On Writing, Plot & Structure

More about Scene-ery

June 11, 2012

In previous posts, we addressed how to craft Action Scenes and Reaction Scenes and noted some guidelines regarding length.

How long should a Scene be? The simple answer is, long enough to advance the Story effectively.

It is tempting, insofar as Scenes go, to say, “There really are no rules.” But it’s more accurate to say, “There is tremendous flexibility.”

Currently I am working on a Middle Grade Novel. It will be between 25,000 and 45,000 words long. As an average Scene is 1,000 words long (4 manuscript pages), I probably will write between 25 and 45 Scenes to get my Story told.

The average novel for general audiences (grown-up), as noted previously, contains 60 Scenes. Today, shorter Scenes are considered desirable in novels as they more readily push forward the narrative flow and the energy of the Story. So Scenes today run from four to ten pages in length, and trend to shorter rather than longer. (You would not, of course, want to create a novel in which every Scene is identical in length. It would feel stiff and forced. Keep in mind how florists arrange flowers – some are taller in the vase, some shorter; a bouquet in which all the flowers were cut to the exact same height would seem unnatural and lose considerable charm.*)

Here are the guidelines for when to end a Scene that will help you determine how long your Scenes will be.

A Scene ends:

  • When the time frame changes. (It was morning. Now it’s night. It was July. Now it’s August.)
  • When the location changes. (We were in the heroine’s workplace. Now we are in her apartment. We were on the beach with the hero. Now we are flying to Dallas with him.)
  • When something changes in a way that moves the plot forward. (Heroine discovers a body. Hero is fired from a job. Villain hires a hit man. Serial killer hides on a jogging path.)

* That said, some genre publishing houses have worked out guidelines that are quite specific about chapter length. (Remember there are three Scenes, on average, in a chapter.) One romantic suspense publisher asks authors to write 20 chapters, each 3,000 words in length. However, the publisher leaves Scene length up to the authors.


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