When you’re writing a book, there are a lot of things you have to think about. First, what is the story about? Then you think about the characters and the setting and every other detail you can think of until you feel prepared to start writing. But how do you go about writing a book? By little bits at a time. Not just actual timewise but also in the way the story is told– through bits of summary and bits of scene. Writing a book is like constructing a building. You need a plan–a blueprint of what you plan to happen in your story. A story is made up of tons of scenes that each has a purpose and builds on the next. Therefore, in order to build a story, you must first learn to construct a scene.
What is a Scene?
A scene is a miniature story. They’re puzzle pieces that make up the bigger picture. While different than a chapter, which could have multiple scenes within it, scenes could be thought of similarly. They work like dominoes, each scene building toward the next and creating a cause and effect sequence to launch the next scene.
Scenes consist of the same structure as a book would: hook, development, and climax. They can be used to create suspense and to allow for point of view changes. Ultimately, a scene is a section of the story dedicated to a specific part that needs to happen to progress the story and to “show” rather than “tell” what is taking place.
Scene vs Summary
The best way to figure out where a scene starts and ends is to imagine the book as a movie. If what you are reading is showing you what is happening, it’s a scene. If it’s telling you what is happening, like a voice-over or narration in a movie, it’s a summary. While summaries aren’t technically wrong, they should be limited and not taken out completely. But there should definitely be more scenes than narration. To visually see how much of your work is a scene and how much is a summary, try using the “yellow test.” I discovered this test last year in a book I read called You Can’t Make This Stuff Up by Lee Gutkind. Lee says in his book about scenes:
“The beginning [of a scene] engages a reader, makes a promise. The end of the scene fulfills the promise and makes the audience want to know what will happen next, moving the action forward, ideally to another scene, another block of yellow, until the whole story is told and your point is established.”
His idea was to highlight every scene in yellow. Every block of yellow would be connected with a bit of summary perhaps but always lead to the next block of yellow–the next scene. You can read more about his idea in an article by Broadstreetmag.
Keeping up with scenes can get very confusing very fast, especially if you ever choose to add a scene. To avoid adding scenes into your story at the wrong time and to make sure each scene connects to the next through cause and effect, create a visual storyboard for your book. That’s how you construct a scene to build a book. You plan.
Start with a basic summary of your story, then create bullet points for your main ideas, sort of like a timeline checklist of what you need to happen in order to get to the end of the story. Next, flesh out each bullet into its own scene. Determine what it needs to do and figure out how it connects to the next scene as well as to the bigger picture.
Layers of a Scene
A scene has multiple layers that contribute to its being a scene.
- First, a scene has to have a setting and time. Where and when is the scene taking place? Think of it as if you were making a play, which would have a stage; or movie scene, which would have a set. Secondly, something needs to happen. This could be either character dialogue or one or more characters doing something. If you’re wanting it to be a scene, though, make sure you aren’t telling us what they are doing. You have to be showing their actions. Thirdly, a scene must have some kind of conflict, suspense, or a character’s emotional development.
- Secondly, something needs to happen. This could be either character dialogue or one or more characters doing something. If you’re wanting it to be a scene, though, make sure you aren’t telling us what they are doing. You have to be showing their actions. Thirdly, a scene must have some kind of conflict, suspense, or a character’s emotional development.
- Thirdly, a scene must have some kind of conflict, suspense, or a character’s emotional development. It’s not a scene if nothing happens because a scene has to progress the story in some way.
How to Construct a Scene
To construct a scene, you have to know what each scenes’ purpose is. What do you want to accomplish before the next scene? Once you have a purpose, decide how you want to begin and end your scene. Since scenes are made up of the same aspects as a book is, they should be written the same way you would write a book–start by grabbing your reader’s attention and end by causing your reader to want to keep reading.
- Beginning- Start your scene with something that will catch your reader’s attention such as a bit of action or dialogue. To lead into your scene’s beginning, you can write a brief summary to cover any needed information, provide a character’s thoughts, or introduce a new setting.
- Ending- Since the end of a scene is supposed to lead to the next scene, it’s best to end either mid-event, with a character’s realization, or with a new goal or information. Ending mid-event provides suspense to keep the reader turning to read the next scene. Ending with a realization, new information, or goal are all things that might cause a character to change their previous plans. The next scene would then be the new course of action.
If you already have the majority of your book written, it’s not too late for you to use this knowledge to your benefit. Start with the yellow test and then create a list of your scenes. Do they each have a purpose? Do they connect to each other and progress the story? Do they begin by catching attention and end by leading into the next scene? With these things in mind, either take a look at your current story or start building a new one. It’s construction time!