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Back to Basics: Scenes

clack and white scene clapper

Scenes make up everything. In fact, every story is a compilation of scenes. Usually when you first begin thinking of your story, you think in scenes too. You think about moments, like the introduction of a compelling character or a pivotal plot twist, or maybe a fierce fight. That's a scene. If you haven’t guessed by now, this Back to Basics course is all about scenes. We'll talk about what exactly they are and what they’re made up of. So, let’s go ahead...


What are scenes?

When it comes to scenes, they’re basically sequences of a story where your characters interact or some kind of action takes place. They’re events that happen that move the story along. Scenes not only make up the story, but they also have a similar structure to stories themselves. It’s important to preface that not every writer might necessarily view a scene exactly the same way in terms of length. You might think of a scene like it’s a chapter of a book, but some might think of a scene as less than or maybe even more than that. While scenes can be varied in that way, they should always have a beginning, a middle, and then an end regardless. 

What are scenes made of?

There are a couple of crucial components to keep in mind for scenes. At the core you can consider it to be characters, conflicts, and dialogue. It’s kind of like a mini story on its own. Characters and dialogues are especially linked together. Now, you could have a scene involving just one character, but if so you should try to have something that propels them forward, and that can be done with an internal dialogue which is essentially the thoughts that are swirling around in a character’s head. If you have two or more characters you could also have a more straightforward dialogue exchange, maybe a back-and-forth that not only drives the story forward but also presents unique character dynamics. 

What does that mean exactly? Well a dialogue exchange may reveal things about characters that are unique to them. For example, a dialogue exchange might reveal that Character A uses an accent and/or has distinct mannerisms different from Character B. This sort of exchange could make them contrast and you as a writer could play on that. Regardless of if you focus on multiple characters or just one, both options typically have conflict baked into them, which is also crucial.


Scenes should always have some sort of friction, but it doesn’t have to be a fate-of-the-entire-world situation. Afterall, cramming something like that into just a couple of paragraphs or pages would be beyond chaotic. But there should be some kind of tension. Maybe there’s something that’s just really bothering a character, maybe there’s a small issue several characters are made aware of. You don’t need something massive, just something that’s enough to get the attention of your characters. There’s other components we could get into but consider checking more of those out with this handy dandy resource. But for now we’ll close this section out with our last component: the ending. 

All stories have endings, and while a small isolated scene definitely might not be your magnum opus, it’s important to give it some sort of conclusion. On a technical level, a lot of the time in novels you’ll be able to know when the end of a scene is done with the help of asterisks. These signal the transition from a specific scene to a newer one and can sometimes switch over to feature other different characters too. We won’t really dwell too long on how to conclude a scene, all you need to consider is leaving your characters in a place where the action/tension has simmered down and where the grander story can switch gears to something new.

Now that we know what scenes are and how they contribute to a story, let's set the scene (so to speak) with our challenge.


The Challenge:

Write just one scene (aim for 400-700 words) using one of the following prompts:

  1. A nervous person tries ordering at a drive-thru for the first time.

  2. A person gets accidentally locked inside a bathroom for twenty minutes.

  3. Someone with anger issues on the phone with tech support.

Thanks for joining us for this Back to Basics course! If you tried this month’s challenge, you can share it on our discord or on social media using #WWB2B. You can also send us your challenge on the Back to Basics page. 


About the author: Hi! My name’s Izhan Arif and I’m an English graduate from the University of Illinois, Chicago. My interests tend to revolve around all things superhero, whether it be comics, shows, or movies! I also love to write (go figure) and when I’m not working on “Back to Basics”, I’m also writing videos for WatchMojo!


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