Creating Scenes
Fiction Writer’s Workshop
Josip Novakovich
To construct a scene:
Conflict: a scene has a plot of its own that
relates to the overall plot
Characters are fleshed out, seen
Geography exists
At least one in a short story—fully realized
Event: who, what, where, when, how, why
Continuous: must flow like music and be
Minor scenes and summary—lead to one
major scene
Example: “Every Sunday morning she
walked to the Unitarian Church. As she
walked, she would spit at the hedges.”
The summary takes care of many small
scenes, although there can be exceptions
in which you come close to a real scene
Exceptions (John Cheever’s “O
Youth and Beauty”
“Then if the host had a revolver, he would be
asked to produce it. Cash would take off his
shoes and assume a starting crouch behind a
sofa. Trace would fire the weapon out of an open
window, and if you were new to the community
and had not understood what the preparations
were about, you would then realize that you were
watching a hurdle race. Over the sofa went
Cash, over the tables, over the fire screen and
the wood box. It was not exactly a race, since
Cash ran it alone, but it was extraordinary to see
this man of forty surmount so many obstacles so
gracefully.” In the end, Cash’s wife kills him with
a gun in a developed scene.
A Miracle
• Think of your scene like a miracle.
• Developed scene is not a usual
event; it happens only once.
• If it is a habit or happens many
times, it is a custom.
• Culminating point of your story must
be laid out as a scene or several
Goal (end of story)
Summarize auxiliary action, (the girl
habitually spitting in the hedge) BUT
Dramatize key moments
Include specifics of character
Nonverbal Behavior
 Brisk, erect walk
 Standing with hands on
 Sitting with legs crossed,
foot kicking
 Sitting, legs apart
 Arms crossed on chest
 Walking with hands in
pockets, shoulders
 Confidence
 Readiness, aggression
 Boredom
 Open, relaxed
 Defensiveness
 Dejection
 Hand to cheek
 Touching, slightly
rubbing nose
 Rubbing the eye
 Hands clasped behind
 Rubbing hands
 Sitting with hands
clasped behind head,
legs crossed
 Evaluation, thinking
 Rejection, doubt, lying
 Doubt, disbelief
 Anger, frustration,
 Anticipation
 Confidence, superiority
Slow Down Action
• Slow down even quick action
• To do so, concentrate on the sensory
• Wooden floors, bucket of water in the
kitchen, down cover
• stamping, cold hands, creaking throat
bulging eyes
• Wants more honey cakes (even though
he’s scared)
• Whatever conflict evolves will culminate in a
• Character clashes with obstacle (person or
• Tension builds leading to scene
• A boy has seen his father killed by German
soldiers; a soldier arrives when boy is sick: puts
something in glass and it tastes bitter—the boy
thinks he’s poisoned and we know this, even
though he doesn’t say so, by his actions.
• The character must want or fear
something that might happen during this
• When the action of the scene occurs, we
are immersed in the action.
Gabriel Garcia Marquez One Hundred
Years of Solitude
“Jose Arcadio’s companion asked them to leave
them alone, and the couple lay down on the
ground, close to the bed. The passion of the
others woke up Jose Aracadio’s fervor. On the
first contact, the bones of the girl seemed to
become disjointed with a disorderly crunch like
the sound of a box of dominoes, and her skin
broke out into a pale sweat and her eyes filled
with tears as her whole body exhaled a
lugubrious lament and a vague smell of mud.
But she bore the impact with a firmness of
character and a bravery that were
admirable. Jose Arcadio felt himself lifted
up into the air toward a state of seraphic
inspiration, where his heart burst forth
with an outpouring of tender obscenities
that entered the girl through her ears and
came out of her mouth translated into her
The scene (an evaluation)
• Engages our sensory imagination (hearing,
touch, sight, smell, even balance)
• Uses metaphors (“seraphic inspiration”)
• In writing this erotic scene, the beauty of
the language in creating vivid imagery
creates an aesthetically strong experience.
• Has no dialogue, although talk is implied
• This kind of scene could lead to the fully
developed scene that usually
contains dialogue.
The Big Scene
Once you know your characters and their
conflicts, you can enter the big scene.
 Stephen Crane’s “The Blue Hotel.”
 A paranoid Swede expects snowy Nebraska to
be the wild West where everybody cheats at
cards; he trembles with fear that someone will
kill him, thinks he sees people cheat at cards,
gets into a fist fight with an innkeeper’s son,
wins and then becomes cocky at another bar.
Just when he celebrates his being a tough guy,
This is what happens. He insists that a gambler
drink with him, but he refuses.
The Swede drags the gambler from his
chair, “’What! You won’t drink with me,
you little dude….There [is] a great tumult,
and then [is] seen a long blade in the
hand of the gambler. It [shoots] forward,
and a human body, this citadel of virtue,
wisdom, power, [is] pierced as easily as if
it had been a melon. The Swede [falls]
with a cry of supreme astonishment.” The
scene goes on.
Elements of storytelling in the Big
Action: the Swede grasps the gambler
Body language: “He [stalks] over to the table…”
Vivid similes and metaphors: “pierced as easily
as if it had been a melon.”
Steady POV (objective): “and then was seen a
long blade.” Theatrical POV But don’t be lured
into using passive voice such as you see here.
Note that the objective narrator is not
consistent. When the narrator comments,
the “human body, this citadel of virtue,
wisdom, power…” he is intruding, making
a judgment about the Swede that would
be inappropriate to a pure theatrical
narration. It works here because the
narrator has been so well established.
Summary scenes
 Minor scenes
 Silent scenes
lead up to
 Remember, all rules can be broken; this
pattern can be reversed and work well.

Creating Scenes - Collin College