Writing Logistics: Scene Length

Andrew Scott

Andrew Scott

Copywriter

Freelance Copywriter

6

Jun, 2018

Ah, the scene. One of the most misunderstood ways to break up a novel. The term gets thrown around in so many different mediums, including in movies, TV shows, and on the stage. As if that wasn’t enough, many authors feel that scenes are unneeded, and some even downright hate using them in their fiction writing. Then there’s the question on what should be considered a scene and the scene length.

They’re not completely wrong. Not every story needs to split their chapter up into scenes. For example, a story that takes place with only one character over a relatively short period of time probably would not benefit from added scenes. On the other hand, a longer novel that has multiple points of views or needs to skip ahead (or back) in time very quickly might find them an essential part of their writing.

What IS a Scene?

Merriam-Webster defines a scene as:

  • one of the subdivisions of a play: such as
    a a division of an act presenting continuous action in one place
    b a single situation or unit of dialogue in a play – i.e. the love scene
    c a motion-picture or television episode or sequence

In terms of a book, it’s subdivisions within a chapter that (generally) takes place in or around the same time and place.

The reason you might decide to include scenes within your chapters are to skip to a different point of view, skip slightly ahead or back in time (i.e. a flashback), or to a different-but-related location (such as from the classroom to the hallway).

“In terms of a book, it’s subdivisions within a chapter that (generally) takes place in or around the same time and place.”

Is Scene Length Important?

“One of the benefits of writing in scene form is that the ending of a scene provides a place for the reader to comfortably take a pause.”

This quote comes from Jordan E Rosenfeld’s book Make a Scene and is sound advice when considering scene length. Each scene is designed to move the story along, whether through exposition of a character’s emotion or personality or through a piece of action. Regardless, whether long or short, a scene must progress the story and leave the reader more knowledgeable after they have finished.

Much like chapters, scenes should fit into their own bubble within the greater picture.

How Long is Too Long?

Although it’s very easy to let an enjoyable scene run long, it’s important to keep a few things in mind before you do. Longer scenes are excellent for slowing the pace of the story down. Long scenes of dialogue or expository narration—such as a character considering some previous action or their plan for later in the story—can help the reader digest what has happened in the story so far and can prepare them for the upcoming action.

Short scenes, on the other hand, are excellent for bringing the pace back up after a long scene. Pacing is key and if you want to include more than one scene in a chapter because you want to drip-feed information to the reader or show the progression of different characters in each “episode,” shorter scenes are particularly useful.


The final post in this mini-series on length will be posted tomorrow and will cover how long your paragraphs should be. That’s right, we’re taking it to a micro-level! If you missed the previous two posts, you can find the one on Novel Length here and the one on Chapter Length here.

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