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Help! I don't understand scenes!

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Old 10-27-2010, 10:56 AM
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Icon9 Help! I don't understand scenes!


Up until recently, I had no interest in writing fiction. Most of my writing thus far has been essays, opinion, and first-person vignettes from my life a la David Sedaris, but I'm sick and tired of writing about reality. I've been mercilessly picking apart my favorite books, and I think I'm close to understanding how it works. I have a good handle on writing a plot (I just picked up the book Plot & Structure by James Scott Bell, which is a fantastic read), but I'm still confused about one major thing:

Scenes.

I know that a chapter is a series of scenes woven together one after another, but I'm still not too certain about a few things.

I've read that a scene is a body of text consisting of action, dialog, and description in which one thing changes to move the story forward, (i.e. two characters are standing in a room, talking, when a rock crashes through the window and lands between them) and I've read that each scene should have conflict to make it more interesting, but there are a few questions I'm desperate to know the answers to. They are:

- When a scene is over, do you just immediately pick up where the last one left off?
- How do I know when a scene should end?
- Can a scene pick up in the exact same location, with the same characters, and in the same time frame as in the previous scene?
- Does a scene have to be a specific length, or can they be any length?
- Does EVERY scene have to have conflict?

And lastly, I've read about things called "beats", but I'm not sure what they are. I know these are a lot of questions, but I've scoured the Internet and several books, but I just can't find the answers to these questions. Can you help me? I will be forever in debt. Thank you so much in advance.

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Old 10-27-2010, 01:09 PM
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I think most of your questions could be classified into style issues. I had the same trouble. I wrote ONLY scenes for my first rough draft (second and third too). Then, I was unsatisfied with the amount of emotion and tension I portrayed so in between scenes, I added the way the MC felt about the things going on around her. This also helped lead into scenes and tie them together. I like both ways and now I am having a hard time deciding which is better. One thing I can offer you is that instead of reading books on how to write a novel, read novels. Lots and lots of them. you will have no problems then.
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Old 10-27-2010, 01:45 PM
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I think you're being far more technical than you need to be. Thousands of people write perfectly good stories without knowing what a beat is.

When a scene is over, do you just immediately pick up where the last one left off?
The next scene is whatever relevent event comes next. If nothing relevent to the plot happens for two months, skip it.

- How do I know when a scene should end?
It's like a miniskirt. Long enough to cover everything, short enough to maintain interest. Knowing when a scene is over is just an instinct you have to develop.

- Can a scene pick up in the exact same location, with the same characters, and in the same time frame as in the previous scene?
If it's interesting and relevant, why not?

Does a scene have to be a specific length, or can they be any length?
They should be just as long or as short as they need to be.

- Does EVERY scene have to have conflict?
If its relevent and interesting, include it. Sometimes it may not technically be conflict, focusing on exposition and character development. It has to hold the audience's attention.
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Old 10-27-2010, 04:18 PM
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I've read about things called "beats", but I'm not sure what they are.
I can answer that one.

Beats are small bits of description or action within dialogue that give the character some trait or show where they are or what they're doing. They're basically a halfway point between the "floating head" syndrome, where there's nothing but dialogue, and bogging down the reader and the flow of a spoken interaction with too much description.

Thousands of people write perfectly good stories without knowing what a beat is.
True. Very true. Doesn't hurt to know what it is, though.
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Old 10-27-2010, 05:32 PM
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Like this!
"Beats are small bits of description or action." The dog didn't give an example.
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Old 10-27-2010, 09:30 PM
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Originally Posted by Night Wanderer View Post
Like this!

So in:

"I don't know," he said. "I haven't seen him." Lawrence shook the hair out of his eyes and squinted down at me. "You could check at the Shady Lanes Inn. I've heard him talk about it before."

The bold text would be the beat?

You guys are being very helpful. I dig you bunch

Last edited by 999raffica; 10-27-2010 at 09:34 PM..
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Old 10-28-2010, 12:18 AM
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Reading is the best way you can learn about writing, IMO.

Read different authors, different genres, seek out the strangest books you can.

Check the Writer's Beat library for fantasitc recommandations.
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Old 10-28-2010, 02:21 AM
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"I don't know," he said. "I haven't seen him." Lawrence shook the hair out of his eyes and squinted down at me. "You could check at the Shady Lanes Inn. I've heard him talk about it before."
Yes.

"Beats are small bits of description or action." The dog didn't give an example.
Lol! All right, all right. Sheesh. *rolls eyes*
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Old 10-28-2010, 01:44 PM
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I've never heard tell of a "beat" in my life. I've used them hundreds of times, though. You don't need to know terminology to know how to write. All you need to do is read.

To answer your questions:

When a scene is over, do you just immediately pick up where the last one left off?
You pick wherever you want to. I have a habit of writing multiple points of view in my novels, which means there are a dozens of characters (all pertinent to the storyline) doing different things at the same time as other characters. I could end a scene with one of them, switch to another in the next chapter, and come back to the other one thereafter. There are no rules etched in stone here.

How do I know when a scene should end?
No-one can tell you when your scenes should end. As an author, you learn where best to end a scene. I like to do it at the height of action or suspense, while throwing in a cliffhanger that forces the reader to keep reading.

Can a scene pick up in the exact same location, with the same characters, and in the same time frame as in the previous scene?
With all due respect, that's a stupid question. Of course it can!

Does a scene have to be a specific length, or can they be any length?
You can have a scene the length of a ordinary-sized novel if you want. Again, there are no rules here.

Does EVERY scene have to have conflict?
No, but it generally needs to be relevant to the story. So, two people talking about the weather isn't really relevant to the story. It isn't character building either. You need to have something that draws the attention of the reader and then you need to keep their attention. That's the hardest part about writing. Conflict does that. So too does action. Suspense. Intrigue. Those are the keywords here. You don't need conflict in every scene, but it doesn't hurt.
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Old 11-03-2010, 11:44 AM
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Originally Posted by Rei View Post
It's like a miniskirt. Long enough to cover everything, short enough to maintain interest. Knowing when a scene is over is just an instinct you have to develop.

LOL that's awesome!



I agree with RL, the best way to learn to write is to read a ton. Analyze it, if you must, but read good books and crappy ones, new authors and superstar authors. The last hot thing, and what may be the next hot thing. The crappiest novel anyone ever read. They all have things to teach you.

Also, critique. I find that soooo helpful for me. Plenty of raw material here on WB, and people will love you for it. I started with crap like, "That was awesome! I really like your story!" and moved on to a point where I have a system that I use to show what I think are mistakes or things that should be changed, to show what I love and why, and to show random thoughts and impressions. It helps me focus on the details that go into writing, and I find more and more of those things in my own work, too.

Good luck! I highly recommend jumping off the deepend into your fiction! (and I do technical writing at work, so I know both worlds)


Here, start with a cookie!
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Old 11-03-2010, 01:05 PM
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Originally Posted by Rei
I think you're being far more technical than you need to be.
I completely agree.

'Scenes' are more commonly associated with script writing. I've never heard it used in conjunction with fiction before.

In scripting, an Act is made up of several Scenes. So I see why you might try and break a Chapter down into Scenes for fun, but I see no reason why you would have to do this. Don't complicate things, otherwise you will stifle inspiration.

Generally, a scene is any change of location. In film scripting this is indicated with a scene header (or 'tag'). Example:

EXT. House - Night
INT. House - Night
EXT. House - Morning
INT. Train - Afternoon

Four scene tags, after which action and dialogue may be written.

In play scripting it's usually a lot subtler with the location and characters being explained along with the initial action in a paragraph at the beginning of an Act and any subsequent major changes in location.

But 'Scene' can be a fairly flexible term. It can be as little as a camera shot of a location. Or it can be a change in scenes between two people having an argument and one of them being left to perform a soliloquy. A change in tempo, if you like.

I really wouldn't drown in semantics.

The very best advice is:

"Begin at the beginning and go on till you come to the end."
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Old 11-12-2010, 11:38 AM
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CAVEAT: MY FEEDBACK ASSUMES YOU WANT TO SELL YOUR BOOK SOME DAY

Although I agree with everyone that the best readers make the best writers, there's more to being a great, marketable writer than being an avid reader. Asking these questions is brilliant --- so kudos for thinking about them at all. (I think a lot of terrible writers are terrible because they fail to ask these questions.)

Conflict or tension --- something that advances the plot --- in scenes is critical. Any agent or editor will tell you that. If something doesn't happen to move the story forward, the scene should probably be cut. Just like if a character doesn't help the plot advance, s/he should be cut or merged with another character (or dramatically subordinated).

The question is, do you want to write a page-turner? Are you creating commercial fiction you'd like to sell? If so, every single page you write MUST compel the reader --- beginning with the agent and then with the editor --- to turn the page. Keeping that fact alone in mind will help you know if a scene is working or not. (As long as you're honest with yourself and don't hold onto scenes just because you personally love them.)

No matter what people may say, if you want to sell your book, you are writing the book for your readers... not for yourself. So pack each section with lots of energy, conflict, tension, etc., and cut the stuff the readers would skip.

If you want to sell, that is.
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Old 11-12-2010, 11:54 AM
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I've never heard it used in conjunction with fiction before.
It's used in fiction all the time, actually. Scene vs. narrative. Something that "shows" the reader rather than "tell" it.
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Old 11-12-2010, 12:01 PM
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Wiebe, I'm not sure how you're telling the OP anything different, except using business-like language. It also does not address the question.
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Old 11-15-2010, 07:10 AM
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Thanks Devon, I stand corrected.

In that context, I assume stories are split into:

Scene
Narrative
Dialogue

Is this a creative writing convention?

So, another way of putting it might be:

Setting (or painting) the scene
Describing what's going on
Character dialogue

?
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Old 11-15-2010, 08:24 AM
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People are getting bogged down with technical issues that are of no relevance to anything. I don't need to know what a "compound adjective" is to use one. I don't need to know what a "scene" is to use one. I don't need to know what a "beat" is to use one. All I need to do is read and write. That is the best way to learn.
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Old 11-17-2010, 02:07 AM
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Default whatis a scene?

Originally Posted by 999raffica View Post
Up until recently, I had no interest in writing fiction. Most of my writing thus far has been essays, opinion, and first-person vignettes from my life a la David Sedaris, but I'm sick and tired of writing about reality. I've been mercilessly picking apart my favorite books, and I think I'm close to understanding how it works. I have a good handle on writing a plot (I just picked up the book Plot & Structure by James Scott Bell, which is a fantastic read), but I'm still confused about one major thing:

Scenes.

I know that a chapter is a series of scenes woven together one after another, but I'm still not too certain about a few things.

I've read that a scene is a body of text consisting of action, dialog, and description in which one thing changes to move the story forward, (i.e. two characters are standing in a room, talking, when a rock crashes through the window and lands between them) and I've read that each scene should have conflict to make it more interesting, but there are a few questions I'm desperate to know the answers to. They are:

- When a scene is over, do you just immediately pick up where the last one left off?
- How do I know when a scene should end?
- Can a scene pick up in the exact same location, with the same characters, and in the same time frame as in the previous scene?
- Does a scene have to be a specific length, or can they be any length?
- Does EVERY scene have to have conflict?

And lastly, I've read about things called "beats", but I'm not sure what they are. I know these are a lot of questions, but I've scoured the Internet and several books, but I just can't find the answers to these questions. Can you help me? I will be forever in debt. Thank you so much in advance.
You have to understand the timeline from beginning to end and each scene performs a function that contributes to the movement forward.

"When a scene is over, do you just immediately pick up where the last one left off?" You don't need to pick up where the last scene left off but you do need to ensure that each scene contributes.

"How do I know when a scene should end?" When the function has been met.

"Can a scene pick up in the exact same location, with the same characters, and in the same time frame as in the previous scene?" Sometimes multiple functions are performed in the same scene.

"Does a scene have to be a specific length, or can they be any length?" In a screenplay, not usually overlong. But it depends. You can perform many functions in just the one scene.

"Does EVERY scene have to have conflict?" Each scene is a transaction. If not conflict, then there tends to be resistance in some form or other.

For long scenes, suggest you watch the movie "The Hustler." For conflict in every scene , suggest you watch the movie "Up In The Air."

Good Luck.

Last edited by Dragon King; 05-22-2011 at 08:42 AM..
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Old 03-30-2012, 01:56 AM
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Default Time, Place Change.

A scene ends when you change the location or the time within which you have placed your subject(s). There are stricter rules for scriptwriting than there are in literature, but I am pretty sure the idea is the same.

They are building blocks, just like sentences and paragraphs, and they are indeed much better when full of juicy meat like substance.

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Old 04-01-2012, 02:37 PM
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There is a good book called 'Make A Scene Of It.' By Jordan E Rosenfeld.
They are also partially explained in Plot and Structure by James Scott Bell.

A Beat as is: 'The smallest possible functional dramatic unit,' the building blocks of scenes. (The Playwrights guidebook by Stuart Spencer.)

As someone else pointed out they originate from theatre, sometimes called a french scene (whenever a player entered or exited the stage it would be a new scene.)

Beats, scenes, sequences (of scenes), acts.
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