Saturday, January 7, 2012

What Causes a "Scene"? Updated

See updates (in italic) below.

I'm studying "scenes" in fiction to make sure I have all the elements a scene needs, but first I needed to know exactly what a scene is. 

So, what makes a "scene" a scene?

I originally thought a scene is a chapter or an Act of a play.  It's not. I realize now, that it should be, if you've done it right! I've found some of my manuscript scenes are lacking critical elements! 

A scene consists of a change that moves the story forward. If it doesn't move the story forward, you need to revise it. All pieces of your manuscript need to have a reason for being there -- one that supports your overall storyline.

Read Holly Lisle's Scene-Creation Workshop and then try writing short scenes along with it!  
It was an eye-opening experience!

Here are the scenes I wrote as I was reading/doing Holly's Workshop. (Note: mine are not very good, but they do have the essential parts of a scene):

1. The desert seemed deserted, but the spider waited, covered by the sand. A small brown mouse stopped to sniff the air and that pause was all the spider needed. With lightning speed, it jumped and within seconds the venom paralyzed the mouse.

2. Sasha quickly went down the isle, systematically grabbing items here and there from the pharmacy shelves. When she got to the counter, she set the shopping basket in front of the cashier, who began to ring up the items. Sasha opened her purse.

"Oh no! I forgot my wallet in the car. I'll be right back!"

She rushed out and when she rounded the corner, she began to run. In her pockets were bottles of stolen painkillers.

3. Tabitha heard wonderful things about Andy McCoy. Jessica couldn't stop talking about him. He was good-looking and from a rich family. He was going to be a doctor. Jessica was totally in love and Tabitha was happy for her best friend. 

She got to meet Andy at Jessica's 19th birthday party.

"Sam, here he is! This is Andy!"


"Hi yourself," Andy said with a smile. "Jess has told me loads about you."

"Hey, Mom's calling me over to meet her boss. I'll be back in a minute," Jess said.

Andy looked at me. "You look even better than the photo Jess showed me."

"Uh, thanks, I guess."

"So, you want to go out?"

"What? You're dating Jess."

"She doesn't have to know."


  1. In addition, a scene can contain little changes as it goes along, but any BIG change that furthers the BIG story...well, that ends the scene. It took me awhile to get this concept!

    I think the turning point in understanding the "scene" concept was to ask this question of each change I came across in my manuscript:

    Does the change move the big story forward? If NO, then that is not a scene. If YES, then that is a scene.

  2. I could see #1 as it happened! The second one caught me, and I wanted to chase that girl down! #3 was harder to grasp.
    Scenes are sometimes like creating something from air, aren't they?

  3. Scenes are so important! In my creative writing class last semester, there was a girl that just wrote everything and it was like reading a monologue. She never had an scenes. It was hard to get into her story without them. Great post!

  4. Susan,
    Yes they are! Your comment about #2 was wanted to chase her down. But, what you don't know is that she stole the painkillers for her dying grandfather to comfort him. Now, do you still want to chase her down?

    Oh...a long monologue....painful.


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