I chose your letter today for two reasons: 1) I have an answer, and 2) Darcy Pattison’s “Fiction Notes” just finished an entire month of blogging about nothing but scenes and can drive home what I’m about to tell you. I know because I contributed to that blog series with a post about the important stuff hiding in the white space between scenes. My shameless plug accomplished, here’s how you wrap your brain around scenes and chapters: Scenes are the stepping stones and the chapter is the river, with the opposing shores being two different phases of your plot.
Breaking that down: Each chapter has a plot goal that moves your protagonist one step closer to the resolution of the story’s overall conflict. That means when you string your chapters together, you’ve got your full plot, start to finish. A scene is a single event with its own conflict that, when combined with other scenes, contributes to the overall goal of its chapter. Something will happen to your character in the scene that worsens the situation but doesn’t quite push the character over the edge. Example: The male lead in your story decides today is the day to finally leave his wife. That’s your chapter goal. To attain that goal, the man has three small but escalating conflicts with his wife, across three scenes, that finally push him to his Big Decision. Voila! The river, the stepping stones, and the successful crossing from one shore to the other.