SCENE 13: Not Worthy of a Full Scene

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StrongerScenes250x15030 Days to a Stronger Scene Table of Contents
In writing or revising a novel, it’s always a balancing act, deciding which scenes to fully develop and which to skip, to skim, or to forget.

Events NOT worthy of a full scene?

  • Backstory:
    Take, for instance, the story of the three little pigs. You could begin with the courtship of Mr. and Mrs. Pig, the birth of the triplets, their childhood and so on. Most retellings begin with the young pigs sent off into the wide world to seek their fortunes. Why? Because the pigs’ childhood doesn’t really have any bearing on the story’s main conflict, which is how these pigs will get along in the world on their own.
  • Actions with No Conflict:
    Likewise, we could follow the three pigs as they journey away from home. Where will they sleep that first night and while each builds a house? Where will they stop to eat? Do they chat about their hopes/fears for their new homes? None of those scenes is included, because they don’t help develop the story’s main conflict. A skilled writer might include some of these type scenes, using sub-plot conflicts, conflicts that develop character, conflicts that foreshadow something later, or other minor conflicts. But you must always weigh the resulting scene against the growing tension of a story.

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  • Actions with the Wrong Conflict:
    Suppose the three little pigs have big arguments about whether they should journey north or south. Does that conflict add to the overall story and develop the main conflict? No. Not as the story is traditionally told. Conflict by itself isn’t enough. You must find conflicts that relate to the main conflict and make that conflict worse and worse with each scene — the narrative arc builds.
  • In my current WIP, I’ve sketched out the scenes I plan to write. But I’ve been stumped the last few days by one scene of a character mowing the grass. I need the character to do that mowing (for various reasons), but I finally realized that I could cover it in just a couple narrative sentences and still accomplish the same thing. It wasn’t a conflict or action worthy of a full scene. Once I had that insight, I’ve been working steadily again.

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    1 Comment
    • Natalie Aguirre
      November 16, 2010

      Yes, I’m finally getting that it’s okay to sometimes narrate an event quickly in a few sentences.