Q&A

What Exactly Is a Scene?

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I guess this is a noob Q, but what IS a scene? And how do you know when it ends?

– Taliah

Hi Taliah,

Newbie question or not, I’m sure some other people are wondering too!

So a scene is a section of film/narration/whatever that’s told at a real-time pace, usually a specific moment in time at the same place. It starts and ends when there’s a fast-forward or jump in place or time.

For instance, you might show the protagonist eating breakfast and having a conversation with a parent. Once their conversation is over, you might show them at school. In film, you’d probably just have a cut and jump forward; in narration, you might briefly summarize how after breakfast they rush to the bus and then arrive at school. Then at school you’d slow down again so they can glance nervously at their crush or get drilled by their teacher.

That’s one breakfast scene and one school scene. In some cases the place does change a bit during a scene, like maybe a character is walking through the woods and the entire walk is filmed or narrated in detail. Other times if it’s in the same place but the time jump is small, it might be considered the same scene. The lines are blurry.

One thing that’s confusing is that other writing advice blogs often use scenes as a unit of storytelling, but Mythcreants does not. To us, scenes are a matter of technical implementation that is separate from the story. We have storytelling guidelines for what deserves to be fleshed out in a full scene, but we don’t, for instance, say every scene in your story needs a hook or urgency.

That’s because our chosen unit of storytelling is… a story. Mythcreants considers stories to be fractals that contain lots of smaller stories, also called “child stories” or “child arcs.” While scenes often contain whole child arcs, there isn’t necessarily a one-to-one correlation between arcs and scenes. So while every arc needs a hook, it isn’t entirely accurate to say the same about a scene. A scene is a matter of how the story is expressed in the medium you’re working in; it’s not the story itself.

Best wishes,

Chris

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Comments

  1. Cay Reet

    To me, a scene is finished when the thing which happens in it finishes. That can be a conversation, that can be the daring escape from the villain’s henches, that can be a grand ball where the hero meets the love interest.

    I admit, though, that I don’t think much about it. I actually outline in scenes, but what I outline sometimes becomes two scenes instead of one or I might merge two scenes I’ve plotted while writing, because they’re one bigger scene, really.

  2. Rickard

    In tabletop roleplaying games, I say that a new scene happens when there is a shift in either time or place.

    In theater and movies, a scene is instead about a situation when something dramatic happens. I personally don’t agree with this definition, because it’s a very Western conflict based way of looking at it. However, if you want to read more about it, Jim Butcher talks about what happens in a scene (in movies, keep in mind):
    https://jimbutcher.livejournal.com/2647.html

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