Recursive plotting #3
Appropriately enough, this is a topic I keep coming back to. Original post here. Follow-up here. That makes this number three in the series.
Plot structure holds across a series of books, across a single book, and within the book too. I'd say it reaches down into scenes, but at this scale you're even less likely to actually see it from start to finish.
What do I mean by that? At any scale, the entire plot structure (inciting event, plot points building to a climax, resolution) needs to exist. That does not mean that the reader will see all of them. It's the literary equivalent of a photo of four paws being a photo of a cat -- you know the rest is there without seeing it. If the rest wasn't there, it would be apparent in something wrong about the paws.
Chapters and scenes have inciting incidents, points building to a climax, and resolution. Small ones, since they are themselves the building blocks of a larger plot structure. Maybe the reader doesn't see the structure start to finish, but the writer sees it.
If it helps to look at an example, here's the entire first scene to Disciple, Part I. It's got pretty much the entire structure showing: inciting incident (Kate's teacher fetching her), points building (hints that something important is about to happen) to a climax (the king objecting to her presence) and a resolution (the king is overruled.)
End of scene. I could've continued into what happened next, but at that point the scene had done exactly what it needed to. Its structure had finished and it was a "complete thought." Therefore, the scene ends and we pick up again at the next scene.
That being said...
...all rules are, of course, made to be bent and twisted into balloon animals. (Don't break them. Broken balloon animals are no fun.) This is where voice, style, and pacing come into play.
Jacqueline Carey, author of the many Kushiel books, doesn't write scenes. Each chapter is a segment of the story cut off at a moderately comfortable point.
Stephen King has been known to write one-scene chapters -- where the scene is only a sentence or two long. (Salem's Lot, IIRC.)
There's a correlation between scene and chapter length and the perceived pace of the story. Carey's Kushiel novels are languid things, even in the middle of a war. King's older horror stories moved fast, even when not much was happening. Cutting a scene down to just the climax, if you can, totally changes its impact.
What if that first scene of Disciple had begun with the king identifying her and objecting? Starting with a confrontation puts a more violent spin on the story. It would raise questions about who Kate is and whether she's a victim or a danger. For some stories, that's a great place to start.
Conversely, if I'd started long before the inciting incident -- say, with Kate tossing and turning in bed, giving up on sleep, and dressing -- that would have been a quiet and slow beginning. It can be difficult to hook a reader with that sort of thing. That would require good language and very fast explaining of why she's too stressed out to sleep.
Do you pare your scenes down? Stretch them out? Juggle the structure?