What is a Scene in a Powerful Novel?
Fictionary StoryTeller guides a writer through their novel on a scene-by-scene basis in order to help a writer tell a powerful story.
As I read many drafts, it occurred to me that a definition of what a scene is might help.
A scene is a section of your novel where a character or characters engage in action or dialogue. You can think of a scene as a story with a beginning, middle, and an end.
A chapter can contain one scene or many scenes. Usually, the scenes within a chapter are related. Some novels have one scene per chapter for the entire story. Others have multiple scenes.
Deciding how to structure the story is where your artistry comes into play.
Elements of Every Scene
So what’s in a scene?
Most likely you have at least one character in a scene. The character doesn’t have to be a human. It could be a storm. It could be a haunted house. It could be an animal. You get the idea. Whatever “it” is, if you give “it” a scene, “it” must be something relevant to the story
Characters entering or exiting the scene are a good place to start a new scene or end a scene.
Each scene will have a beginning, a middle, and an end just like your overall story. Every scene needs a great opening line, an entry hook, a middle, a climax and an exit hook.
Consider starting a new scene, when the direction of the story changes, the action is significantly different, or you’re sharing a subplot.
The scene must take place somewhere. When the location changes or the time the action takes place, consider starting a new scene.
Triggers for Starting a New Scene
Just to recap, a good time to start a new scene is when one of the following changes:
- POV character
- Characters in the scene
- Scene location
By indicating the start of a new scene with a scene break character like *, your reader will be expecting some kind of change. A simple thing like adding scene break characters will help the story flow from one scene to the next and make increase your readers enjoyment.
You can also start a new scene if the word count of your scene is getting too long. I’ll talk about scene length next.
How Long Should a Scene Be?
The length of a scene can affect the pacing of a novel. The shorter the scene, the faster the pacing. The longer the scene, the slower the pacing. This, of course, has exceptions.
The key scenes in your novel such as the inciting incident, plot point 1, midpoint, plot point 2, and climax can have a longer word count and still be fast-paced. The action or key events happening in those scenes with drive the pacing.
Keep in mind that many readers use small devices these days, and a long scene may seem even longer when read on a small screen. You don’t want to tire a reader out.
When a reader finishes a scene, they feel a sense of accomplishment. If a scene is too long, they might get tired and stop reading. Seems odd, I know, but technology is influencing the way we read and write.
The MOST Important Question
What is the purpose of every scene?
By asking this question for every scene in your novel, you can determine if a scene should be in your story or not. Sometimes I get carried away writing a scene, and before I know it, it has turned into something unexpected. Although I might have found joy in writing it, that doesn’t mean it’s relevant to my novel.
Once you’ve written all your scenes, and you know they have a purpose, you’ll want to see you’ve located them in the most effective spot in your story. Only an analysis of your Story Arc can show you this.
How to Deconstruct a Scene by KM Weiland gives more information on what goes into a scene.
StoryTeller is creative editing software for fiction writers. Transform your story, not just your words. Successful stories depend on your ability to edit, improve, and revise your work. Only when you master story editing, can you master storytelling.
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