The dictionary defines a scene as a place where an incident occurs, or a sequence of continuous action in a play movie opera or book. I would go farther and say a scene is the basic building block of a story. Scenes are where the action is and they have structure that mirrors that of the story. A story has a beginning, a middle and an end. So does a scene.
The scene begins with a hook that keeps the reader engaged in the story. Then it carries on by advancing the plot or subplot. It ends with a mini climax. It should be enough of a cliff hanger to keep the reader wanting to continue with the story. The basic structure of the scene is the beginning, or hook. That’s followed by the buildup or increasing tension. Followed, in its turn, by a dilemma of some sort. This will be some sort of problem the characters need to solve by the end of either the scene or the end of the story. A resolution of the problem or even another set up in an earlier scene follows. Then there is a climax, which can contain a cliff hanger or setup for another scene. String them together and there is the story.
The scene should always advance the story. That is every scene in a story should advance it unless it is the final scene. The opening scene sets the stage for the story and starts the plot in motion. Every scene in the story between the first and last scenes should move the story to the conclusion, or show more about a character. Those are the two main functions of scenes.
All that aside, when writing a scene, you need to know what the scene is for. Why write it? What does it do for the story? These are some of the questions to keep in mind while you are writing your scenes. Why does the story need this? How does it advance the narrative? Does it let the reader learn more about a character? Write the basic action of the scene first, or at least have it in mind as you go. When you finish the scene, if you’ve only written the bare actions, go over it and add in descriptions, embellishments. Also add an explanation of who is talking to who, if there is dialog.
Remember the story’s conflicts. Include them in each scene. Include some inner conflicts as well the outermost conflicts. If your character feels pushed to act, show how it feels forced into a particular action. Let your characters argue with each other. Use the conflicts to drive the scene and the story as a whole.
The scene is an important, integral part of any story, regardless of length. The structure of a scene mirrors that of the story and should advance the story to the conclusion. Like all journeys, getting there can be half the fun. So have fun crafting your scenes. Your story will be the better for it.