Proactive and Reactive Scenes
By Randy Ingermanson
It sounds horribly old-fashioned to say this, but once a month, I go to a critique group with real, live writers.
These days, it seems that most writers communicate electronically. That’s all fine, but it’s just more fun to get together in person, so we do it.
One of the most common questions I ask after somebody reads a scene is, “What happened in this scene?”
Something needs to happen in every scene. Otherwise, there’s no reason for it to exist. Something needs to change. The lead character for the scene needs to be better off or worse off at the end of the scene than at the beginning.
There are two common patterns that scenes fall into—Proactive Scenes and Reactive Scenes. Of these, Proactive Scenes are more common, but all novelists need to know how to write both.
Proactive scenes are goal-oriented. The lead character for the scene is called the point-of-view character (POV character) and she wants to achieve some goal by the end of the scene.
But fiction feeds on conflict, so there is some reason your POV character can’t get what she wants. Maybe another character gets in the way. Maybe it’s something inanimate. Maybe this character is her own worst enemy, and she’s keeping herself from reaching her goal.