack change and emotional development. If it is necessary to give this particular information or describe the scenery in detail, add some element of drama/suspense to it.

For example, Emily goes for a walk in a garden. The majority of the scene focuses on the beauty of her surroundings. But towards the end of the scene Emily notices a shadow. Panic sets in as she realizes someone might have followed her to her sanctuary.

I hope this post was helpful and wish everyone a wonderful Labor Day weekend!



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