Chapter 8, Part 1: Writing the Scene

In today’s Journal

* Notes
* Reminder
* Chapter 8, Part 1: Writing the Scene
* Of Interest
* The Numbers


1. A few days ago in my ‘spare time,’ I started compiling Writing Character-Driven Fiction in Word docs, and reality hit: It might be longer than the two months I planned before the whole thing is finished and out.

I still have one chapter to finish writing (on Cliffhangers) as well as five new chapters (so far) to compile and write, and five new appendices to compile and write.

I’m still writing fiction, of course, and that comes first. But I’ll get it finished. Where nonfiction is concerned, Writing Character Driven Fiction will be my opus.

In the meantime, I’ll leave Writing the Character-Drive Story up until this one’s finished no matter how long it takes. It’s a good book, but it isn’t nearly as thorough or rich with new knowledge as this one is.

I plan to put this one out in paperback as well as ebook. But the copy I send to those who already bought the older book will still be an ebook. Though I will send you a searchable, printable PDF if you prefer.

2. I’ve also decided that after this series of posts has ended, I will PROBABLY go “live” every Sunday afternoon on YouTube. The sessions will be no longer than a half-hour. The topic will always be the craft of writing fiction.

Initially, I’ll talk about the chapters and/or appendices that are not included in this series of posts. I hope you’ll tune-in, and I recommend taking notes. Of course, I’ll announce my intentions again toward the end of this series of posts.

3. Blackwell Ops 20 will wrap today. I will continue the sale on the subseries through Wednesday. If you would like the entire Soleada subseries, you can still get it for only $18 or less.

The sale includes Blackwell Ops 14 through 20. That’s more than half-off the cover price. (Individually, they would cost $5.99 each, so a little under $42.)

If you bought BO-18 during the flash sale, or any of the other books in the subseries, deduct $3 for each of them from the $18.

For monthly donors at any level, the entire subseries is FREE. (Gary V, this includes you.)

If you want the books, click Donate Here and send the appropriate amount. I’ll send your books right out. And thank you.


Bradbury Challenge folks, get your story titles, word counts and genres in before the Journal goes live tomorrow morning.

Chapter 8, Part 1: Writing the Scene

For the reader, the Scene is simply what happens to, between, or among the characters in a given setting. For the writer, it’s more detailed than that:

The Major Scene

Major scenes are those in which the characters live most of the story. This is where events occur and characters react and interact. Description of the setting is general, specific, and focused down on various aspects.

The Minor Scene

The minor scene might stand alone or it might be part of a major scene.

1, Perhaps a hit man is quickly reviewing information about his target while riding up in an elevator.

2. Perhaps a character involved in a high-speed car chase is conveying information during the final brief moment leading up to the crash (the character’s perspective/POV from inside the car). More on this below.

Yes, a minor scene can contain a level of the frantic. In that kind of story, probably a minor scene will contain less description but more hastily delivered and more tightly focused.

3. Or it might be a young teenager walking along a rural road among fields of crops on his way home after school. Perhaps he’s thinking about his future or a girl he likes or the upcoming Friday football game.

Any of these might also be almost transitional in nature. It’s all up to the character.

The Transitional Scene

The transitional scene is just that. Transitional. It moves the character from here to there.

You don’t want to have a car pull up to the curb, zero transition, and suddenly the characters who were in the car are in an office suite on the 23rd floor discussing a situation. (See “Another Cutionary Tale” in the previous chapter on Writing Setting.)

The characters in the car have to cross the sidewalk. They have to cross the lobby. They have to ride up in an elevator or take the stairs.

Note: If you don’t write a transition scene, I recommend inserting a chapter break or scene break. (I use a single, centered asterisk.) That is also adequate to indicate the transition. It denotes a time jump or setting jump.

An Example in Focusing Down

Often, in an action scene, the setting will be minor at best, or even transitional, but almost always tightly focused. For example,

Denny chanced a glance through a side window of the careening car. Buildings and windows and people flashed past, blurred into streaks of black and grey.

And that smell. It’s like the stench of stale steam that comes from manhole covers.

Or maybe it’s just me.

He glanced at the rearview mirror.

Damn cops are relentless.

His back window flashed eerily, blue, red, blue. The sirens all but punctured his eardrums.

He shifted his attention back to the front, back to the hope that he would escape.

As if that’s gonna happen.

He glanced in the rearview again and—

And then he moves into another scene. But this one is major so everything matters again.
Everything necessarily slows down. And notice that the character focuses more on smaller, tighter, more specific details.

Remember to describe only what the POV character, in his current frame of mind and condition, notices:

A volcano of massive confusing sounds, and then something hit his jaw and tore it sideways. Did it rip completely off? And in the second half of that instant the top of his head slammed into stars.

And silence.

Only my breathing. But I’m alive. I’m alive.

That quiet hissing. I know that sound. He frowned. What is it?

That same stale steam still permeated the humid air. The air’s so thick it’s running along the side of my face.

He wanted to wipe it away but something—he tugged—Something’s got my right arm.

He reached with his left to wipe at it. Got it.

He wiped it again.

Like thin, warm glue.

He wanted to taste it but he didn’t want to taste it.

And that hissing. What’s that hissing? I know that sound.

Something familiar. Something real.

The lawnmower. That’s all it is.

Halfway through mowing the yard, the lawnmower sputtered. It was almost out of gas, so he shut it down.

He pushed it to the shed and opened the gas cap. That thing was so stiff. And sharp. The part that stuck up in the center for a screwdriver gouged his palm.

But he had to finish the lawn. He took the cap off the spout, and the can sucked air for a second.
Mary left the vent valve closed again.

He put the spout at the opening of the gas tank and turned up the can but it slipped. That’s what it was. Some gas spilled on the hot manifold and—

His eyes grew wide. Oh god, no! No! Oh damn! Oh, no, it can’t—

And the world exploded, and a microsecond out, it flashed to black.

[End scene]

Notice that’s a minor setting slamming into a major setting. Both scenes are in the car, but in the first, the setting is flashing past. In the second, it’s stock still.

A Crash Course

Chapter 4, “Writing the Opening,” combined with Chapter 6, “Writing Setting,” and this chapter form a crash course on writing the scene. Here are just a few more notes to help you along in that regard.

1. Remember that the story is the character’s story to tell. The story is broken into scenes.

2. The scene is centered around a single major event. It is the vehicle by which the characters interact and advance the story from its beginning to its conclusion.

3. A very short story might have only one scene that moves through only one or two or three major settings.

The Length of Major Scenes

Back in the day, when students asked me how long an essay should be, I told them to write until they’d covered the topic, then stop. (Duh.)

Writing scenes is exactly the same. When writing a scene, write until you’ve conveyed—completely, including as many of the five physical senses and the emotional senses as possible—the single event for which that scene exists.

For some scenes that will take say 800 to 1000 words, about an hour’s work. For others it might take 1500 words or 2000 words or more.

Sometimes you will have two or three scenes in a chapter. Other times a single scene will run across more than one chapter.

Much depends on what is going on in the scene, how many characters are involved, and whether it contains sub-scenes. And it always depends on what matters to the POV character. What the POV character conveys to you.

If it helps, treat a scene as a story within a story. For example, in a multiple viewpoint novel, you can switch POV characters at the beginning of a scene. (For an example of a good, non-intrusive way to do this, see the Appendix titled “An Example of POV.”)

You can also do a cliffhanger or a bit of suspense at the end of each scene or even inside a scene. Some genres practically require it. Others, not so much. (More on this in the chapter on “Writing the Cliffhanger” and in the Appendix titled “Examples of Cliffhangers and Cliffhanger-Hook Combos.”)

For me, the most important thing about writing the scene is that once it begins to unfold, I can “see” pretty much the whole thing in my head.

Most of the time it’s all I can do to type fast enough to get it all down, and I never do. The characters almost always add more during cycling.

Still, I am eternally grateful for every second of frantic typing.

Next up, Chapter 8, Part 2. Talk with you again then.

Of Interest

Findaway and Corporate Rights Grabs

The Numbers

The Journal……………………………… 1700

Writing of Blackwell Ops 20: Soleada Garcia: Into the Future

Day 1…… 3681 words. To date…… 3681
Day 2…… 3044 words. To date…… 6725
Day 3…… 3375 words. To date…… 10100
Day 4…… 3349 words. To date…… 13449
Day 5…… 4262 words. To date…… 17711
Day 6…… 3153 words. To date…… 20864
Day 7…… 3152 words. To date…… 24016
Day 8…… 2192 words. To date…… 26208
Day 9…… 2493 words. To date…… 28701
Day 10…. 2578 words. To date…… 31279

Fiction for February……………………. 34965
Fiction for 2024…………………………. 152569
Fiction since October 1……………… 455626
Nonfiction for February……………… 24250
Nonfiction for 2024…………………… 56210
2024 consumable words…………… 208779

2024 Novels to Date……………………… 3
2024 Novellas to Date…………………… 0
2024 Short Stories to Date……………… 1
Novels (since Oct 19, 2014)…………… 85
Novellas (since Nov 1, 2015)…………… 9
Short stories (since Apr 15, 2014)…… 239
Short story collections…………………… 31

Disclaimer: I am a prolific professional fiction writer. On this blog I teach Writing Into the Dark and adherence to Heinlein’s Rules. Unreasoning fear and the myths of writing will slow your progress as a writer or stop you cold. I will never teach the myths on this blog.

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