Scene Craft

19 Jul

Recently, I’ve been thinking about scene craft. When I was just getting started writing, years and years ago, I was actually afraid of not getting enough words. I wrote everything out as long as I could, struggling to achieve as many pages as possible. Now, it’s quite the opposite! I want my story to be concise–all lean muscle and no fat.

But there’s so much to include in every story–how does one fit it all? By making every scene serve double, triple, or even quadruple duty! Every scene in your story should, ideally, accomplish as many of the following as possible:

1. Further the plot: This is the most obvious, I’d say. If you have a scene that isn’t furthering the plot, you should probably question its existence. This is especially true in commercial fiction. If you’re writing literary fiction, I suppose you have a bit more leeway with this, but in that case, your scenes better serve to…

2. Further character development: Static characters are one dimensional and not much fun–static relationships between characters even less so. Every scene should either be revealing more about a character or showing how he is changing, however little. Are the story’s events making him stronger? Weaker? More angry? Happier? As far as character relations go, the question is: are they becoming closer? Is one trusting the other more or less? Are tensions developing or dissolving?

3. Answering or raising questions: In the beginning, the focus will obviously be on raising questions, and toward the end, the opposite will be true.

4. Cultivating setting: This is essential in fantasy, sci-fi, dystopian, etc–anything that isn’t set in anytown, anyplace, Earth. Info dumps on culture, food, and landscape are not a good idea. Weave these facts into every scene, a little at a time.

Try to keep these four things in the back of your mind as you craft each scene. Of course, not every bit of your story will be able to accomplish all four, but I challenge you to try! You might find your story stronger than ever. In fact, I’m asking everyone who reads this to write a scene bearing these four things in mind. If you’d like, post it on your own blog and add a link to it below! I promise to check it out 🙂 If you don’t have a blog or don’t want to post it there, just put it in the comments!

If you want an example of a great scene, I’d recommend reading pg 10-11 (in my edition, anyway) of ENDER’S GAME by Orson Scott Card. I don’t want to type it all out (that’s probably copyright infringement…), but the bit where Ender interacts with Val and Peter is brilliant. In the space of two pages, it sets up the dynamic between the siblings, introduces the idea of “Buggers,” reveals a ton about all three children’s personalities, and makes the reader wonder about the importance of Ender’s monitor. Really, it’s fantastic. Great, great scene. Great, great book.

Now, go write your scenes! I promise I’m doing the same. Don’t forget to link if you’d like!


Kat Zhang is a Spoken Word poet and a Creative Writing major. She spends most of her free time either querying HYBRID–a book about a girl with two souls–or pounding out the first draft of her work in progress. Both are YA novels. You can read more about her writing process and books at her blog.

5 Responses to “Scene Craft”

  1. Launo July 19, 2010 at 12:43 PM #

    That was really helpful! Now I know what to cut out when I’m editing. Thanks.

    • Kat Zhang July 19, 2010 at 12:58 PM #

      You’re welcome 😀 Glad you found it helpful.

  2. Vanessa July 19, 2010 at 9:26 PM #

    Kat, this was such a great post! I know I’ll need to go through some of my scenes with your list of things.

    • Kat Zhang July 20, 2010 at 7:46 AM #

      Thanks, Vanessa!


  1. “Scene Craft” – LTWF Inspired « Welcome to my mind… - July 19, 2010

    […] blog about crafting a scene then she challenged the readers to write a scene that included the four elements she mentioned a scene should entail.  I’ll admit I cheated a little and didn’t just write this scene […]

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