Basic Scene Elements

I thought it was a good time to review some essential writing basics.  This is good info for the fiction writer, but any writer could benefit,  especially from number 4,  Pulse.

 The following is from “The Scene Book:  A primer for the fiction writer” by Sandra Scofield.

Four Basic Scene Elements

1.  Every scene has event and emotion.

2.  Every scene has a function.

3.  Every scene has a structure.

4.  Every scene has a pulse.  (from April:   this is a crucial piece of scene writing I had never heard described before… and is too awesome to ignore…)


1.  In a scene, there is event and emotion.  In a scene, characters do things (act and react) that “add up” meaningfully; and they feel things (have emotional and intellectual responses to the action). 

2.  Every scene has a function in the narrative.  There is a reason the passage is rendered in detail rather than summarized.  Thre is a reason why it appears where it does in the sequence of events.  It accomplishes something for the story.  It changes something.  It makes now different from the past.

3.  Every scene has a structure:  a beginning, middle, and end.  An alternative way to think of the scene structure is this :  There is a situation at the beginning, a line of action, and then there is a new situation at the end.  Thus, the scene establishes each of these three parts.

4.  Every scene has a pulse.  Some vibrancy in the story makes the scene live on the page and makes it matter to the reader.  Look for it, dig for it, massage it, burn incense to it if you must.  Without it, your scene is a whimper. 

Let me make the subtle distinction between the pulse and tension.  Pulse is emotional, an attitude, a state of desire or need.  Tension is built from action; it arises from pulse, but it must be created through conflict, whereas pulse is a kind of “steady state,” awaiting the trigger to escalate it.

So for example, let’s say I want more than anything to be a writer. I neglect other aspects of my life, my relationships, to make time for my writing.  I eat fast food and never go to the movies.  That ambition is the pulse.  Finally there’s a big argument (a scene) with my lover, who says if I’m not going to be more available to him, he’s going to move out and find someone who is.  Now there’s tension.


Perhaps in the next week or so I might post a scene for review… this is good stuff.

Ooooh, this really grabbed me…

Coincidentally, I found this article called “The Little Writer that Could – And Did”  

It’s a little long, but truly worthwhile of your time.  And can I just say, perfect for my second post ever on this blog?  Here’s an excerpt:

…”[writing] is nervous work.  The state you need to write in is the state that others are paying large sums to get rid of.”

 Let’s face it.  We sometimes “sit and stare at that blank sheet of paper until blood forms on our foreheads” or words on the page.  Sometimes all we get is blood.

 Some of us have found that bleeding words is easy when faced with the challenge of trying to share those words with a sometimes uncaring world.   It requires risking rejection from our critique partners, from editors, and if we manage to sell our work, then by reviewers, and finally by the toughest market of all: the reader.  Read more