SCENE 9: Scene List v. Synopsis


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If you’re writing in scenes, you plan by writing a scene list. How does this compare to a synopsis? How are they different?

A synopsis is mostly a narrative summary of the events. It’s often told in first person and is a straightforward “Tell”, without the “Show.”

A scene list, on the other hand, is a list of dramatic choices. It’s a search for the conflict in a story and a list of points at which the story and characters collide in a scene that has potential to be dramatic, memorable and life-changing for the characters.

Do you see the difference? It’s partly one of attitude:

  • I’m telling a story.
  • I’m structuring a story in a dramatic way for the most impact on the reader.

A synopsis may, in fact, precede the scene list. You may need to write a synopsis to fully think through the story. But before you write — at least before you write the next section of a story — you may want to stop and think about the list of possible scenes, and then select the most dramatic scenes to write.

They may seem to do the same things: both summarize a story and give direction to the writing. But the scene list has the potential of a better draft because of the attention paid to conflict and the impact on the reader.

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Criteria for Scene Selection

Here are some criteria for choosing which scenes to include in your story.

  • Which events will connect with your readers best?
  • Which events have the most possibility for interesting details?
  • Which events BEST advance the action and SHOW what is going on with the characters’ lives?

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