Writing Talk Wednesday: The Scene

The Scene

It’s this element of structure for the story. We all write them, but sometimes it seems like this overlooked aspect of our stories. I’m not sure why this is. It’s not as elemental as the word or punctuation. It’s not as long and sexy as a chapter. It’s not as easily diagramed as a sentence, right?

But it’s so important.

There’s an old book by Raymond Obstfeld called Crafting Scenes and in its first pages he has a chapter called “What a Scene Is and Isn’t.” In it, he quotes the actress Rosalind Russell who was asked what made a movie great.

She answered, “Moments.”

And Obstfeld compared that thought about movies to our thoughts about scenes. He wrote, “The more ‘moments’ a work has, the more powerful it is. Think of each memorable scene as an inner tube designed to keep the larger work afloat.”

And then there is the corollary, “The fewer memorable scenes there are, the quicker that work sinks to the depths of mediocrity.”

So What’s A Scene and How Do You Make It Memorable?

That’s the obvious question, right? A scene is usually action that happens in one setting. But it’s not always. It’s about focus. It can be ten pages or one.

Obstfeld says that a scene does the following:

            Gives reader plot-forwarding information

            Reveals character conflict

            Highlights a character by showing action or a trait

            Creates suspense.

And a memorable scene? What is that?

It’s unexpected.

What does a scene have to have?

A beginning, a middle, and an end.

And the beginning? It’s like a blind date, he says. You have to tell the reader what’s going on and not just expect her to know. It has to hook the reader in, pulling her into its clutches so she wants to keep reading.

So, authors, look at those scenes. Are you hooking people in? Do they want to keep on that journey with you?

And people, look at the scene you’re at in your life. Are you into it? Is it at a beginning place? Are you still hooked into what you’re doing, who you are? Do you want to stay this way? Are you good?

I hope you’re good, but if you aren’t? Be brave. Make changes. Think about who you want to be and what you want the scenes in your life to be like. You can do this.

Brave Thing I’m Doing

Pretty soon, I’m going to have a Teachable class all about the scene. It’s going to be pretty cheap and hopefully you’ll sign up and like it.

Continue reading “Writing Talk Wednesday: The Scene”

Writing Tip Wednesday Scene Structure is Sexy

A lot of times we fiction writers get a little (cough) a lot obsessed with character, which makes sense, right? Characters are sexy. They’re these fake humans that we get to do our biding in a plot of our choosing. It’s a very dominant place for us writers to be.

But sometimes we get so obsessed with our characters and their emotions and dialogue and action and setting that we forget the very basics of writing, which is…


Lately, I’ve been hearing a lot from people about their scene worries, which includes the all-star lineup of questions:

  • Is this a scene?
  • Where does my scene end?
  • What the heck even is a freaking scene?

For theater people, a scene is when the story’s action happens in one setting. Theater people have it easy that way.

The best way to think of it is to remember that scenes

  • Can be super long or incredibly short.
  • Can actually shift settings, but this is complicated.
  • Have no real rules.

Sorry! Sorry! Those lack of rules, don’t help sometimes. It might be better to look at it this way?

What is the purpose of a scene?

According to the Novelist’s Guide to Crafting Scenes by Raymond Obstfeld:

  • Helps the plot journey on.
  • Shows conflict
  • “Develop a particular character by highlighting a specific trait or action.”
  • “Create Suspense.”

We all know that sexy rockstar scenes do more than one of those things at a time. These scenes become ‘moments’ that we remember. Elliot and ET on the bicycle riding up the hill on the dark night. Luke fighting Darth Vadar and the line, “I am your father.” Spock and Kirk when Spock is in that chamber and Kirk is on the other side and Spock’s about to die in a sacrifice to save the crew but Kirk can’t hold him or do anything for him and it’s so sad!

Sorry. That one gets me.

Jack and Rose at the front of the Titanic, arms open to the wind. Maria singing in the field in the Sound of Music. Dorothy telling Toto that she doesn’t think they’re in Kansas anymore.

Those moments? They matter.

When it comes to scene length

Obstfeld has great advice about scene length, which I’m going to paraphrase here.

Go Short When:

You’re dumping information that is about plot or about technical world-building stuff.

Setting is the point

It’s erotic

Go Long When

It’s a conversation that shows character.

It’s emotional.

Suspense is what’s going on.

Last Advice

Don’t forget the power of moment in your story. It’s one of the key things that makes a book break-out and transcend the others. That’s because of the power of the scene, where character, plot, emotion, image and setting combine to make something truly pop.

*Pop in a good way, not like a tick. Although, I guess when ticks pop that’s sort of good, right?



My next book, IN THE WOODS, appears in July with Steve Wedel. It’s scary and one of Publisher’s Weekly’s Buzz Books for Summer 2019. There’s an excerpt of it there and everything! But even cooler (for me) they’ve deemed it buzz worthy! Buzz worthy seems like an awesome thing to be deemed!

You can preorder this bad boy, which might make it have a sequel. The sequel would be amazing. Believe me, I know. It features caves and monsters and love. Because doesn’t every story?

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On February first, I’m going to launch my Patreon site where I’ll be reading chapters (in order) of a never-published teen fantasy novel, releasing deleted scenes and art from some of my more popular books. And so much more.

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A lot of you might be new to Patreon and not get how it works. That’s totally cool. New things can be scary, but there’s a cool primer HERE that explains how it works. The short of it is this: You give Patreon your paypal or credit card # and they charge you whatever you level you choose at the end of each month. That money supports me sharing my writing and art and podcasts and weirdness with you. 

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Thanks to all of you who keep listening to our weirdness on the DOGS ARE SMARTER THAN PEOPLE podcast as we talk about random thoughts, writing advice and life tips. We’re sorry we laugh so much… sort of. Please share it and subscribe if you can. Please rate and like us if you are feeling kind, because it matters somehow. There’s a new episode every Tuesday! Here are our last two episodes!


Hey! If you download the Anchor application, you can call into the podcast, record a question, or just say ‘hi,’ and we’ll answer. You can be heard on our podcast! Sa-sweet!

No question is too wild. But just like Shaun does, try not to swear, okay?

Here is the link to the mobile app and our bonus podcast below.


I do art stuff. You can find it and buy a print here. 

Bar Harbor Art Carrie Jones Welcome to Magic
Bar Harbor Art Carrie Jones Welcome to Magic


You can order my middle grade fantasy novel Time Stoppers Escape From the Badlands here or anywhere.

People call it a cross between Harry Potter and Percy Jackson but it’s set in Maine. It’s full of adventure, quirkiness and heart.

Time Stoppers Carrie Jones Middle grade fantasy


The Spy Who Played Baseball is a picture book biography about Moe Berg. And… there’s a movie out now about Moe Berg, a major league baseball player who became a spy. How cool is that?

It’s awesome and quirky and fun.

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Men in Black meet Buffy the Vampire Slayer? You know it. You can buy them here or anywhere. It’s fun, accessible science fiction. Who knew there was such a thing?

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