Thursday, July 30, 2009

About Scenes

Stories are made up of scenes. Every story has at least one scene and most have many. With novels, we often think in terms of chapters, but a chapter is just an arbitrary means of dividing the text into chunks that can be read conveniently in one setting. The scene is a basic unit of a story. A chapter may contain several, but it is conceivable that a scene will cross the boundaries of chapters, though this rarely happens.

A scene has a setting. A scene that takes place at night in a trailer is very different from a scene that takes place during the day that the White House. When a story changes setting, we change to a different scene.

A scene has a cast. Suppose we place our protagonist in a trailer at night. He does something and then leaves. That is a scene. Now, if our antagonist shows up at the same trailer and has no interaction with our protagonist, does something and leaves, that is a completely different scene.

A scene shows change. If we enter a scene one way, we should leave it another. If our cast enters the scene with hope, they should leave with despair. It they enter the scene in despair, they should leave with hope. But they should never leave unchanged. Imagine our protagonist sleeping on the couch in the trailer. If we leave the scene and he is still sleeping on the couch, then we don’t have much of a scene. Instead, we could enter the scene with him sleeping peacefully, only to be awakened by a noise, which he goes off to investigate. Or we could have him out looking for something, after he finds it, he comes back to the trailer and collapses on the couch, falling asleep.  What we wouldn’t want is for the character to be sleeping, wake at a noise, investigate and then fall back asleep in one scene. Essentially, nothing has changed in this scene and it can be cut.