Monday, July 10, 2023

Creating Scenes In Short Story


Photo by richard thomposn on Unsplash

What makes a scene in a story?

I have written a few short stories, and I have plans to write more. One of my focus points while learning to write short stories has been scene creation.

This was a really big thing for me to get my head around. I wanted to really understand what is a scene and specifically what it needed to be for a shorter story.

So, I have been reading a lot. Here is what I have learned so far.

What is a scene?

A scene is a small moment or incident within a larger story that contributes to the overall movement and story end goal or story ARC. (Definition of story arc via Wikipedia.)

What makes a scene?

Three things MUST be present.
  • A setting where the action takes place.
  • A character with a deep personal need, goal, desire, or a situation they must take action physically, emotionally (internally paired with consequence), or in dialogue with purpose.
  • Scene movement that causes a small or bigger change that affects the story — character.
The problem should strongly connect to the character's deep need/want or story/scene goal (internal), or in opposition to it, which will motivate/drive him to take external action.
(Character motivation/drive via Reedsy blog.)

In flash fiction, you have no room for backstory, or even a lot of character development, so the sooner your character takes action, the better.

In fact, start as close to the end of the story as you can and/or in the middle of the action, if possible with flash fiction. (For more about flash fiction, see my article here, What makes a good flash fiction piece?)

When writing a short story of 3000 to 10,000 words you have a bit more room for character development and description, but backstory sparse, if any.

In short stories, word limits create the story limits.

How do you know the scene has ended or a short has ended?

Something changed. That is it. It can be a series of changes or one small change. It depends on the size of your story and the goal of the scene planned in relation to your entire story.

If the time or location changes, that is definitely a scene change. The key in shorts is giving the reader a sense of closure or story ending.

Does a scene have a story structure?

Every scene has a forward progression, or what is the point? A scene should have a beginning where the character has a goal, want, and need. It should have a middle where there is at least one try/fail cycle that generates some conflict and friction.

The scene end should have a resolution, or disaster, but a definite shift, or change forward or backward related to the story being told.

My short stories can have up to four to eight scene shifts or changes. Flash fiction (500 to 1000 word scenes) could have two to three shifts, or only one, while a story (3000 to 4500-word count) could have ten or more. (Definition of story transition via Wikipedia.)

Example Flash Fiction, The Letter. One Scene.

Here is what you need to write a scene:

  • Setting is part of the character's world — the ordinary world or problem world.
  • A character with a big need/desire — a goal/problem. If the character (want) opposes their (need), all the better.
  • Conflict: Limited or no choices. Something that forces the character to take an external ACTION. Bonus if that action is driven by their internal need.
In summary, you need a setting that a character enters with a problem that he must take action on. The problem has to be big enough that the character cannot ignore it. Whatever it is, will force the character to act or react to it, even if he refuses to deal with it.

I hope this helped you get a better picture of scene function and creation.

You can read some of Juneta’s flash fiction and short stories here and find her here.


Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Something has changed. Good indication!

L. Diane Wolfe said...

No choices certainly makes it tense.

Natalie Aguirre said...

That's a lot to accomplish in a short story. It's one of the reasons I admire short story writers so much.

Lux G. said...

This is great advice, Sandra! I've always been in awe of the seamless change in scenes in the books I read. I wonder when I'd start writing a book myself but for now I just love and enjoy reading great ones. :)