post by Lynn
|flickr: Harborne Happy Brick Holgafied by Stephen Boisvert|
When I first took up creative writing (nine years ago—can it be that long?) I was exhilarated by the chance to write scenes, to transform memory or imagination to a single you-are-there moment. I also loved the idea that scenes are the bricks you use to build your wall of story.
Since then I’ve spent a lot of time writing scenes, like the one where I am leading a writing group at a women’s addiction treatment center.
I reached way back in my memory bank and extracted several scenes from my time in the Peace Corps and put them in “Today We Work.”
Nine years later I still love to write these chunks of story. “I will write a scene,” I tell myself, over and over, not “I will write a novel or short story or essay or poem.” Maybe it's because a scene seems so much less intimidating--a brick, not a wall.
Loving is one thing but, as Adair Lara says, “…writing a scene is a distinct skill,” and I still have a lot of skill-building to do. But I’m motivated because I’ve been told that if I become a better scene-builder, I’ll be a better writer.
I thought I’d share a few of the things I’m learning about scene with you.
DEFINE WHAT “SCENE” IS
Or let someone else do it for you, like Peter Selgin: “Scenes are capsules in which compelling characters undertake significant actions in a vivid and memorable way that allows the events to feel as though they are happening in real time.”
We can also take a clue from the origin of the word “scene” itself. It comes from the Greek word for a temporary shelter or tent that formed the background for a dramatic performance. In other words, a scene “contains” the story.
Scene is about time and place. Actions, events, and interactions between characters that happen in one place during one uninterrupted period of time equals a scene. It helps to know this, because then you understand that if you move to a new place, it’s a different scene. If you have a break in time, even if you come back to the same place, you’re in a new scene.
DETERMINE WHAT YOU NEED EACH SCENE TO DO
Scenes move the story forward, reveal character, create (or build) dramatic tension or conflict, and foreshadow important events. The best scene does as many of these as possible. Things happen in a scene.
PLAY WITH MANY DIFFERENT KINDS OF SCENES
Here’s a list of scene types created by Jordan Rosenfeld, author of Make A Scene: Crafting a Powerful Story One Scene at a Time:
“These different types of scenes,” Rosenfeld says, “are like the notes in a symphony: Individually they may be intense or mild, contemplative or dramatic, but when they are used in combination, they form a fantastic narrative that feels rich and complex.”
DECIDE HOW TO SHOOT THE SCENE
You are the camera operator for the scene. You show the reader where to look, and whose eyes they are looking through. You decide whether to zoom in, pan the crowd or provide a panoramic view.
SHAPE THE SCENE
“Like a story in miniature,” says Peter Selgin, “a scene has its own miniplot, a buildup to some sort of climax or resolution.” It has a narrative arc that must be bent to the needs of the story.
ASK A LOT OF QUESTIONS ABOUT THE SCENE
- Is the scene grounded in time and space?
- What does your character feel, right now, in this moment? What does he/she want to have happen?
- How does the action convey the desires and emotions of each character?
- What mood am I creating in this scene?
- How does setting impact the scene?
- How does the scene fit into the whole story?
- What change takes place?
- What happens to move the story forward?
- Does it have a beginning, middle and end?
PRACTICE, PRACTICE, PRACTICE
Scene-building is a huge part of learning to write. Before you can even worry about stringing them together to form a larger story, you have to write a lot of scenes. Write and revise, over and over.
Here’s a scene exercise to play with:
Get On Board
Write a scene where your character is getting on:
- An airplane
- A float in a parade
- A sheep wagon
- A gurney
- A Harley
Okay, now read what you wrote in light of what we’ve studied. Check Rosenfeld's list and decide what kind of scene you wrote. Go back to the list of questions and quiz yourself about the scene.
Now it's your turn:
What have you learned about scene writing?
RESOURCES FOR FURTHER LEARNING:
By Cunning & Craft: Sound Advice and Practical Wisdom for Fiction Writers, by Peter Selgin. Chapter VI: Scene, Summary and Flashback.
Make A Scene: Crafting a Powerful Story One Scene at a Time, by Jordan E. Rosenfeld. The whole darn book is about scene. Great resource – Rosenfeld comes at the topic from every imaginable angle.
Naked, Drunk, and Writing: Shed Your Inhibitions and Craft a Compelling Memoir or Personal Essay, by Adair Lara. Chapter 12: How to Write Narration and Scene. See my post on about this book on The Writing Bug here.