Anyone who has read a book knows what a chapter is – a break in the flow of text that makes up a novel. A handy place for a reader to decide whether to stick in a bookmark, fold the corner of the page, or keep reading. It helps a book’s structure and pacing.
A scene, like a chapter, is used to divide up a novel into smaller pieces and give it structure and pacing. Writers should be familiar with the scene and sequel, the two parts of a scene (And yes, that is a confusing way to name them).
A scene is structured like so:
Goal – The character wants something.
Conflict – Something gets in the character’s way.
Setback – Character either fails to get what they want, or succeeds but at a cost.
And a sequel goes like this:
Reaction – The character has an emotional reaction to the setback.
Dilemma – The character faces a choice or internal struggle, where they must think of how to respond. This can be skipped in some cases.
Decision – Character chooses to act, which become the goal of the next scene.
This is a basic structure meant to help improve scene flow. Often, a setback is a good place to end a chapter, giving it a pesky cliffhanger that has to be confronted in the next chapter and scene.
But this isn’t always the case. Chapter breaks can fall anywhere in a scene. Some chapters end when the point of view changes, for example. Or when new information is given to the reader. A chapter might end before a scene does, maybe in the middle. Chapters can cover multiple scenes or just a tiny bit of one.
Likewise, scenes can be pages long or just a few sentences. The main difference is that scenes are for the writer’s benefit, while chapters are for the reader’s benefit.
Always keep the reader in mind when editing your novel. Chapters help the reader along and encourage them to read more. Scenes help the writer figure out where writing can be improved or changed.