Scene Writing 101: A Review

A reader asks if I will review the basics of scene writing. I’m happy to do so, and not only because I love teaching writing. You see, even after years of practice and several published books, I still forget. Scenes are what makes writing come alive.
Writing Tip for Today:

  • Name that Reason. In fiction, each scene must advance the story. Think of the plot as a series of interrelated layers. A scene must uncover or reveal a bit more of the story. It’s usually safe to omit scenes where characters go from one place to another or to fill in a timeline. If nothing happens until Monday, just say so with a short narrative sentence or paragraph.
  • Every scene must have a beginning, a middle and an end. You can think of this like a joke, according to Good old Anne Lamott: First you have a set-up, then you have a build-up and finally you have the punch line. In the set-up, the reader learns who’s in the scene, where and when it occurs and the reason for the meeting. The build-up should usually increase the tension/conflict. The punch line reveals whether the POV character wins, loses or ties with the other character. Early in the story, a main character probably shouldn’t win too much.
  • Consider the Eleven Elements of a scene. Don’t bend over backward to include all 11 in every scene, but do consider that we are a visual society. Seeing and hearing top the sensory information list. Now and again, remember touch, taste and smell. Smell, in particular, is a very powerful sense that transports a reader. Here is the list. Tape it to your work area and refer to it often.
  1. Purpose of scene.
  2. POV (point of view) character.
  3. At least one other character.*
  4. Setting.
  5. Time barrier.
  6. Sights
  7. Sounds
  8. Touch
  9. Taste
  10. Smell
  11. Quality of Light.**

*Scenes with only one character tend to be too interior and lack conflict or tension. To avoid this, write scenes with at least one other character, even if it’s the dog.

**Quality of light affects a scene’s mood and lends depth to the setting. Is the scene taking place at night, in bright sunshine, under fluorescent lights? Is it rainy, foggy, stormy?

Try This! Write a scene where a main character is arguing with another character. Strive for balance between action, dialogue and emotional reactions.

Next up: Cold mashed potatoes, red wine and other scenic morsels.


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About Linda S. Clare

I'm an author, speaker, writing coach and mentor. I teach both fiction and nonfiction writing at Lane Community College and in the doctoral program as expert writing advisor for George Fox University. I love helping writers improve their craft and I'm both an avid reader and writer of stories about those with wounded hearts.

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