SCENE 20: Special Scenes: Big Scenes


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What is a big scene in a novel?

It’s a moment of high drama, with lots of action, reaction and emotion. Well, it could be low action, if you’re writing a character story, but it’s still a moment that has lots of drama from your drama queen or king.

  • Length: A big scene is longer than other scenes, one clue that it’s a big scene. If it’s not big, you just have a placeholder scene and need to plan it better (see below).
  • Major plot point: This type scene should connect the dots on the narrative arc; it’s moment on the major plot thread. Big scenes, just for the purpose of a big scene, should be cut. Only keep a scene if it advances your plot.
  • Outcome: The outcome of a big scene matters to the characters and directly impacts the major plot threads. If nothing changes by the end of the scene, well, why do we have that scene anyway. Things must change for your characters by the end of a big scene.
  • Conflict: Obviously, this implied conflict. It should be a big moment in the action arc of your story, physically things need to come to a head. It’s usually a big moment in your emotional arc, too. Big scenes that mirror or contrast the inner and outer conflict work well here.
  • Raise the stakes: Make the personal conflict extend to other people, or even to a public realm. Put more family members at risk, or put a person’s fortune at risk. Risking a fortune is good; risking a loved one is better. Raise those stakes.
  • Cast of thousands or just one character? Doesn’t matter.

  • Sandra Scofield, in The Scene Book, suggests two approaches to a big scene:

    • Small focus. Focus on the emotional reaction of the POV character, or the interaction between two main characters. Essentially, this is a small scene within a big setting.
    • Multi-focus scene. This type of big scene opens up the interaction to include many other characters, who have input, express and evoke emotion, and trigger reactions from the main characters.

Planning a Big Scene

Because these are big scenes and they need to extend over a longer section of the story, it’s even more important to plan these well. Plan the beginning, middle and end of such a scene, to make sure enough happens in each section, and to make sure you can manage all the characters. Write out action and emotional beat sheets. Pay careful attention to the pivot point.