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Showing and Telling: Writing a Scene

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September 2011
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When writing fiction, the writer needs to show and tell the reader what happens in the story.

The writer can show the reader what happens by crafting scenes. A scene in a short story is like a scene in a film. Something happens. A scene expands time. It takes place in a particular time and location, includes action, and dialogue. In short, something happens in a scene. Events are dramatized.

In a summary, the writer tells the reader what happened by reporting or summarizing. Summaries compress time. Summaries are the content between scenes in a short story or novel. The writer crafts a summary with background information, interior thoughts, and descriptions not in scenes, reflection, or narrative commentary.

When writing a short story or novel, the writer must include both scenes and summaries.

In the next three posts, I’ll discuss summary and scene. In this article, I will explain how to write a scene. The following will be covered:

  • Definition of a scene
  • Purpose of a scene
  • Structure of a scene
  • Types of scenes

Definition of a Scene

A scene in a short story or novel is like a scene in a film. A scene brings the story to life, makes the story seem real in the mind of the reader.

When a writer crafts a scene, he is show the reader what is happening in the story. He is dramatizing what is happening. A scene must include the following:

  • Setting details. The writer must include a time and location.
  • Action. Something must happen in a scene. So, a scene includes some event or conflict. Characters engage in some sort of action.
  • Description. A writer must include concrete and specific details and sensory details.

As well, a scene can include the following:

  • Dialogue
  • Thoughts of the character, such as an interior monologue.

You should be aware that scenes usually include dialogue, the spoken conversation between characters in the story.

Purpose of Scenes

The writer crafts a scene to make the story believable. The writer dramatizes one or more events. In short, the writer shows the reader what is happening in the story. A scene has a number of purposes:

  • Dramatize events
  • Move action or plot forward
  • Introduce or intensify conflict
  • Develop character
  • Introduce theme
  • Establish mood
  • Provide resolution to the story

Structure of a Scene

A scene dramatizes one or more events in a story. All scenes have a particular structure. A scene includes the following:

  • Beginning
  • Middle
  • Ending

There are no rules for beginning a scene. The writer can introduce a scene in several ways. For instance, the writer can introduce a character, action, setting details. The writer can begin in the midst of action or dialogue.

In the middle of the scene, the writer intensifies conflict, develops character describes the action.

In the scene ending, the writer can leave the scene unresolved to create suspense, tension, conflict. Or the writer end the scene with resolution, draw it to a close. Sometimes the writer ends a scene with action or dialogue. It all depends on the type of scene.

Types of Scenes

There are many types of scenes that you can write. Here are a few:

  • Scenes that provide background details for future scenes
  • Scene that introduces or develops conflict
  • Scene that introduces or develops character
  • Scene that shows action
  • Suspense scene
  • Flashback scene
  • Resolution scene

The writer crafts a scene to develop conflict, reveal the character, describe the action, show conflict, create suspense.

A flashback scene is a scene within a scene. The writes shows the reader what happened in the past. It allows the reader to understand what is happening in the current scene.

Learning how to Write Scenes

To learn how to craft a scene, read and analyze short stories. A good place to start is by reading The Norton Anthology of Short Fiction. Discover how the writer creates a scene by analyzing the short story, paying attention to the way the writer creates the scene, paying attention to the elements of the scene–action, dialogue, vivid description, time and location details.

For more information on how to write a scene, read the following:

  • Showing & Telling by Laurie Alberts
  • Writing Fiction by Jane Burroway

Remember, you will construct scenes to make your story believable, to dramatize your story, and to create an entertaining story.

A scene occurs in a specific time and location. Something happens, some sort of event takes place.

To write a scene, the writer shows the reader what happens by using concrete and specific descriptions, dialogue, action, setting details.

In the next post, I’ll explain some of the techniques that writers use to craft short stories and novels.


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