Writing Scenes

Lex E. Darion

Formerly Alex Darion
Joined
Jan 12, 2016
Messages
197
Location
Near the Bog of Eternal Stench
#1
On a recent review of my opening to WIP I was informed that it lacked focus. I rolled this around my brain for a while and then came to realise (hopefully rightly @Brian G Turner) that it meant it wasn't a 'scene' - it didn't have a beginning, middle, end and there wasn't a clear formulation of what the protagonist wanted (either in the book as a whole or just in that scene).

I've never actually written a scene! I know (sort of) what it needs to have but don't seem able to write them.

Any hints/tips would be greatly appreciated. Do you all write using scenes or do you just write without this format? If you do use these, do you write them from day 1 or tweak them after the first draft?
 

HareBrain

Bunny of Wonder
Staff member
Supporter
Joined
Oct 13, 2008
Messages
9,857
Location
West Sussex, UK
#2
I think, as you move to smaller units of a story, you can be less prescriptive as to what each unit needs to achieve. A novel should have a beginning, middle and end, mystery and resolution, tension and relief, etc; a chapter has less weight on it and (for me) just has to move the story on, with well-chosen start and end points and something significant happening in between; a scene, which can be just a couple of lines, just has to give a feeling to the reader of there being some point to it.

there wasn't a clear formulation of what the protagonist wanted (either in the book as a whole or just in that scene).
If you're clear as you're writing what the protagonist wants, this will come through, to the degree necessary, in every scene they're in, without you having to tick it off on a list. If you're not, then you probably need to fix that. :)
 

The Judge

Truth. Order. Moderation.
Staff member
Joined
Nov 10, 2008
Messages
10,095
Location
nearly the New Forest
#3
I read Brian's comment as saying it was the first para which lacked focus, not the scene as a whole. Certainly what I meant when I agreed with him was simply that to my mind that paragraph was a bit all over the place -- she's digging, having a headache, looking at the plane, wanting to be elsewhere, thinking more about her headache, bending back to the skeleton. Hence my suggestion that it might help if you focussed a little on the dig, ie what she's doing and why, and try to relate that to the novel overall, either by way of theme or the plot, ie foreshadowing what will happen.

And of course you've written a scene before! A scene is simply the space in which something happens, and by golly something did.

As to your larger question, I agree with HB. I'd certainly recommend that chapters and scenes have beginnings, middles and ends, but basically they simply have to move the story forward in some way. So while stuff like conflict and resolution are helpful, they're not absolutely necessary as long as the story is advanced.

Personally, I just write. I don't agonise about what has to be in each scene as long as it does something. I'm a firm believer that writing is not, and should never be, a box-ticking exercise.
 

Ihe

Forum Revolutionary
Joined
Apr 4, 2015
Messages
1,093
#5
Scenes are like neatly wrapped packets of story, placed in sequence on the conveyor belt of your plot. I see them as the most basic unit of a whole story. They each have a main objective they need to fulfil which everything revolves around, one way or another; most of the times their own little conflict and reaction; their own structure; their own mood; and most importantly IMO, a sense of internal continuity (either happening in the same place, or following a single character in thematically-linked actions, etc). And don't worry about length. Some scenes are as long as the book chapter itself.

I find it useful to divide and subdivide units of story. It helps to clarify the objectives each unit has. This means that the scenes' objectives aren't only internal, they also need to link on some level with the objectives within their chapters, which in turn reflect the objectives/subthemes within their "plot quartile" so to speak, etc, which gives you a great chance to add some subtext and foreshadowing, enriching the scene's depth, if you know roughly what's to come.

This might not be everyone's cup of tea, but check out Motivation-Reaction Units for some inspiration on scene writing, even if it's just to be inspired to do the opposite :D.
 

Lex E. Darion

Formerly Alex Darion
Joined
Jan 12, 2016
Messages
197
Location
Near the Bog of Eternal Stench
#6
Thanks guys! You've been great - as usual!

I read Brian's comment as saying it was the first para which lacked focus, not the scene as a whole. Certainly what I meant when I agreed with him was simply that to my mind that paragraph was a bit all over the place -- she's digging, having a headache, looking at the plane, wanting to be elsewhere, thinking more about her headache, bending back to the skeleton. Hence my suggestion that it might help if you focussed a little on the dig, ie what she's doing and why, and try to relate that to the novel overall, either by way of theme or the plot, ie foreshadowing what will happen.

And of course you've written a scene before! A scene is simply the space in which something happens, and by golly something did.

As to your larger question, I agree with HB. I'd certainly recommend that chapters and scenes have beginnings, middles and ends, but basically they simply have to move the story forward in some way. So while stuff like conflict and resolution are helpful, they're not absolutely necessary as long as the story is advanced.

Personally, I just write. I don't agonise about what has to be in each scene as long as it does something. I'm a firm believer that writing is not, and should never be, a box-ticking exercise.
Thanks for clarifying. I think I got myself in a downward spiral (as with the antagonist thing). I had in mind an article or book piece about writing scenes and then panicked that I hadn't done it right! I tend to just write the story but then thought I hadn't structured it properly. It's good to know I'm not a total lost cause! ;)

Scenes are like neatly wrapped packets of story, placed in sequence on the conveyor belt of your plot. I see them as the most basic unit of a whole story. They each have a main objective they need to fulfil which everything revolves around, one way or another; most of the times their own little conflict and reaction; their own structure; their own mood; and most importantly IMO, a sense of internal continuity (either happening in the same place, or following a single character in thematically-linked actions, etc). And don't worry about length. Some scenes are as long as the book chapter itself.

I find it useful to divide and subdivide units of story. It helps to clarify the objectives each unit has. This means that the scenes' objectives aren't only internal, they also need to link on some level with the objectives within their chapters, which in turn reflect the objectives/subthemes within their "plot quartile" so to speak, etc, which gives you a great chance to add some subtext and foreshadowing, enriching the scene's depth, if you know roughly what's to come.

This might not be everyone's cup of tea, but check out Motivation-Reaction Units for some inspiration on scene writing, even if it's just to be inspired to do the opposite :D.
Thanks for that :) I have heard of Motivation-reaction units - vaguely! I will look them up again :D
 

tinkerdan

candycane shrimp
Joined
Dec 10, 2012
Messages
3,867
Location
x(squared)+y(squared)=r(squared) : when x~infinity
#7
Strangely enough I just picked up an old book from my shelf from my college years.
https://www.amazon.com/dp/0385063911/?tag=id2100-20
to re-read.

It was interesting that he looked at a novel as having two primary elements:
Scene and Summary; and then proceeds to go on to add that there is also description but it hazily falls under summary.

The interesting part is that for him scene equals showing and summary equals telling. So back in 1969 when this was fresh and new and I had to have it for my class; they were already talking about show and tell; however he emphasizes that a novel has to have both and they have to balance out in a way that doesn't drive the reader out of the story. He gives a lot of good examples from what might be considered literary fiction of that time, but it stills strikes me as relevant to all good fiction. However there is initially a tone set that seems a bit high-brow to me and though he at least once states that this is not written for literary critique, I kept thinking that it was.

He also seemed to establish earlier in his examples that a scene is often show and tell or the scene might contain elements of summary and description, but only marginally. What he emphasizes is that--depending on the POV and the actual tense chosen--the scene was as close to the present as possible with a sense of immediacy and action that moves the reader forward. A scene usually is a contiguous timeline in one specific place and it is best to have it contain some elements that have been mentioned in posts above. The scene has a beginning and an end and in between is all the action that gets us there and moves the story forward.

One thing he emphasizes throughout his book is that POV can have a dramatic affect on the author's ability to deliver the immediacy necessary to keep the reader in the story and this can be affected by drastic shifts in the scene that might look like scene breaks or maybe too much tell (summary, description and exposition) and even shifts in the POV. However he also gives some good examples of authors work where they have made such shifts work, leaving in the caveat that some of those works are not that popular today(or in that case circa 1970). Yet there are examples of what does work that are within works that are still popular today(as previously mentioned).

Though the book is old I have discovered that it still has some valuable points and it makes some of the same claims about readers almost 50 years ago that are made of readers now.

We seem to have a lot more POV's these days, although when looking at his analysis of first, second and third and omniscient he seems to describe many without all the names we use. I think though that the most striking is that some POV we have now might fall into his description of the use of several overlapping POV and some examples he gives are pretty far out there, demonstrating how a narrator might go from third to first to third all in one paragraph and get away with it--not that it was well accepted--but that it was done and done well.

Anyway, to get back to the OP question.

A scene can be many things but if you drift away from the main focus of that scene, be it too much summary or description or exposition or even jarring the reader out of the scene then it becomes something other than scene and possibly will lose the reader who will be looking ahead to where the next scene might be.
 

Similar threads

Top