A Look at Novel Scenes

novel-scenesSo what are novel scenes? Scenes are actions in a work of fiction that take place in a single location over a continuous time. Scenes build and maintain momentum by engaging the reader.

Oddly enough, as a reader, I never had any real awareness of scenes or appreciation for the importance of scenes in a work of fiction. It wasn’t until I started writing fiction that those things became apparent to me.

I knew about scenes in the context of plays and films. But I viewed a novel simply as a collection of chapters. It just never occurred to me that scenes were also the basic building blocks of the chapters contained within a novel.

Any novel, in essence, is a series of scenes strung together, like beads on a necklace. Novels are comprised of many scenes. Each individual scene has a beginning, middle, and an end.

In a novel, the start of a new scene is typically signified by the beginning of a chapter, by an extra blank line between the final paragraph of one scene and the first paragraph of the next one, or sometimes by symbols like asterisks. These transition conventions alert the reader that time has passed.

Each new scene builds on the plot, and ideally, communicates to the reader the author’s ideas in a way that allows the plot to unfurl and captures the reader’s attention all over again.

A scene may be started in different ways. For example, a scene can begin with;

  • Action – Some act that is quick and spontaneous, that involves physical movement and a sense of real time.
  • Narrative summary – concise descriptions of the history of a place or the backstory of characters that communicates necessary information to the reader before the action take place.
  • Setting details – information about the setting so important to the tone of the scene, the overall plot, or character development that it’s necessary to include visual details at the start of a scene.

Great authors carefully and strategically craft each and every scene, understanding that each one is an invitation to the reader, bidding him or her to continue reading, to come further along with the story. The best authors understand the importance of making those invitations as compelling as possible.

If as I once did, you have formerly viewed novels more on a macro-level, simply as a collection of chapters, I hope this article has increased your awareness of and appreciation for the importance of scenes, the micro-level of a work of fiction.

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