Anatomy of a Scene


Scenes are the visual building blocks of the novel in which your characters live (very much like theater productions and movies). Scenes placed one after another make chapters. Multiple chapters tied together make novels. You might consider writing your novel using the scene and sequel technique (see Scene and Sequel posted September 2, 2015) but some writers include the information of the sequel within the scene. There is no set number of scenes that should be in each chapter, but I tend to write three scenes per chapter, and I find that many authors write in this similar way. But as in writing everything else, each writer has their own process.

The purpose of the scene is to move the story forward and each scene should be there for that reason. If the scene does not move the story forward, cut it. If the scene doesn’t move the story forward then it is dragging your story down with useless fluff, or backstory, or some other thing. Seriously. Just cut it. Your story will be better off.

Each scene should build upon the last scene, but also be strong enough to stand on its own, with a beginning, and middle, and an ending.

Successful scenes include a POV character, action that advances the story, revealing dialogue, conflict and tension, a rich setting, and minimal narrative (see Show V Tell posted November 11, 2015).

The end of a scene allows your reader to take a break but you may want to write a hook at the end of each (most) scenes so your reader can’t put your book down. Blockbuster novels use that technique.

How long are scenes?

Long scenes run 15 pages or more (very long scenes), and I recommend that you use long scenes sparingly. Too many long scenes in a row will drag down the pace of your story, and that makes for boring reading. Don’t be boring.

Short scenes are usually ten or fewer pages. Vary your scene length for variety and to adjust the pacing of your story. Be careful not to use too many very short scenes (a few pages or less) because they upset the flow of the novel, and if your reader is upset by the flow they might put your book down, and that is a bad thing.

Next week we begin discussing the craft of writing great scenes.

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