If you want a topic to come to life, tell a story about it. In teaching writing, I rely heavily on basic scene writing–even for nonfiction classes such as Essay or Memoir. Sometimes students challenge the notion that scenes are necessary to lift nonfiction above its narration. Yet the very ingredients of scene attest to the power of the senses in relating ideas. Whether you’re a journalist, essayist or fiction writer, scene is one of the most-often employed tools in the writers toolbox. The trick is to dramatize the important parts of a story or anecdote, and leave out the (boring) stuff readers can assume. In other words, write scenes that get us from one idea to another (in nonfiction) or, for fiction, from one important plot point to the next.
Writing Tip For Today: Scenes are a wonderful tool to engage a reader. A scene has a definite place, time boundary and “reason for being” and characters to see, hear, taste, touch and smell. Scenes enliven abstract ideas in nonfiction and help the reader experience fiction. Here are some scene writing tips:
- Eleven Elements of the Scene: A particular Place, Time (of day, night or even the century), Purpose, a Point of View, Character(s), Concrete Sensory Detail: Sight, Sound, Touch, Taste, Smell and the Quality of the Light (foggy, sunny, dim, bright, etc.)
- You don’t have to account (in the scene) for every moment of the day. Skip to the next place where something changes in the story. If it’s Sunday and nothing happens till Monday, only act out Monday.
- Leave out those things readers assume: that the character gets out of bed in the morning, makes coffee, gets dressed. If you tell your reader your character went to work, it isn’t necessary to act out the car trip or the train ride unless the story hinges on these times.
- Keep chit-chat out of the dialogue. When introducing characters to each other, you can say, “They introduced each other,” not “Jane, this is Dan. Dan, Jane,” and so on.
- Keep track of the number of scenes where your characters are sitting around a table sipping tea/coffee/beer. In real life we do a lot of sitting and sipping but in a scene, it’s very static if everyone remains seated. Get your characters moving.
- You should be able to summarize the major action in a fiction scene or the idea illustrated for nonfiction. This will help you decide why the scene is there.
Scene writing is fun! Learn to manage your scenes and your reader will thank you.