In The Scene Book: a Primer for the Fiction Writer, Sandra Scofield says, “Scene is ACTION . . . Scenes are those passages in narrative when we slow down and focus on an event in the story so that we are ‘in the moment’ with characters in action.”

According to Scofield, a scene has four basic elements:

  1. Event and emotion: In a scene, something is happening in real time. The reader is pulled into that real time, moment by moment, and is able to feel what the character(s) feels. There is action that results in a reaction, by both character and reader.
  1. Function: A scene appears in a story where it does for a reason. The writer should be able to articulate that reason. Does it develop a particular line of plot? Does it develop a character? Does it prepare the reader for something that comes later? Why is the scene there? If it doesn’t have a clear function, maybe you don’t need it or can summarize it.
  1. Structure: A scene has a beginning, middle, and end. In a short scene, the structure may not be as apparent as in a longer scene. But every scene will begin at a particular moment in time. Something will happen in that moment. And there will be a result or reaction. A very simple example: a character gets on a bus and finds a seat; the man and woman sitting behind her argue vehemently; the woman slaps the man; the character gets off the bus smiling. Beginning, middle, end.
  1. Pulse: A scene has an energy, drawn from the story as a whole, that connects with the reader and makes the scene memorable. Pulse is the most difficult to define of the four elements of a scene. I might call it a little emotional charge that any good scene carries and that the reader feels when she reads the scene.

Scenes are the high octane fuel that runs the engine of the story. Sometimes the engine idles, sometimes it roars. Without scenes, it doesn’t run at all.