Breakout 2: Alison Goodman: Scene diagnosis

Alison Goodman is an Australian writer of Young Adult fiction, including YA historical supernatural fiction set in the Regency period.

Her seminar looked at four different diagnositic tools that can be used to analyse a scene to work out if it works, and what can be improved.

Useful tools to take your scenes to the next level.

Goal and need: 


  • External and known by protagonist
  • A conscious desire

And / Or


  • Hidden and not known
  • The psychological growth necessary for your protagonist
  • An unconscious desire
  • Something that the protagonist must learn to become whole

For the strongest story, these should be in contradiction

How the go about goal – often based on false belief

Exercise no 1

What is your protagonists’s

  • Goal
  • Need

For the whole story / novel?


What is a scene?

An action through conflict in more or less continuous space and time that turns the value charged condition of a character’s life

Robert McKee, ‘Gap in Progression’


A capsule in which compelling characters undertake significant actions in a vivd and memorable way that allows the events to feel as if they are happening in real time.  When strung together, individual scenes add up to build plots and storylines.

Jorden E Rosenfeld


Most of your novel should be in scene form

The reset will be in narrative summary eg

  • Time jumps
  • Events / information that do not require a scene but need to be setup (but beware, are you just warming up?)
  • Odyssey workshop teachers:  no more than 15% is narrative summary


Diagnostic tool 1: 

Ask yourself, what is my protagonist’s aim in this scene?

  • What do they want?
  • What do they expect to happen?

Link it back to the overall GOAL for the protagonist

Is it a step towards that irrevocable goal?


Diagnostic tool 2: 

A quick way to check if the change has occurred:

  • What is your protagonist’s value state at the start of the scene?  Are they positive?  Negative?
  • What is it at the end of the scene?  Is it the same?  The more than likely the scene does not create a change in the character.

The law of conflict

Nothing moves forward in a story except through conflict.

Conflict can be thought of as being in three levels

  •  Inner conflict – own beliefs, values, ethics
  • Personal conflict – lovers, friends, family
  • Extra-personal – society, environment, institutions


Diagnostic tool 3:

As yourself:

Does my scene have some form of conflict that leads to a GAP or turning point?


In other words, does some kind of small change occur?

Gap between the first action and the expected result


Diagnostic tool 4:

What kind of scene am I dealing with?

John Bickham’s ‘Scene or Sequel’

  •  Scene = goal, conflict, disaster
  • Sequel = reaction, dilemma, decision



Action and reaction = beats

A beat is a behaviour that continues until there is a clear change of behaviour (almost like a micro climax)

A beat is made up of a series of actions and reactions


Scribe’s note:  I had a migraine and left at that point, so unfortunately didn’t get the rest of the session down.  Hopefully there is enough here for anyone interested to follow up on.

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