Scenes: The Building Blocks of Your Story

This guest post is by Justine Schofield, Communications Coordinator of Pubslush.

Without scenes, there would be no action or forward movement in your writing and thus, there would be no story. Scenes are what allow writers to abide by the timeless saying show, don’t tell. Why tell the reader your character is an angry drunk when you could show them—with much more power and impact—in a scene where, with whiskey bottle in hand, he lashes out at his wife because the pot roast is overcooked.

It’s through scenes  you create, exploit, and flesh out characters, and it’s through the actions and interactions of these characters that writers are able to show readers the building tension or resolution within the story. Scenes are, without a doubt, just as important as the characters that inhabit them.

The elements of the scene

As a writer, I’m sure you know the word scene. Within the context of writing, a scene typically has one setting and is comprised of a situation that moves the story forward. It sounds basic enough, but how often do you think about the scenes you’re creating?

First, let’s break down the elements of a scene. You need…

1. Characters (or at least one character)

2. Setting

3. Some sort of conflict to drive the story forward.

A scene most often and in the most basic sense includes dialogue, action, interior speculation or monologue, and narration.

Consider each scene as a small building block that will eventually comprise your novel or short story. You don’t need excess blocks to build your story, so make sure each scene holds a significant weight of importance to the overall plot. If a scene is failing to inform or influence the plot as a whole, it has no place in your story.

Changing the scene

In a recent lecture I attended, the professor stated that the scene changes every time a new character is introduced, one of the characters on the page exits the present action of the story, or the setting of the story changes. I know in my own writing I never considered small trivialities such as the entering and exiting of characters to constitute a change of scene, but whether you agree with this assessment or not, it can be easier to manage your scenes if you break them down in such a way.

It’s important at some point, whether it be while writing or during the revision process, to consider every scene individually. No matter how long (or short) your piece is, it’s vital to ensure every scene is being utilized to its maximum potential and has an impact on the overall plot. If you break your scenes down as I explained above, you will be able to have a keener eye on what is necessary to the story and what is superfluous.

Getting the most out of your scenes

Once you know all the scenes are vital to the plot, how do you know if you’re getting the most out of each scene?  There are a few basic questions to keep in mind.

1. Are you relaying everything you have in your mind to your reader?

Although it’s very true that as the writer you will know more about the characters than what you put on the page, it’s still very important  you make sure you didn’t exclude any fundamental information. With each scene having a specific purpose, you should be able to organize the plot progression of your story and ensure all the necessary information is on the page.

2. Are you utilizing all the opportunities of the scene?

Sometimes a scene affords you an opportunity you didn’t anticipate. For example, you want to let the reader know something the protagonist doesn’t, but you aren’t sure how to convey that information. While writing, the opportunity could present itself on the page without your intentionally writing the scene that way. Don’t let these opportunities slip by. In revisions, be conscious of such opportunities revealing themselves.

3. Are you utilizing the setting of the scene?

Along the same lines of not missing opportunities, it’s easy to get caught up in the action of the scene and neglect the setting. Setting provides unbelievable opportunities for action within the scene.

Consider a short exercise: Look around the room and write down ten things you see. If you were to set a scene in this room, how could you use these objects to show the emotion of your character? He could absent-mindedly eat a whole loaf of bread out of worry, he could push his desk chair out from under him in frustration, or he could throw a coffee at his sibling in rage.

Learning how to construct, analyze, and properly employ the scenes of your story will greatly improve your writing. This has been a brief overview of the basic elements of scene. As every writer knows, scenes are often much more complex and intricate than what I’ve explained here, but sometimes in all the complexity it’s easy to forget the basics and I think it’s safe to say, the basics are often the most important.

About the Author: Justine Schofield is the Communications Coordinator of Pubslush and the Editor in Chief of The Pubscriber. She’s a recent graduate from Emerson College where she obtained her degree in Writing, Literature and Publishing, and she is currently pursuing her MFA in Creative Writing at Lesley University in Cambridge, MA. She’s an avid writer and reader and has been published in several different publications.

Tell me your opinion: How would you define a scene?

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About K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland

K.M. Weiland is the award-winning and internationally-published author of the acclaimed writing guides Outlining Your Novel, Structuring Your Novel, and Creating Character Arcs. A native of western Nebraska, she writes historical and fantasy novels and mentors authors on her award-winning website Helping Writers Become Authors.

Comments

  1. excellent! thanks for sharing this

  2. I’ve heard it said that a chapter should be just one scene for effectiveness but what about multiple scenes per chapter? Which is better over the other?

  3. Thanks so much for sharing with us today, Justine!

  4. Great blog!!

  5. Thanks for sharing!

  6. This is very relevant to all writer of all levels. It has theoritical and practical lessons for all.

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