Writing Scenes 101

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Scenes are like mini stories, and taken together, they make a book. Today we’re going to examine what goes into writing scenes, how to create them, and the elements you should find in them all.

The Golden Rule of Scene Writing

The most important thing to remember when writing a scene is that it has to serve a purpose. The purpose is to move the story along. It’s not enough to have a scene that merely depicts relationships or setting. A scene can and should do those things, but that’s not its main purpose. The main purpose is to expose character in a way that moves the story or to advance a plot point that moves the story. If you can’t think of why, exactly, you’re writing the scene, rethink the scene.

You don’t have to write a thriller or a mystery to keep the story flowing. You could be writing a story that’s essentially about relationships. However, stuff needs to happen. The plot can be well short of needing to save the world-level stakes. But things should happen. People should want things they can’t have. They should have conflict. There should be some sense that it’s going somewhere.

Bottom line? Write with a purpose.

What’s in a Scene?

Now onto the nitty gritty. What’s in a scene? A scene can be a whole chapter, or it can comprise part of a chapter. It’s a full idea, however, and it has a plot. Think of it as a mini story with a beginning, middle, and an end. It has characters, and it has a setting. If you remember that it needs a plot, you’ll be simultaneously ensuring that it has a purpose.

A scene can be action: a murder takes place. A scene can be a couple disagreeing about finances. You could write a love scene. Your detectives could discuss the case. A scene can be mostly dialogue or mostly movement. Whatever works for your story is fine. But, like your story, it should start where it does for a reason and end up at a conclusion for a reason too.

How do you know your scene is over? When you’ve completed the purpose of it, and you’re ready to switch POV, setting, move through time, switch characters, or bring up a new plot point.

How Long Should a Scene Be?

It should be long enough to complete your purpose for writing it. This might sound like a cop-out answer, but it’s true. Your story, your style, and your pacing will determine scene length. There’s no set requirements for it. I guess you want it to be like the ideal meal: substantial enough to satisfy yet not too much to bloat.

Some say that short scenes help the pages turn. This is true simply because there is more “white space” in a story. This might be pertinent information for some. For others writing different kinds of books, it won’t matter. People sometimes read on phones or small devices, which might be a layout consideration an editor or publisher would keep in mind. Writing for children versus adults is another factor.

Of course, if your story is compelling and your scenes are purposeful, your readers will gladly keep your pages turning, no matter how they’re formatted.

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About Author

Mary is a young adult writer and archaeologist. By day she teaches at a local college, and by night she writes about the adventures of adolescence.

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