Writing – Scenes

What is the point of a scene?

What is the point of a scene is exactly the question you should be asking yourself before you begin writing a scene. In the first draft, it is possible you won’t have thought of this for every scene, determined as you were to get those words down in the first place, but if you want a story that is composed of structured scenes you do need to evaluate the importance of each scene, and you start by deciding first why you are writing a particular scene. It shouldn’t be too difficult, once you start thinking about the scene ­– a cursory glance at the few sections of a scene may be sufficient to get brain juices flowing.

Once you start thinking, a few problems may become apparent. They could be various, but the following are a few I’ve experienced.

  • Is there a gap between Scene A and Scene C that needs to be filled?
  • Perhaps your characters aren’t where they should be and you need to guide them to the desired scene, and this is reason enough to write a new scene to bridge the gap.
  • Or perhaps you’ve had a few new ideas that can be scenes themselves.
Simplicity is best

An important thing to remember is that whatever your motivation for writing a new scene, despite the number of words it takes to write a scene, the point of each scene should be simple in essence. The number of words in a scene should not confuse you into thinking you have or need an over-complicated point, or a special twisting plot combined of myriad subplots; those advanced techniques are for highly experienced writers and those who have mastered the basics. Complex techniques are not very helpful in getting you to write a meaningful scene that is simple in essence, both to write and read. In every story, an understanding of your basic scene construction should be adhered to.

Sometimes it is debatable whether scenes are good for the reader and writer, and revisiting them after a break or getting a reader to give you feedback can help adjust the focus.

What is the function of a scene?

From the point of view of a writer, every scene has a function, and there is often more than one scene per chapter – a series of related general points or happenstances on the same chapter topic. In a chronological story, the main function of a scene is to move the story forward at the right time and pace, or to bring forward important past information to the reader that is crucial at that point in the story. There is a lot of intention in writing scenes, or should be, in a structured story that is logical and flows naturally from one paragraph, scene, and chapter, to the next.

You do your story injustice when you use scenes as battering rams to increase the number of words. It would give your story size, but it would weigh down the reader with irrelevant scenes and the story may become insurmountable to read. Scope and meaning are paramount.

How to write better scenes?

It could be that you find it quite easy to decide what your scene should cover, but improving your scenes is a difficulty. You won’t be the only one who has struggled to write better scenes, and it could be that you find it daunting because you’re not a language expert, you haven’t read or understood many advanced scene construction books, don’t have the right degree, haven’t taken many prestigious courses, aren’t traditionally published, and don’t have many friends in high places to back you up.

The above reasons should not prevent you from improving your scenes or from believing that you can. Self-editing techniques and guides are often fertile ground for improvement, and so is practice! One thing that has helped me write better scenes is thinking about them in a different ways. See the case studies below.

Case study 1: Familiar paths

Character experience going from A to B has been the most common scene, in my first drafts. However, sometimes the little thoughts a character has have more importance in a scene – such as a character revisiting a familiar path and not even mentioning how the familiar path had changed would appear to be doing the scene a disservice, even if you mentioned other things happening in that scene that wouldn’t usually happen. In this scenario you are actively following-up on the unspoken question about the scene: a familiar path that has been changed?

These unspoken questions or little thoughts a character has when doing something familiar or doing anything else imprint on the character’s thought processes and build up a more complete picture of a path, environment; or a greater understanding of something or somebody. It’s important to remember that your characters are living in the world you’ve created too – it may be your creation, but they have to live in it!