A novel contains many building blocks. And one of the tiniest building blocks are scenes.
Writing a novel starts by writing out a scene.
Scenes, individual story units smaller than chapters and somewhat self-contained, are essential to fiction writing.
Today, we’ll explore what scenes are, how to format scene breaks and when to start or end a scene.
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What Is A Scene?
A scene is where character(s) engage in action or dialogue. It’s as if characters are coming onto a stage during a specific time at a specific place and one action occurs.
So if you switch time, location or point of view, you will switch the scene.
A scene is a subset of a chapter. For example, you could have 3 scenes in one chapter. Where Scene 1 is about a student waking up and having breakfast at home, Scene 2 is about the student’s journey to school and Scene 3 is arriving at the classroom late.
Hence, a chapter can contain one or more scenes. Usually, scenes within a chapter are related.
How Long Should A Scene Be?
There is no rule about how long or short a scene should be. There’s no fixed scene length.
However, scene length can affect the pacing of a novel.
A short scene will quicken the pace while a long scene will slow down the pace. Hence, make your scenes short if you want faster pacing and make your scenes long if you want slower pacing.
Readers feel a sense of accomplishment when they finish a scene. Therefore, if your scenes are too long, readers might feel tired and stop reading altogether.
Here is the scene length of 7 novels. Long scenes are used for the beginning where the author is introducing characters and settings. On the other hand, scenes in the middle and end are shorter just as action speed up.
How To Format Scene Breaks
Your scene breaks need to be obvious so readers know that they’ve moved on to another scene.
You can use beautiful symbols that correspond with the genre of your book. There are many such icons on Creative Market.
Personally, I prefer my scene breaks to be minimalist. So I’ll just leave an empty line in between the two scenes. The first paragraph of the next scene will have no indent while the second paragraph onward will have an indent again.
Or you can use the common three asterisks (***). It’s also simple and effective.
When To End A Scene? When To Start A New Scene?
When you change to a new location, you can start a new scene. For example, one scene at home and the next scene at school.
The same applies to time. You can use a scene break to show time skip. Like morning then night.
You can also start or end a scene when characters enter or exit a scene. This could be a cliffhanger like the onset of a conflict.
Let’s say your scene is written in the point of view of a certain character. When you switch POV, you can add a scene break. But this also depends on you, the author. Take me for example, I rather create a new chapter. So the chapters alternate between POV of character A and character B.
The storyline might also trigger you to start a new scene. Like when the direction of the story changes, the action is significantly different or you’re focusing on a subplot.
Bonus Tip: Plan Out Your Scenes
As a plotter, I highly recommend that you plan out your scenes in advance. Outline what will happen in each scene before you even start writing. This will save you time and effort of rewriting because you’ve already thought things through to ensure that the story flows coherently.
By planning your scenes first, you can also estimate how long each chapter will be. Whether one scene for a chapter is long enough. Or whether to add more scenes so the chapter is longer. Or if a chapter is way too long, you can shift some scenes to the next chapter instead.
Now It’s Your Turn
Do you have any tips about writing a scene?
When do you insert scene breaks? How do you format your scene breaks?