Notes on Event and Meaning in Scenes

In early 2009 I was taking a graduate workshop in fiction from the online MFA program at National University in La Jolla, California. One of the books I needed for that course was “Writers Workshop in a Book: The Squaw Valley Community of Writers on the Art of Fiction” edited by Alan Cheuse and Lisa Alvarez. The essays in this collection include topics ranging from writing a historical novel to sense of place and point of view. Authors include Amy Tan, Michael Chabon, and Sandra Scofield among others.

I’ve been re-reading this book lately (it’s so helpful), and took some notes from one of my favorite essays, ” Event and Meaning in the Scene” by Sandra Scofield. Writing enough relevant “event” into a scene is something that I struggle with now and then, so when re-reading this essay, I did some highlighting and took some notes. I’d like to share some of those with you here.

  • Scenes lay the groundwork for something that has already happened or something that will happen. The story is always moved along by each scene and it’s impact is an emotional one for readers.
  • Regarding event, Scofield says, “Event does not have to be huge, but it does have to be important enough to merit the attention of the scene … Keep in mind that ‘event’ is the sum of the scene’s actions, which can be spelled out in steps or ‘beats’. This happens, then this happens; it all adds up at a crucial turnpoint.”
  • One of the biggest things to remember is that at the end of a scene, readers should not feel like they are back at square one. Scenes and the events in them need to move the story forward.
  • Movement and meaning within scenes is what makes readers keep reading.
  • To make movement and meaning stand out in your scenes, Scofield says, “Start by closely reading scenes in stories and novels you admire. Choose scenes that stand out in the narrative with an identifiable structure of beginning, middle, and end … Identify the occasion for the story (why are these characters in place doing these things?), the event of the scene, and the consequence of the event, with its emotional reverberations.”

[Were these notes helpful? How do you make sure to include enough event/meaning in your writing? Share your methods in the comments!]

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