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The Anatomy of a Scene

Lesson 2 of 7

What is a Scene


The Anatomy of a Scene

Lesson 2 of 7

What is a Scene


Lesson Info

What is a Scene

Let's dive into the first question. What is a scene? Because as I said a minute ago, there is no such thing as a one-off scene. You cannot learn to write a one-off scene in a story. But that doesn't mean that you can't learn to write a scene, and this is the problem. Writers often learn to write a stand-alone scene, not part of a story, but it can be a beautiful, moving, wonderful, beautifully written scene all by itself, stand-alone scene, all by itself, it is great, it is beautiful, you wrote it, your writing group loved it. Your mom loved it, your mom cried when she read it, and she never cries when she reads anything. So you think, oh my God, this one scene I wrote, this is so beautiful, this is so good, this is so moving, it can't go to waste. I'm gonna put it in my story. And here's the problem. You put it in your story, and since the story is a cause and effect trajectory from beginning to end, you know what's gonna happen when you put it in the story? It is gonna stop your stor...

y cold. And here's what happens to those beautiful scenes that you wrote as one-offs. You put them into that story long cause and effect trajectory, you've stopped the story. The reader doesn't think it's beautiful. The reader thinks it's annoying, because you've stopped the story. So what is a scene, then? What is a scene, actually? A scene is a unit of story. The story gives birth to the scene, not the other way around. It is the cause and effect trajectory in your story that will give birth to the scene, give meaning to the scene, give urgency to the scene. But I wanna take it a little bit further, because just knowing that a scene is a unit of story can lead, sometimes, writers to think, okay, I got it, then, I hear what you're saying. I've heard people say that every scene needs to move the story forward. But the mistake they make is they think of the story as the plot, and they go okay, every scene needs to move the plot forward one step. So they start writing scenes, and every scene is I'm gonna meet this plot point and that plot point and that plot point and that plot point. And that, my friends, is how you end up with a bunch of things that happen. Because the truth is, as we are about to discuss, story is not about the plot. So if you write scenes and it's just plot point, plot point, plot point, plot point, what ends up happening is, is you've come, and writers will do this, I'm going to plot out my story. So they get this definite, external objective, cause and effect trajectory, and they drop characters into it, and then the goal of your characters is to make those plot points happen as quickly as possible, almost always. And what ends up happening is either they stay completely generic because their sole goal is to move the plot points forward, or more likely, they're going to make as little sense as the plot will end up making, because how do you know that a person who will make this plot point happen over here is actually, therefore, going to do the thing that they need to do to make that plot point happen there. So everything starts to not make sense, and that is how you end up with, again, say it with me, a bunch of things that happen.

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.

Joni Templeton

Another master class from Lisa Cron!