The Scene is the Basic Unit of Story: Part 1

Scenes are the fundamental building blocks that create story. Understanding the essence and structure of a scene is pivotal in creating a compelling narrative that enchants readers. As the basic unit of story, it moves things along and keeps readers turning pages.

Scene vs Chapters

The scene in a story has specific qualities that define it. It takes place in continuous space or in a continuous span of time. Always told from one point of view and should contain a small arc of change from start to finish. 

Chapters are arbitrary divisions in the manuscript. They’re there mostly for the reading experience and to give easy stopping points. They have nothing to do with structure. Sometimes a chapter contains a single scene, but it can easily accommodate a group of related scenes. 

What a Scene is Not

We can all recognize what chapters are. After all, they have chapter headers and usually start on a fresh page. Scenes, however, are harder to pin down. Let’s start with what scenes are not:

  • A long backstory of the character’s past that does nothing to further the plot
  • A sprinkling of events that happen in the world but do not further the plot
  • Characters talking or reflecting
  • Description of the setting or the world

All of these can be “in” a scene, they simply are not the sum total of a scene. 

How Long is a Scene?

Scene length depends on the genre you’re writing. Thrillers tend to be snappier, whereas fantasy or sci-fi can be longer. On average, shoot for around 1500-2500 words. 

Part 2 will explore how to write a scene from start to finish.

Tim Kane

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