Writing Excuses 10.25: What Makes a Scene?

What defines a scene? How do we, as writers, structure things using scenes? When does a scene begin, when does it end, and when has it gone on too long?

We each do this a little differently, and obviously the definitions and processes will vary widely across mediums. In this episode we talk about how we do this, and we make reference to Scene/Sequel format, the MICE quotient, and pacing.



Look at the next few scenes you need to write, and identify their plot function, identify what your main character’s goal is. Now consider where the starting and stopping points can be placed to best serve those elements.

The Devil’s Only Friend, by Dan Wells, narrated by Kirby Heyborne

This will be our Project-in-Depth book in August, so dive in now!

5 thoughts on “Writing Excuses 10.25: What Makes a Scene?”

  1. My film professor explained a scene as being defined by having these same elements: It involves the same character(s), the same time, the same place, and the same general action. I found this interesting because it’s different from how we often perceive a “scene” in movies. We often think that a full chapter is a scene (they’re even listed as “scenes”; i.e. “Scene Selection” on the DVD menu). But really a scene, at least to me, is all of those things. So, in film, if we’re showing a shot of a teacher lecturing in a class, and then we cut to what’s going on right outside the classroom, those are technically two different scenes. I think this can be applicable to novels as well. It’s certainly helped me organize and put pieces of my story together better than previously when I didn’t have a very good grip on how to get from point A to point B.
    Anyway, this was yet another great podcast! Keep them coming! (Oh and thanks for last week’s also; it came out on my birthday! :) )

  2. Often, if I’m having trouble deciding when to begin and when to end a scene, I’ll simply start writing from the earliest point that seems related to the events I want to portray and will keep writing until I’ve put down absolutely everything I wanted to be in that scene. Then, once I’ve got it all in front of me, it’s usually easier to see which parts of the scene are necessary and which aren’t. Sometimes it’s easier to give yourself a big block of text and then carve it down into the shape you want. I used to be very hesitant to use this approach because it seemed so inefficient, but eventually I realized that an inefficient method which gets the job done is better than an efficient method which doesn’t.

  3. One of the things that makes this discussion so hard is the terrible name “scene/sequel.” don’t get me wrong, I use that model a lot in my own writing, but I call it action/reaction, and that helps keep my terminology straight.
    That lets me keep “scene” purely a theater term, meaning more like what JDBalance says in the previous comment. That way, a scene is a pacing/description tool. You can cram a lot of scenes in a chapter, usually separated like Mary was talking about.

  4. Scene and scenery? So a place? Or maybe making a scene, which seems to be acting out? What happens to the old unity of time, place, and action when a cellphone and the internet can make such a hash of here-and-now? Anyway… what business do scenes have in 400,000 word books? What about in short stories? The intrepid foursome bravely delve into the functions and features of their favorite scenes… and you can read all about it, right over here!


    The transcript is also in the archives.

  5. Great episode! Thank you for giving people like me who don’t have the time/money to attend writing courses a way to work on bettering our work.

    Quick question. Brandon mentioned that he plots his longer books (which I’m assuming is MOST of his books) as trilogies. I’m wondering how plotting a trilogy is different than plotting a single book, and what about the differences makes it useful in a longer novel? Thanks!

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