Scene:

(To survey other elements and author quotes, visit the Elements of Fiction home page)

Always dramatize important events.” Ayn Rand

“A scene is a miniature drama in which a single issue is decided in specific circumstances.” Philip Gerard

“Don’t tell us that the old lady screamed. Bring her on stage and let her scream.” Mark Twain

“In any true story, certain things have to be shown dramatically, others can be summarized or implied. In general the rule is simply this: Anything necessary to the action’s development must be shown dramatically. For instance, if a man is to beat his dog, it is not enough for the writer to tell us that the man is inclined to violence or that the dog annoys him: we must see how and why the man inclines to violence, and we must see the dog annoying him.” John Gardner

“With rare and tricky exceptions, there is in successful fiction one and only one means of perception to a scene. This singleness is tremendously important in dialogue, especially when a number of characters are on stage.” William Sloane

“A scene will not be vivid if the writer gives too few details to stir and guide the reader’s imagination; neither will it be vivid if the language the writer uses is abstract instead of concrete.” John Gardner

“The piece of paper floating down is there to dramatize one of the sheriff’s silences. While he is saying nothing the sun changes from one side of the porch and the loiterers move into it and a piece of paper floats down. That this paper should be expected to have any meaning other than it’s simple function is not to be countenanced.” Flannery O’Connor

“By scene we mean here all that is included in an unbroken flow of action from one incident in time to another.” John Gardner

“The action within a scene is ‘unbroken’ in the sense that it does not include a major time lapse or a leap from one setting to another—though the characters may, of course, walk or ride from one place to another without breaking the scene, the camera, so to speak, dollying after them.” John Gardner

“A scene is a focused, vivid world where things happen.” Ulf Wolf

 “The thing is to contract: each scene to be a scene: much dramatized: contrasted: each to be carefully dominated by one interest: some generalised.” Virginia Woolf

“Readers are much more interested and intrigued when they are shown how a character lives rather than being told.” Othello Bach

“The art of fiction does not begin until the novelist thinks of his story as a matter to be shown, to be so exhibited that it will tell itself.” Percy Lubbock

“The famous ‘impersonality’ of Flaubert and his kind lies only in the greater tact with which they express their feelings—dramatizing them, embodying them in living form, instead of stating them directly.” Percy Lubbock

“A scene that is not really wanted, and that does nothing in particular—a scene that for lack of preparation fails to make its effect—is a weakness in a story that one would suppose a novelist to be always guarding against. Anyhow, there is no doubt that the scene holds the place of honour, that it is the readiest means of starting an interest and raising a question—we drop into a scene on the first page and begin to speculate about the people contained in it: and that it recurs for a climax of any sort, the resolution of the question—and so the scene completes what it began.” Percy Lubbock

“The motion of life is before us, the recording, registering mind of the author is eliminated. That is drama.” Percy Lubbock

“The scene he [Maupassant] evokes is contemporaneous, and there it is, we can see it as well as he can. Certainly he is ‘telling’ us things, but they are things so immediate, so perceptible, that the machinery of his telling, by which they reach us, is unnoticed; the story appears to tell itself. . . . The effect is that he is not there at all, because he is doing nothing that ostensibly requires any judgement, nothing that reminds us of his presence.” Percy Lubbock

“Inevitably, as the plot thickens and the climax approaches—inevitably, wherever an impression is to be emphasized and driven home—narration gives place to enactment, the train of events to the particular episode, the broad picture to the dramatic scene.” Percy Lubbock

“It is drama unmixed when the reader is squarely in front of the scene, all the time, knowing nothing about the story beyond so much as may be gathered from the aspect of the scene, the look and speech of the people. That does not happen often in fiction, except in short pieces, small contes. “ Percy Lubbock

“No reflection, no picture, where living drama is possible—it is a good rule; do not let the hero come between us and his active mind, do not let the heroine stand in front of her emotions and portray them—unless for cause, for some needful effect that would otherwise be missed.” Percy Lubbock

“The more circuitous procedure on the part of the author produces a straighter effect for the reader; that is why, other things being equal, the more dramatic way is better than less. It is indirect, as a method; but it places the thing itself in view, instead of recalling and reflecting and picturing it.” Percy Lubbock

“For any story, no doubt, there is an ideal point upon this line of progress toward drama, where the author finds the right method of telling the story. The point is indicated by the subject of the story itself, by the particular matter that is to be brought out and made plain; and the author, while he regards the subject and nothing else, is guided to the best manner of treatment by a twofold consideration. In the first place he wishes the story so far as possible to speak for itself, the people and the action to appear independently rather than to be described and explained. To this end the method is raised to the highest dramatic power that the subject allows, until at last, perhaps, it is found that nothing need be explained at all; there need be no revelation of anybody’s thought, no going behind any of the appearances on the surface of the action; even the necessary description . . . may be so treated that this too gains the value of drama. Such is the first care of the prudent novelist. . . . But it is accompanied and checked by another, not less important. This is his care for economy; the method is to be pushed as far as the subject can profit by it, but no further. It may happen (for instance in David Copperfield) that the story needs no high dramatic value, and that it would get no advantage from a more dramatic method. If it would gain nothing, it would undoubtedly lose; the subject would be over-treated and would suffer accordingly.” Percy Lubbock

“Again and again I have wished to silence the voice of the spokesman who is supposed to be helping me to a right appreciation of the matter in hand—the author (or his creature) who knows so much, and who pours out his information over the subject, and who talks and talks about an issue that might be revealing itself without him.” Percy Lubbock

“A novelist instinctively sees the chief turns and phases of his story expressed in the form of a thing acted, where narrative ceases and a direct light falls upon his people and their doings. It must be so, for this is the sharpest effect within his range; and the story must naturally have the benefit of it, wherever the emphasis is to fall most strongly. To the scene, therefore, all other effects will appear to be subordinated in general; and the placing of the scenes of the story will be the prime concern. But precisely because it has this high value it will need to be used prudently. It if is wasted it loses force, and if it is weakened the climax—of the story, of a particular turn in the story—has no better resource to turn to instead. And so it is essential to recognize its limitations and to note the purposes which it does not serve; since it is by using it for these that it is depreciated.” Percy Lubbock

“It has to be remembered that though the scene acts vividly, it acts slowly, in relation to its length.” Percy Lubbock

“A scene which is not in some way prepared in advance is a scene which in point of fact is wasting a portion of its strength. It is accomplishing expensively what might have been accomplished for less.” Percy Lubbock

“As far as may be he [the writer] will use the scene for the purpose which it fulfils supremely—to clinch a matter already pending, to demonstrate a result, to crown an effect half-made by other means.” Percy Lubbock

“You cannot ever tell the reader anything, you have got to show him, and through the means of perception that you are employing.” William Sloane

“One of the cardinal rules of good fiction is never tell us anything if you can show us.” Stephen King

“In its pure essence, a work of fiction is a sequence of scenes from page one to the end.” William Sloane

“A scene is a unit of event which has a beginning, a middle, and an end, and it contains nothing except characters in action.” William Sloane

“Many unsuccessful writers have difficulty believing the simple point of showing, not telling. They believe in a sort of Divine Right of Kings by which the fiction writer can choose whether he is going to show or to tell. No such right exists.” William Sloane

“Admittedly, it is trouble for the writer to find the scenes he needs and to load them with the ammunition of his fiction, but it can be done. There is nothing that belongs in fiction at all that cannot be conveyed to the reader by way of a real and lively scene.” William Sloane

“The first scene will contain the moment in the ‘time’ of your fiction in which the happening, the action, becomes sufficiently inevitable to put the writing into motion and aim it down the right path. The right path is the path into what happens and how what happens ends.” William Sloane

“The writer must know exactly what each scene accomplishes in and for the novel. Whether or not any one scene can be called ‘obligatory,’ nothing in a novel can exist unrelated to the rest.” William Sloane

“Scenes are something like miniature stories. They have in them the germ of the entire story or book, and they are like the larger whole in other respects. Scenes have a beginning and an ending, like any complete story. Each scene has a means of perception. Occasionally more than one, but rarely. Each scene has a setting—it takes place somewhere. Each scene poses the same problems that the story or novel poses. It must establish the reader as fast as possible. It must give evidence as soon as possible that it intends to continue the contract with the reader.” William Sloane

“Scenes are constructed as invisibly as possible, just as the entire novel or short story is constructed. As with the first and last scene, every single scene commences, after the writer has selected or ‘found’ the scene, at the moment when it becomes necessary to the action of the story. The scene ends when its point has been made.” William Sloane

“No character not germane to the purpose of the scene should be permitted on stage.” William Sloane

“Scenes move in terms of action, of character change and development, in terms of the passage of time . . . and above all, in a rather mysterious fashion, they derive much of their motion from the reader. This last is something like the learning process and we know little about it except that the reader experiences a sense of accumulation, of growth, as he is reading.” William Sloane [my italics—UW]

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