Writer friend Terry Connolly introduced me to Jordan E. Rosenfeld at this year’s MCWC. Rosenfeld has a craft book called Make a Scene; Crafting a Powerful Story One Scene at a Time.
“Scene” as a narrative choice had been a big part of the discussion in the short fiction workshop. There is a lot of energy in a scene, much more than you find in indirect narrative. I was intrigued. I had never thought much about scenes, the same way I don’t normally think much about air, because I tend to write in scenes. I was surprised to find out that many people don’t.
Rosenfeld, who is a contributing editor to Writer’s Digest as well as a freelance writer, defines scene this way:
“Scenes are capsules in which compelling characters undertake significant actions in a vivid and memorable way that allows the events to feel as though they are happening in real time.”
I like several things about that definition. The feeling that it is happening “in real time” is what gives a scene – and the story it’s in – energy. The other important clue for me personally is in the phrase, “significant actions… in a memorable way.” I’ve gotten much better, but far too often I indulge myself in a scene where characters I like sit around sipping cocktails and ruminating on the nature of existence. That’s fine, only it might not have anything to do with the story. Unless the world is running out of tequila, sipping a cocktail is usually not a significant action. My “characters hang out” scenes can still exist, but they could (and should) be shorter.
Rosenfeld lays out the architecture of a scene; the Scene Launch, the Scene Middle, the Scene End. It seems obvious, doesn’t it, but in our workshop Lori spoke extensively about the scene that starts, not with the scene, but with a “preface” or “thesis statement.” Rosenfeld gives some tips on how to make a scene launch an actual launch.
She covers types of scenes; conflict scenes, contemplative scenes (sipping a cocktail, the Main Character…) and the so-difficult action scene.
The book is very well laid out. I read it cover-to-cover, but the Table of Contents is well set up to allow you to browse, which is probably how I would use the book in the future. Like many Writer’s Digest books, this one makes good use of examples, of bullet points, sidebars and graphs to break up the text on the page. A graph in Chapter 3 (page 23) lays out the elements of a scene with a goal of rising tension. I put a sticky-flag on it, because it’s a compact visual of what should happen in a scene and in a story.
I consider myself an experienced writer but there were plenty of good reminders for me in this book. The person who would greatly benefit from this book, though, is the emerging writer. Lots of new writers don’t have confidence in their scenes, or a dependable sense of when a scene would work better than indirect narrative (or the reverse). Make a Scene lays that out in a clear, accessible manner.
Make a Scene is a good book for any writer’s bookshelf… or even any reader who wants to delve more deeply into the structure and function of narrative. It’s a valuable resource for the emerging writer in your life. If you need to get the new writer you know a gift, consider Make a Scene.