Scenes are the basic building blocks of narrative thread. The ability to envision a successful scene and integrate it into a seamless and shapely whole is one of the writer’s most essential tools in any genre or medium.
Any writer who can write one good scene after another, choosing the appropriate scenes to tell the story and ordering and interlacing them well for maximum effect, can produce a good story or novel.
Good scenes utilize all the important aspects of storytelling, including setting, characterization and motivation, action, conflict, point of view, exposition, structure and style.
Whether or not you are an instinctive outliner or plotter, before you sit down to write your novel, you should have spent some time dedicated to developing your storytelling writing abilities by practicing scenes.
Some of the more successful novels have been composed of as few as 15-20 major scenes (though of course their might easily be up to 100, depending on length and genre). Whether you’re trying to tell a sweeping epic or even a short story, you will be writing your story as a series of scenes.
If you can craft a good scene, you can write a great story.
Once you break a larger project down into its constituent building blocks of scenes, it not only takes pressure off you and your writing by making your story goals more manageable, it also helps you keep your focus on creating compelling, well-crafted scenes.
Writing a novel can be daunting but every writer with a story to tell can apply themselves to writing a scene. By mastering the ability to write powerful scenes you find that the rest of the writing grows easier, for what is your story but a series of scenes, piled one upon the other. Scenes may – and should - have greatly varied and different goals and approaches, some may merely add to what came before or some may challenge or change what came before. Nevertheless, the goal for all good scenes will be to succeed in moving your story inexorably and relentlessly forward, for each of them to come together to form an integral part of the whole.
Once you have the idea for your story, the characters, and the setting, it’s time to begin thinking about how you will tell this story – and essentially that will be through a series of scenes woven together with narrative and exposition helping to structure them and provide addition texture and dimension.
The scene is generally a smaller story of its own, a microcosm or the whole. Whether your scenes starts a story and setting anew, begins in medias res or picks up where others have left off, each scene is a vital opportunity to engage your reader’s attention.
Just as most novels adhere to Aristotle’s basic three-act story-telling structure of beginning, middle and end, so should your scenes have their own structure.
Good scenes give you an opportunity to portray your character’s goals and desires in an environment of your choosing, to show them dealing with an incident and interacting with their environment. Ideally, the driving motivations of your character will be somehow portrayed in a scene. If the scene and its outcome are not dictated and driven by the main goals of your character, his/her goals and motivation should at least be somehow evidenced or at least exhibited so that somehow each scene serves to heighten characterization and/or as a stepping stone to the rest of the story.
While scenes may focus on small or large desires of your characters, always get some evidence of your characters motivation to drive interactions in a scene.
Scenes and their transitions should have some sort of strong connective tissue to help tie your story together.
Scenes are stories, good scenes contain all the elements of good stories: characterization and motivation, setting, dialogue, narrative arc, theme, conflict, tension, structure and style.
Powerful scenes are their own entities but also always part of a whole. Working together, scenes team up and, connect with one another. Whether they change what came before or add to it, their duty is to draw the reader into the story but also make him want to know what happens next as they move the story forward.
The first goal of writing your story is to have an idea of what scenes will enable you to tell it best. The goal is to get your story – your series of scenes – on paper. Only then can you see how well they integrate and bolster the whole. Write your scenes as well as possible but do not worry about editing and revising them until you know how well they work to tell your story.
A great scene is a part of whole, working together. Scene-work is team work; great scenes work because of how they fit in with what came before and what follows.
The better your scenes come to life and synthesize with one another, the stronger your story will be.
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