From ‘scenelets’ to scene

Last week was an intensive week of reading works by emerging writers and mentoring, and as always it’s an experience of discovery and realisation for myself too. Sometimes these conversations with writers are ones where I reiterate something I have learned through my own writing to be true, have observed in the works of other published writers through attentive reading, and have learned to look out for when working with writers on their manuscripts.

A take-away from last week’s sessions had to do with gathering small scenes or sequences of incidents together into a more substantive single scene. These might be scenes, or ‘scenelets’, that are separated in time, location or across chapters. Let me give you an example to explain what I mean.

I was working with J— last week, looking at a scene in which the young character ‘M’ comes into the classroom and faces various challenges. M’s best friend ignores him, a few students snicker, the teacher is talking, and all the while he’s adjusting to some major changes that have taken place that the others don’t understand. Then there’s a break with an intermediary activity (lining up outside a classroom because the room is locked until the teacher opens it), then a second classroom scene which continues along similar lines of the first classroom scene.

My suggestion was to have all the key elements take place during the first class scene: to bring together into the one hour and single location M’s perplexity and hurt from his best friend’s rejection of him, the other kids’ reactions, and his struggle to learn some key science that will be important to the plot later on.

By making two and a half ‘scenelets’ into one more substantial scene, the focus could now remain on the key elements of the character’s interactions and responses, rather than on moving the character in and out of rooms, pausing (the line-up), and recommencing.

Talking this through helped J— to focus more on what was key, and to see how the final, single more substantive scene would have a strong narrative arc.

Thinking about your scenes in this way is an important element of revision. It can be harder to do in the early draft phases, as you’re not sure what fits where and what will finally be important. When you’re ready, try bringing it in to your revision work.

Author: Jane Messer

Author, Mentor, Manuscript Assessor - The Bold Ink

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