Monday, 8 February 2010

Writing: Make A Scene!

You often here writers say they write in scenes rather than chapters. Or they say, a chapter is a scene. That's the case for me.

I think first of all, we need to know what a scene is. I like this definition from the website Holly Lisle:
The scene is the smallest discrete unit in fiction; it is the smallest bit of fiction that contains the essential elements of story. You don't build a story or a book of words and sentences and paragraphs -- you build it of scenes, one piled on top of the next, each changing something that came before, all of them moving the story inexorably and relentlessly forward.
...It contains the single element that gives your story life, movement, and excitement. ...Change.
When is a scene a scene? When something changes. What defines the completion of a scene? The moment of change.
 Okay, so that's a scene.

The reason I prefer to use the terminology of scene rather than chapter is that sometimes my chapters have more than one scene. How do we know we've got a scene?

Lets take a page from my WIP scene notebook: (There are 3 main parts.)

Scene # (you can write your own scene # here):

  1. Goal: In this case, my MCs are going to the _____ (I wont say here in case I spoil my book for any future readers) to track down the killer. They don't know who he is, they only know where he works. And, they know it's a 'he'.
  2. Conflict: They enter but they don't find any men. The person in charge at this ____ won't help them and when they finally get her to cooperate and hand over a list of men who work there and find the one who matches a previous address in their list of suspects...
  3. Disaster: They find out ----- (something shocking - I wont say what that is and ruin the surprise)
Of course now, to continue with these two characters, before you can create another goal, you will need:
  1. Reaction - they are shocked and frustrated not to find the killer readily available - but at least they have his name
  2. Dilemma - they have to find out where he lives
  3. Decision - they get his home address and decide to go there...
Once the character has his decision, he can make a new goal... the cycle starts again.

Picture Sources: Men with Pens
Source: Advanced Fiction Writing


Kimberly Franklin said...

Ann, I love the idea of writing in scenes rather than chapters. I do this too. For me, scenes seem more manageable and chapters can sometimes be overwhelming.

Loved this post! : )

Jemi Fraser said...

I write in scenes as well - and I love this definition. I have 2 MCs and the pov flips between the 2 of them, so some of my scenes are short. I'll fit them into chapters later. :)

T. Powell Coltrin said...

I love writing in scenes too.

Very helpful topic.

The romantic query letter and the happy-ever-after said...

I have the entire story boarded then I write, edit, re-write and on...
Warm regards,

Lorel Clayton said...

I write in scenes too. I started with screenplay writing, so the concept carried over into my novels.

Jim Murdoch said...

I know it's only a word but I wonder if this is simply a natural reaction to the fact that many of us take our inspiration more and more from visual and not written sources? Let's face it there will be very few people who have read more books than they've watched films and TV shows.

Anonymous said...

I tend to try to finish writing a scene before I give up writing on any given day. It doesn't matter if I don't finish the chapter but I don't like leaving scenes hanging.
Thanks for some great advice on scenes.

Elizabeth Spann Craig said...

Great ideas...I've tweeted. :)

Mystery Writing is Murder

Terry Odell said...

I can't imagine any other way to write. I've been deconstructing one of my books to give a plotting workshop for non-plotters, and scene structure is a key point. I story board my book AFTER I write each scene, which helps keep track and makes edits easier.

Unknown said...

I love the idea of writing in scenes rather than chapters!!! I didn't realize that I did this but I do, and just thinking with that frame of mind rather than chapters might make my world a little easier!!!!

LOVED THIS POST! I am so glad I had time to read it!

Joanne said...

I write in scenes too. It really brings the characters' personal touch to the writing, rather than thinking technically, in chapters. It's a nice way to think of writing a book too, those scenes moving the characters forward, bringing them to life.

Carol Kilgore said...

I also write in scenes, and I think it's probably the most natural way to write. If I stop mid-scene, I make a few little notes so I don't forget where I was going with it. Or I'll make notes for what the next scene will be - if I know it at the time.

Anonymous said...

Yup - I think in scenes too. Sometimes a scene takes up a whole chapter - often it takes up a whole chapter. That's a problem! LOL.

Great post as always.


from the desk of a writer

Ann Elle Altman said...

Kim, yeah, it does seem more manageable.

Jemi, I love the definition too. I write with two MCs and I often flip back and forth.

Journalling woman, glad you liked it.

Simone, wow are you organized.

Jen, glad you had the time to read it. I know it takes a lot of time to go through all the blogs.

Joanne, I agree. And each scene must move the story forward or else the reader gets bored.

Carol, that's a great process. I wish I was as organized as you sometimes.

Corra, yup, scenes often take up a chapter for me too. But I think the two can be interchangeable as long as you know the purpose.


Lorel, screen writing is the perfect way to learn to write scenes.

Jim, I agree. But, I also do take a lot of my inspiration from other writers.

cassandrajade, yeah me too, I don't finish a chapter a day, I finish a scene a day too.

Elizabeth, thanks for tweeting.

Terry, it sure does make editing easier. I like how you do things.