More Work on Understanding Scene Structure

This week, I’m hoping to get through some chapters of Save the Cat. I just barely started on the structure section, where he shows the basic outline he uses and starts explaining both sections. So far, the things he says are making little bells chime in my plot brain, which is good. I managed to work up a thematic premise for my WIP, and–as he does in his examples–I found a way to show that in an early piece of dialogue.

Which of course, will almost certainly change. But still…

The other thing I’m doing is going back to my shelves and rereading some of the YA books that have really hit me, in the tightness of their prose, in the way they move seamlessly through time without feeling in all those details of time-actually-passing. In some of these, the story takes place over a longer period of time than just a few days, and yet the pacing moves quickly and effectively. The best way I can describe it is a lack of any unnecessary clutter.

So far, the books on my to-read-again/take-apart list are:

I’d love to hear any suggestions from you. (Despite the apparent slant of my starting list, the books don’t have to have the word “girl” in the title!) Remember, I’m looking for YA, in which the author keeps their focus really tight, with almost no padding between scenes, and yet manages to convey the passage of time without confusion. I want books in which the story thread is almost always at the forefront, not shadowed or taken over by transitions or background material. (I’m not at all saying that I haven’t read wonderful books that do use a slower lead-in to scene action or take more space for those transitions. It’s just that I’m trying to push myself to a new place, structurally, and I need to be looking at some good examples of stories in which that kind of structure is used.)

Thanks ahead of time for any recommendations you want to leave in the comments!


  1. Jenn Hubbard says:

    Do you mean a book in which a lot of time passes in forward motion? (As opposed to one that covers a lot of ground in the past, e.g. through flashbacks or whatever.) The simplest, most obvious way people signal time passing is by using dates on the chapters or scenes. And when I looked at the books on my shelves, I realize how common that has become!

    I once heard Laurie Halse Anderson talk about how she used seasons and holidays to signal the passage of time in SPEAK. (And I did that in THE SECRET YEAR–because my character was tuned in to the outdoors, I could use falling leaves, then snow, then thawing ice, to signify the passage of a year.)

    You might look at SAVING FRANCESCA (Melina Marchetta) and THE SPECTACULAR NOW (Tim Tharp), which cover relatively long stretches of time, as I recall. Also UNWIND, by Neil Shusterman, which does a lot of action-scene-to-action-scene over a long period of time, with almost no fill-in “this is how we got from here to there” between. He has written screenplays, too, which is probably why he is so good at that.


    • beckylevine says:

      Thanks for the recommendations, Jenn. Yes, books that move forward over large patches of time. Or even a day–but without filling in all the details of that day, at all. I remember your seasons–I think that worked really well. It’s hard for me to do the date-stamp thing at the top of a chapter, because I’m one of those readers who totally skips those things.(Guilty confessions!).

      I’ll look at those books. I think my son read and really liked UNWIND.


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