Writing in Scenes –A Writing Class at PNWA Summer Writer’s Conference


For Nancy Kress, an award-winning author, one principle made all the difference in her writing, transforming it from promising but unsellable to compelling and published. Here’s what she said about writing in scenes:

A Good Scene:

    • Has a purpose; to move the story forward and/or to develop the characters.
    • It’s got shape.
    • It’s also dramatized using dialog.
    • A good scene should be part of the story flow.
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White Room Syndrome (Image: iClipart)

    There are a number of narrative modes. Here are two important ones:
  1. Dialog–it’s almost impossible to write a good scene without using dialog. There are exceptions (i.e. Gary Paulsen‘s Hatchet). When we write good dialog, it carries diction and rhythm which can tell you a lot about the characters. The conversation characterizes the speakers.
  2. Description–Fiction is a multimedia event in your head that you’ve got to put into words on the page, in a linear order. You do this using description. Choose the details that will define your style. If you don’t have description, your story ends up with White Room Syndrome (a blank space with white walls, floor, and ceiling). Readers naturally skip over sections which offer an inadequate description of the setting. On the other hand, if you put in too much description, readers skip that too. Good description uses specific details. (Not 5’10 with blue eyes, but “His eyes were so blue, they paled against the sky.) Good description also can be used to show relationships. Good description also uses more senses than just sight. You only need three details to help a scene come alive, as long as they’re the right details. When you describe something well, readers don’t see it through the author’s eyes; they see it through the main character’s point of view.

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