Scene (drama)

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For the use of the term "scene" in motion picture, see Scene (film). For other uses, see Scene (disambiguation).

In fiction, a scene is a unit of drama. A sequel is what follows; an aftermath. Together, scene and sequel provide the building blocks of plot for short stories, novels, and other forms of fiction.

Characteristics of a scene[edit]

Scene has been characterized from several different perspectives. The concept of a scene in fiction comes from theater, where it describes the action that takes place in a single setting.[1] Raymond Obstfeld, in Novelist's Essential Guide to Crafting Scenes, describes scene as having a structure similar to a complete novel, with a beginning, a middle, and an ending.[2]

Jack M. Bickham, in Scene & Structure, How to Construct Fiction with Scene-by-scene Flow, Logic and Readability, describes a scene as a segment of story action, written moment-by-moment, without summary, presented onstage in the story "now." He also portrays a scene as having a fundamental pattern:

  • Statement of a goal
  • Introduction and development of conflict
  • Failure of the character to reach his goal, a tactical disaster[3]

Writing of a scene[edit]

Sometimes a writer may summarize events, rather than using a scene. This is exposition.[4] The writer explains events quickly to get the reader to the next scene. At other times a writer will dramatize an event using the basic elements of fiction: dialogue, description, conflict, and suspense, among others. These scenes, told in narrative form, slow events to "real time"[5] and show the reader what the characters are actually doing and saying. Using narrative scenes, a writer attempts to make the reader forget they are reading; the writer wants the reader to live the story.

Viewpoint of a scene[edit]

A viewpoint exists for every scene. Each scene is observed through the thoughts and emotions of one of the characters. That character is the point of view (POV) character. As he or she speaks and interacts with other characters, the POV character reveals the story through their perceptions. A short story usually has only one point of view character; the novel, however, may have several POV characters. A novel may contain scenes in which one character serves as the POV character throughout most of the scenes. Other characters would then serve as POV characters in the remaining scenes.[6]

Some writers struggle with using either first person or third person when creating a story. To find a solution, a writer may rewrite a scene in each. Each person has its advantages and disadvantages. The draft which the writer feels would be more enticing to the reader should answer the question.

Length and setting of a scene[edit]

Length of a scene may trouble a writer. How long should a scene be? Some scenes may only be a few pages or even a few paragraphs; other scenes may be dozens of pages long. The writer should consider what is being focused upon in a scene to determine length. Scenes that focus on description or exposition should be shorter. Scenes that focus on building suspense or expressing emotion should be longer.[7] No right solution exists to answer the question of scene length. The writer should use his instincts.

Another question that may arise for a writer is "How many settings should be included in a scene?" Some writers argue that an ideal scene should contain only one setting.[8] Since fiction writing is subjective, a scene may require several settings. The writer should keep in mind that a setting could be portable, such as inside a car, on an escalator or on an airliner.[9] Just as with the length of a scene, the writer again needs to use his instincts when determining how many settings to include in a scene.

Beginning of a scene[edit]

Beginning a scene can enhance or detract from a writer's style. To capture the reader’s interest, which is the ultimate goal of creating fiction, a writer can begin a scene in medias res.[10] This means in the middle of things. Starting the scene in the middle of some dialogue, such as an argument, or action, such as someone pointing a weapon at someone else, would possibly hook the reader. If done well, description of a character or a setting can begin a scene; however, the writer risks boring the reader if description is provided in large chunks. A solution would be to insert description among the dialogue and action. Many ways exist for a writer to begin a scene, but he should remember this goal: grab the reader’s attention as soon as possible.

Ending of a scene[edit]

Ending a scene properly can make the reader want more. When a point of view character has failed to reach a goal, the end of the scene is usually about to fall upon the reader. Sometimes a situation gets worse for the character; sometimes the character must consider their next course of action. The end result should be that the reader wants to see what happens next. The writer can facilitate this by showing the character's upcoming plans to achieve the goal.[11]

French scene[edit]

A 'French scene' is a scene in a for which the beginning and end are marked by a change in the presence of characters onstage, rather than by the lights going up or down or the set being changed.[1] Identifying the French scene changes is a useful way of breaking a play into discrete sections for ease of directing and for scheduling actors' attendance at rehearsals. An example of a French scene change would be in Hamlet when Ophelia enters near the end of Hamlet's "To be or not to be" soliloquy. Some plays are intentionally written so that the differences between French scenes are distinct, and these may be the only significant breaks, for example if the play is continuous, perhaps without intermission.


Scene comes from a theatre term that describes action taking place in a single setting.[12]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ George, Kathleen (1994) Playwriting: The First Workshop, Focal Press, ISBN 978-0-240-80190-2, p. 154
  1. ^ Kress, Nancy (1993). Beginnings, Middles & Ends pp.24-27. Writer's Digest Books. ISBN 0-89879-550-8. 
  2. ^ Levin, Donna (1992). Get That Novel Started! p.105. Writer's Digest Books. ISBN 0-89879-517-6. 
  3. ^ Bickham, Jack M. (1993). Scene & Structure pp.99-100. Writer's Digest Books. ISBN 0-89879-551-6. 
  4. ^ Obstfeld, Raymond (2000). Novelist's Essential guide to Crafting Scenes pp.30-36. Writer's Digest Books. ISBN 0-89879-973-2. 
  5. ^ Polking, Kirk (1990). Writing A to Z p.405. Writer's Digest Books. ISBN 0-89879-556-7. 
  6. ^ Obstfeld, Raymond (2000). Novelist's Essential guide to Crafting Scenes p.2. Writer's Digest Books. ISBN 0-89879-973-2. 
  7. ^ Obstfeld, Raymond (2000). Novelist's Essential guide to Crafting Scenes p.10. Writer's Digest Books. ISBN 0-89879-973-2. 
  8. ^ Polking, Kirk (1990). Writing A to Z p.405. Writer's Digest Books. ISBN 0-89879-556-7. 
  9. ^ Obstfeld, Raymond (2000). Novelist's Essential guide to Crafting Scenes p.2. Writer's Digest Books. ISBN 0-89879-973-2. 
  10. ^ Obstfeld, Raymond (2000). Novelist's Essential guide to Crafting Scenes p.9. Writer's Digest Books. ISBN 0-89879-973-2. 
  11. ^ Bickham, Jack M. (1993). Scene & Structure p.23. Writer's Digest Books. ISBN 0-89879-551-6. 
  12. ^ Bickham, Jack M. (1993). Scene & Structure pp.50-58. Writer's Digest Books. ISBN 0-89879-551-6. 

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