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The Anatomy of a Scene

Lesson 1 of 7

Class Introduction


The Anatomy of a Scene

Lesson 1 of 7

Class Introduction


Lesson Info

Class Introduction

Welcome to Creative Live. My name is Lisa Cron, and this is Anatomy of a Scene. And I know what you might be thinking. You might be thinking, wait a minute. We're writers; do we really need to talk about the anatomy of a scene? I mean, as writers we've read thousands of novels, and every single of them was broken into scenes. I mean, forget novels. We've watched, it feels like anyway, hundreds of thousands of hours of television and movies, and every single one of those hours was broken into scenes. I mean, at the end of the day, we've all seen a gazillion scenes. When you think back to the movies that you loved or the TV shows that you loved, you tend to remember them based on that one scene that really got to you, you know, or that one iconic scene that you can never forget. Like for instance in The Wizard of Oz, remember that one iconic scene? Like, who could forget the scene? It's toward the end of the movie, and the Witch has Dorothy. Like, she's cornered in the castle, and there'...

s the Tin Man and the Cowardly Lion and the Scarecrow, and she says, the Witch says, "hey, Scarecrow, wanna play with fire?" And she throws this ball of fire at the Scarecrow. And he was made of hay, so his arm goes up in flames. And Dorothy turns, and she grabs, and I just have to stop there for one second. Did you ever wonder about that? She doesn't even look. She just turns, and there's that full bucket of water right there. Was that just a little bit too convenient? Or maybe if we dig deeper, maybe it was those flying monkeys. I don't think they liked the Witch all that much. Anyway, okay, forget it. So Dorothy reaches over and very fluidly grabs that very full bucket of water without even looking and throws it onto the fire, puts the fire out, and of course it cascades onto the Witch. And you know that scene as Margaret Hamilton, her face is green and she's going, "I'm melting." It's like, who could forget that? Or maybe it's a novel that you remember. It was a novel that you really loved, and there was that one scene toward the end where the protagonist, you didn't think she could deal with what was happening. She didn't think she could deal with it, but she dug deep, and she was able to transform everything. And who knows, maybe that even transformed how you see something in your life. Or maybe, maybe you're a horror aficionado, and you have read every book by Stephen King, and the only one you wish you had never read is It, 'cause it's got that clown, you know, Pennywise the clown, the clown that's standing there in the gutter. And ever since you read that book, you've been thinking, "oh, my god, "please tonight when I go to sleep, "please don't let me have that dream again "where I'm pouring tea and out comes Pennywise, please." But you know what the truth is. If you could find a way to unread that book, you'd last about five minutes before you'd go, "oh, my god, there's a Stephen King I haven't read. "I'm gonna read that," and you'd read it again for the pleasure of reading it for the first time. The point is we have read thousands of scenes that have riveted us, and sometimes that's what makes us want to be writers. We want to turn around and be able to write the same kind of scene, so we can rivet others. But the question is, why exactly did those scenes rivet you? What was it about them that really got to you? And that is why we really need to talk about scenes, because chances are what you think riveted you wasn't what riveted you. So we need to talk about the anatomy of a scene, and it's why, you know, there are lots of classes, as you probably know, on the anatomy of a scene or how to write a scene, or books on how to write, you know, dramatic scenes. But here's the problem with that. There is an implicit assumption in that notion that we need to bust right out of the starting gate before we can even dive into the notion of how to write a scene. And that is the notion that you can learn how to write "a scene," that there is such a thing as a standalone scene, as a scene that is a one-off. And if you learn the mechanics of scene writing so that you can write a really moving scene, well, then all you need to do is to then write a bunch of scenes and then somehow you will have a story. And here is the thing, there is no such thing as a one-off scene when it comes to writing stories. And yet it's often taught that way. There's even a method; You may have heard of it. It's called the "index card" method. Have you ever heard of that method? The index card method is like, you get the idea of what your story is, and then you write every scene down on an index card, and then you move the index cards around until you have a story. Story is cause-and-effect trajectory. Guess what? If you can move the index cards around, you don't have a story. If you can move the index cards around at will, do you know what you have? A bunch of things that happen. And I don't say this lightly. I see this all the time. And I have spent my career working with writers and story and writing for more decades, frankly, than I am willing to admit to being alive. And in that time, I can't tell you how many manuscripts I've read where if you asked me what's it about, I'd say it's about 300 pages. I have no idea. It's just a bunch of things that happen. And yet that happens all the time. I'll never forget, really sad story, I was recently guesting in a class in a university in Pennsylvania, and we were going around the room, and each writer was talking about, you know, what they were working on and where they were in the process. And you know, most of them were working on short stories or memoir pieces or personal essays or poems. And this one woman, I can still see her face in my mind, because she was beaming. And she said, "I'm writing a novel. "And in fact, I'm almost done with that novel. "I've written almost all the scenes. "Now I just have to figure out what order to put them in." And I was thinking, you ever have that where you're thinking, face, please don't betray me, like, don't let her know what I'm thinking, 'cause I'm thinking, oh, my god, you poor thing. All you're gonna have is a bunch of things that happen. So that that doesn't happen to you, here's what we're going to do in this course. First, we're going to talk about what then is a scene. If there's no such thing as a one-off scene, what is a scene exactly? What is it that gives the scene, the scenes that you have loved or any scene, the power to rivet us? And the answer is, of course, as we'll discuss, is the story itself. So once we've talked about what a scene actually is, we're going to then go in to go, okay, then what is a story? And then we will talk about the layers in every scene. Once we've done that, I'm going to give you 10 questions that you can ask of every scene you write so that you are sure that that scene does what it needs to do in order to have the power to rivet your readers. But once we've done that, that's all theory. And I can see you thinking right now, like, "oh, my gosh, first you're gonna explain to us "what all this stuff is. "Then you're gonna give us these questions to ask. "Are we supposed to hold those questions "in our head when we're writing? "How can I hold the questions when I'm writing? "And I think that's gonna give ma headache. "And I'm gonna go to the kitchen to get a snack. "And then I will come back, "and I will continue writing, "oh, I don't know, a week from never." I do not want that to happen to you, so once we've done that, I want to leave you with a template that you can use to concretize every scene you write before you write it. So this is for you in the story that you are writing, the novel, the memoir that you are writing. You will be able to adapt this to what you're doing, so that you can be sure that every scene you write is actually a part, a living, breathing part of the story that you're writing.

Class Description

Although your novel is made up of individual scenes, in truth those scenes are not individual at all, but part of an escalating internal and external cause-and-effect trajectory. Each scene is made up of myriad layers, and performs multiple tasks: they move subplots forward, give the reader insight into the protagonist, develop secondary characters, ratchet up what’s at stake, foreshadow what’s to come, and trigger changes that will ripple throughout the novel.

Wow, that’s a lot! How do you keep track of it? And how do you get it onto the page so that all those layers merge to create what reads as a seamless whole? That’s exactly what we’ll unravel, giving you a clear, concise and concrete method of making sure that every scene you write not only serves the story you’re telling, but rivets the reader.

Never again will you face that frustrating struggle, wondering if the scene you’re contemplating is relevant or not. You’ll learn how to identify and create each layer in every scene, bringing your story to life and creating the irresistible sense of reality that hijacks the reader’s brain.

In this session you’ll learn:

  • What makes a scene work, and what every scene must do in order to be relevant and riveting.
  • Maddeningly common mistakes writers make when writing scenes and how to deftly avoid them.
  • How to keep track of every layer in your story – scene-by-scene -- from beginning to end.
  • Why you should never write scenes out of order.


Emily Brady

I love Lisa's book, Story Genius, and this course helped me to get a more solid handle on how the individual scenes are part of a greater whole that give them meaning. Great class!

Jerusha Billington Gray

Great storytellers are not born - they are made. The story wizard Lisa Cron helped to peel back some of the mystery behind what makes a scene work and pinpoints pitfalls that make it fall flat on its face. The magic formula of epic badassery is ours for the taking. Lisa helps us get there. 10 out of 10 - will listen again.

Jennifer Baylor

I've read Lisa's books and used her Story Genius techniques for three novels. Still, sometimes I find myself struggling with some aspect of the scene card when it comes to implementation. This class on the Anatomy of a Scene really helps to clarify the scene card ideas with more explanation and detailed examples.