Fiction is composed of scenes. In a handout for a course on novel writing Jack Hodgins used to teach at the University of Victoria, he defines a scene as “a unit of continuous prose narrative, taking place in one location, in which we see and hear characters close-up, in order to move the story ahead by showing what is accomplished when one or more characters (or one character and a significant object) come together in a way that someone (perhaps everyone) pursues a goal and either succeeds, fails, or partially succeeds or fails, or lays the groundwork for succeeding (or failing) later.”
Phew. Sounds complicated. But here are
THE ESSENTIAL ELEMENTS OF A SCENE :
- A scene is whole and not broken into separate chunks.
- Scenes don’t jump around—they’re in one particular place. Characters can move but the location of the scene is set in one place.
- A scene is comprised of these elements: setting, characters, action and dialogue that the reader “sees” happening before their eyes. Think of scenes as mini-tableaux. The scenes should be dramatic or contain elements of drama: somebody wants something and is going after it.
- A scene works best when the writer has built up tension beforehand by means of conflict. The best action is also marked by indecision, just as in life. Action scenes are a great place to reveal a character’s weaknesses as well as strengths.
- All scenes have outcomes—win, lose and on occasion, a tie or draw.
I)WHAT A SCENE ILLUSTRATES THROUGH A CHARACTER?
My mentor/professor/friend, John Dufresne taught in his MFA Creative Writing courses that scenes “show” as the old adage says: “They show and don’t tell.” Scenes illustrate the essential events happening in the story, novel or even memoir. A scene has dialogue, which gives readers the characters’ thoughts and intentions. A scene gives us the characters’ actions or gestures, which are a more deliberate and careful representation than mere words in narrative exposition. Here is where the writing utilizes all the senses. (Exposition may be scenic if the correct words are chosen to enable the reader “to see” what’s going on, especially if strong verbs and nouns are used.)
II)SHOW THE READER WHAT A CHARACTER BRINGS TO SCENE
The reader doesn’t need to be able to see every solitary detail, but they must get a clear view of what’s going on in the narrative. The writer should know in advance how each character enlivens the scene portrayed. What do these characters bring to the scene? What do the characters want? What are their intentions and how are they going about getting these objectives? What do the characters risk in order to obtain what they want? What are their feelings and positions toward the other characters?
To make the scene effective take into consideration POV—you need to denote whose scene it is by use of dialogue, action, and the five senses. Keep the dialogue tag lines simple: he/she said. Express the characters’ thoughts and ideas. Utilize some exposition if necessary in between dialogue.
IV)ENHANCING THe QUALITY OF SCENES AND TRANSITIONS
Scenes are enhanced by setting and place and the application of clear description. Never forget that you’ll need transitions to keep the writing smooth from scene to narrative exposition or to a new scene. Otherwise you have a sense of chaos or choppiness.
V)SO HOW DOES A SCENE CONTRIBUTE TO THE PLOT?
So what’s the function of scene in what you’re writing? A scene contributes to plot, reveals character, promotes theme with symbolism, metaphors, images, and relates causally or thematically with events that happened before and events that will happen after. Don’t forget what David Gerrold, American science fiction screenwriter and novelist says, “Every scene must make the next scene inevitable.”
So try it: Write a scene within a place: kitchen, backyard, bathroom, garage, or driveway. Give us: the characters—at least two people—weather, time of day, and a problem or crisis. Tension is the basic key to every good and important scene.
Use only he said, she said or Mary said, John said. Anything after that simple tag line following dialogue weakens the prose—especially adverbs and adjectives: “he said, lovingly,” “she said happily”— simply show the love or show the joy with an action.
next coming up on 15th August Part II of The A,B,Cs of Scene Writing -WHAT NOT TO FORGET WHILE WRITING A SCENE by NINA ROMANO
More about the author at: www.ninaromano.com Follow HER on Twitter: @ninsthewriter.
Nina Romano earned a B.S. from Ithaca College, an M.A. from Adelphi University and a B.A. and an M.F.A. in Creative Writing from FIU. She’s a world traveler and lover of history. She lived in Rome, Italy, for twenty years, and is fluent in Italian and Spanish. She has authored a short story collection, The Other Side of the Gates, and has published five poetry collections and two poetry chapbooks with independent publishers. She co-authored Writing in a Changing World. Romano has been nominated twice for the Pushcart Prize.
Romano’s historical Wayfarer Trilogy has been published from Turner Publishing. The Secret Language of Women, Book #1, was a Foreword Reviews Book Award Finalist and Gold Medal winner of the Independent Publisher’s 2016 IPPY Book Award. Lemon Blossoms, Book # 2, was a Foreword Reviews Book Award Finalist, and In America, Book #3, was a finalist in Chanticleer Media’s Chatelaine Book Awards.