How Long Should a Scene Be?

by Joe Bunting | 44 comments

Act 2 Scene 1

Photo by Roujo

I recently read a novel that bugged me. It took me about a hundred pages to realize why.

Many of the scenes were no longer than a few paragraphs. They felt rushed and not fully imagined by the author. Worse, most of the shortest scenes were flashbacks, adding to the jumpy, disconnected feel of the story.

How long should scenes be in a novel or memoir? Is there such thing as a scene that's too short?

Three Best Practices for Scene Length

First, a disclaimer. I'm not an expert in this subject. If you know good guidelines for the lengths of scenes, I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

However, in my own reading and editing work, I've come across enough scenes to know a good and bad one when I see it. Here are three suggestions about scene length:

1. Scene Length Depends on the Genre

I'm being a bit too hard on the novel I described in the introduction of this post. It's a mass market, genre novel—a fairly good one—and what's appropriate for a genre novel isn't appropriate for, say, a small press, literary novel. The reality is that short, staccato scenes are more acceptable in faced paced thrillers or sports lit, where longer, perfectly realized scenes might bore the reader.

As you consider scene lengths for your story, ask yourself where you fit on the mass market to literary spectrum. The further toward mass market you get, the shorter your scenes can be, and vice versa.

2. 750 Words is a Good Baseline for Most Scenes

I like to think of a scene as one story, albeit a brief one that might not make sense if separated from the other stories surrounding it. This is helpful, though, because it avoids abstraction. We are storytellers writing one scene-story at a time.

With that in mind, a good length to shoot for in your scenes is the length of a newspaper story, about 750 words. You can go a little longer or shorter, but 750 words should be enough to tell a fully formed story.

3. Short Scene, Long Scene, Short Scene

If you do have shorter scenes, set them next to longer scenes. If you have longer scenes, place shorter scenes between them. This smooths out the flow of your story, keeping it from feeling choppy.

If Your Scene Is Too Short

If your story has short scene after short scene, it's a sign you're probably not going deep enough. Instead, simplify your story, merging several shorter scenes into one longer scene.

Another reason your scenes might be too short is because you're telling and not showing. Adding more description can pace your story and draw out depth and meaning. Too much description will bore your readers, but too little will leave them feeling like something's missing.

The best way to add interesting description to your story, to show more and tell less, is to be more specific.

What do you think? What is the best length for a scene?

PRACTICE

Write a 750 word scene. Remember, just try to tell a fully realized story in 750 words.

Post your story in the comments section. And if you post, be sure to give feedback on a few practices by other writers.

Have fun!

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Joe Bunting is an author and the leader of The Write Practice community. He is also the author of the new book Crowdsourcing Paris, a real life adventure story set in France. It was a #1 New Release on Amazon. Follow him on Instagram (@jhbunting).

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44 Comments

  1. WriterMummy

    I found this encouraging because I’m writing a serialised daily novel on my blog and my scenes tend to be between 500 words and 1000 words, depending on how much energy I have on any given day. I have noticed that 500 is too short and 1000 is too long, so 750 would be perfect.

    Reply
    • Joe Bunting

      That’s exciting. I’d love to check out your serialization. What’s the url?

    • WriterMummy

      Thanks, Joe. My blog is http://writermummy.wordpress.com and there are free ebooks available to catch up on the 151 posts since January!

  2. Daveler

    I struggle with the length of scenes often during the writing process, which is why my stories end up way too long. I find the idea of using word count intriguing, though personally when I am dismayed at the size of a book’s/show’s scene, it has to do with the material in it. Often times it’s when the author has only one reason for having that scene there at all, gets that reason out, and then moves on. It feels right to the point.

    For instance, a scene might only be there to discuss the aftermath of the last events. (Protagonist peed on a cop. Cut to Protagonist is now in jail. Cut to now he’s out.) So then the issue is to add in a second or third reason for that scene’s existence. (While he’s in jail, he meets a character who lets him know his girlfriend is cheating on him.) And then this scene B should have an affect on scene C, i.e., change his reactions, tactics, or the audience now has new information which will alter their perception of the next events.
    But that’s a pretty fascinating concept. I probably will be counting words in scenes from now on because I’m curious if the average will be 750.

    Reply
  3. Giulia Esposito

    Joe, I think 750 sounds about right. I just used the word count feature on some of my scenes and 750 seems to be either where I end a scene or the scene shifts slightly like from one character’s point of view to another.

    Reply
    • Joe Bunting

      Well, I’m glad I got it right. At least for your novels. 🙂

    • Giulia Esposito

      Read some of the other comments. Food for thought. Thanks for that!

  4. AlexBrantham

    I’m not sure about the ideal length for a scene: if there is one, it must (as you say) depend on genre. I do know that in the first draft of my work-in-progress, I found that without any intention on my part all of my scenes were coming out pretty much the same length (about 1200 words). The unchanging scene length set a rhythm that was hard to escape, and I think made the whole thing a bit soporific.

    In my current draft I’ve made an effort to vary the scene lengths: there are a few really short ones (under 500 words) where something simple is happening, but most are longer and, most important, the length varies a lot. I think the average is around 900 words or so, which feels right for this piece.

    Reply
    • Joe Bunting

      That’s smart, Alex. As with sentence length, variety seems to be a good thing with scene lengths.

  5. Helen Earl

    The tendency toward short scenes may be influenced by too much TV! Watch a face-paced action piece, or even a musical performance, and you’ll notice that the camera angle changes on average every 3 seconds! Seriously. This is deliberate on the part of the program makers. These days we’re used to everything being ‘instant’. There can be a place for short sharp scenes in stories too – especially if you are bringing together three threads for example. Will the various characters achieve their goal and rendezvous in time? Switching rapidly between what is happening at different locations can lend a sense of urgency and sweep the reader along. But as pointed out in the article, not every scene should be like this. Sometimes you need to go deep; explore your characters thoughts and feelings; set the scene with some detailed description that makes the reader feel like they can see where the characters are. As a professor once said about essay writing, ‘If you have a big idea, write a big paragraph. If not, keep it short and to the point.’ Variety is the key imho.

    Reply
    • Giulia Esposito

      We also probably don’t notice subtle shifts in longer scenes as we are reading, but they are there I think.

    • Joe Bunting

      “If you have a big idea, write a big paragraph. If not, keep it short and to the point.”

      Great quote, Helen. Thank you!

    • Ann Stanley

      The length and depth of a scene and the length of sentences affects the amount of urgency the reader feels.

  6. Caleb Bronson

    Excellent. I recently finished reading through Victor Hugo’s novel “Les Miserables” (and not because of the musical!) and must say that he is no where near the 750 word ideal. He’s probably around the 2,000-2,500 ideal. Another factor to consider, beyond genre, might be culture and period. Excellent thoughts; they will inform my writing!

    Reply
    • Joe Bunting

      Good point. Those 18th and 19th century novelists sure knew how to go long, didn’t they! Charles Dickens has the same talent. 🙂

  7. Debbie Bennett

    What are you defining as a scene? A chapter? A piece set in a time/place? A passage from a point of view? “Scenes” as such are far more specific to script writing than novel writing surely? I write scenes that are a whole chapter (2-6k) and scenes that are half a line. Really short scenes build pace and tension at the climax of a novel, but I can’t imagine writing a novel in scenes of 750 words or even 2000 words – certainly not at the start. The genre and overall story arc determine the pace which in turn determines the scene length.

    Reply
    • oddznns

      Hi Debbie, here’s a breakdown of a chapter Joe edited for me.
      It uses the long-short-alternation.
      The long Scene 2 connects to the ending Scene 8.
      The key “transition” scene 3 is actually extremely short.
      So – the conclusion is whatever it takes!
      ___________
      This is about an 8000 word chapter about the protagonist returning to a devastated homeland. Scene 1 (Short) – He lands at the airport, is met by a fixer he decides not to like, drives through a devastated city. Scene 2 (Long) – Flashback to a walk through the city with his mentor, both of them full of hope. Scene 3 (Turning point scene but very short 4 paragraphs) – Arrives at hotel and breaks down, full of regret about his contribution to the wasteland he’s just driven through. Resolution to eschew guilt. Scene 5 (Long) – In hotel room recollects his love affair with another spy. Scene 7 (Short) – Back to the present and arrange the business schedule for the next day with his fixer. Scene 8 (Medium) – He goes to visit his mentor and is welcomed like a son.
      So …

    • Joe Bunting

      Yep. Scene 3 was my favorite, too.

    • Debbie Bennett

      So do these scenes separate by a line break? Or are you just defining them by location/time/action? I’m just curious as this is something I’ve never thought about before. I had huge problem when I tried scriptwriting as I couldn’t identify the actual scenes, but I’ve never tried to identify them in my fiction. They either work or they don’t and sometimes knowing why they don’t work is a much faster way of fixing them! Thanks for this – I’ve found it really useful!

    • oddznns

      Hi Debbie
      According to the writing books it’s like this.
      End of Paragraph – one line break – a flash sign or line of asterisks “#” or “*****” – another line break – Start of New Paragraph
      Have fun!

    • Debbie Bennett

      Yep – I’d agree with that. Which is why 750 words totally threw me. But it’s certainly something to think about – I guess I just do it automatically! I think what’s worse is when a scene ends in reality way before the author finishes writing it and the rest is just fluff.

    • Joe Bunting

      That’s an important question, and it’s not something I’m sure I can define right now. I’m just thinking out loud here, but certainly in screen and playwriting a scene is on location at one time period.

      Novels don’t have to be that rigid (although, in certain cases it might be better if they were). In this case, the scenes were broken up by flashbacks, by shifts in POV and corresponding line breaks, and by major setting/time changes. So it was pretty clear.

      Are all novels so clear? Of course not. Maybe this is where the idea of a story is more helpful. Novels are stories made up of much smaller stories. Each story-scene has a beginning, a middle, and an end, and 750 words is as good a baseline as any to tell a story. If you’re Philip Roth, clearly that wouldn’t work, but for most of us, it’s not a bad place to start (and no, that doesn’t mean it’s where we’ll finish).

  8. Karen Carroll

    It had been so long since I had seen him, but I could still remember the exact color of his blue bell eyes and that cheeky grin that lit up his face when he
    laughed. Or always for that matter. His teeth were a blinding white compared to
    the color of his tanned skin. His hair fluttered in his eyes and he tossed his head to the side every few minutes, swishing it from his forehead. It was
    cold outside, but I stood in the graveyard with my friend Chelsea as we waited
    for him to come up from his house. The leaves fell in lovely colorful patterns around us. The wind pinched our pink cheeks. Down the road, I could see a bike coming up the long hill. It was him. I felt my heart try to leap out of my throat
    and caught it with a swallow.

    It felt like a million years before he finally made it to the top of the hill where we
    stood. Chelsea’s brother was there with us too, also waiting to see his long lost friend. Max had gone to live with his father for a while, but had finally come back to see his grandmother and sister and her baby who all lived in the same house just down the road. I had met Max when he had
    lived there too. I was too young to ask questions like where were his parents, why did he live with his grandmother, who was his sister’s baby’s father or why did he love to wrestle so much. Instead I waited for him to look at me so I
    could see those beautiful eyes. He ran his bike directly into my legs before screeching to a halt, almost knocking me over. I thought he was flirting. Now I know otherwise.

    We were only thirteen and he was my first and only love. I had met him one year ago for only a week, but that was all the proof I needed of our eternity. I lived almost a thousand miles away down the country, but I knew nothing could keep us apart. I didn’t tell my parents who he was, and every time he called they thought he was a girl since his voice hadn’t had a chance to deepen yet. He told me he didn’t want me to be his girlfriend three months later, but I had faith and today was the first time I had seen him since. He was still as handsome as I remembered him. He grinned at me and my heart ached.

    We went for a walk, Chelsea, her brother, Max and I. We were quickly joined by his little sister, Eva.
    “Are you going to marry Max?” she had asked me.

    “I hope so,” I had said, as Max was stabbing the trees with a knife that he had pulled from his pocket. He laughed with Chelsea’s brother and ran
    off from us, jumping across the creek and skidding in the fall leaves that had
    rotted from their trees. The sunlight shined through their limbs that intertwined above us creating fingers of light that touched our faces and the floor of the woods. It was the perfect day. The day before I knew anything of broken
    families or sadness or abuse or theft.

    “Do you want to be my boyfriend again?” I had asked him at the end of the day.

    “Sure,” he said with his cheeky grin. My heart soared farther than the thousands of miles we would be apart. I knew he was worth it. I knew he was the only one I would ever love.

    Sometimes I’m able to remember that day when I put a cool cloth to my face to take out the swelling. Some days I look at pictures of his young face to erase the imprint of his mug shot on my mind. I can still remember the way my heart pumped back then even though now I barely feel it. “Who could ever love someone so cold?” my mother scolded me once in her frustration with Max. But I remember the boy who wasn’t so cold, on that brisk autumn day, as the sun danced through the branches, and the leaves crunched underneath us.

    Reply
  9. Elise White

    This was kind of hard for me! Here it is…

    Ainsley stood near the punch bowl table as if it were her safe
    haven, far enough away from the crowd of dancing young people on the other side of the room. It was her cousin, Diana’s wedding reception, and since they were not only cousins, but best friends she knew that she was doing Diana a great wrong by not joining in the dancing on her big night.

    She’d done her duty, though, hadn’t she? She’d danced the first dances that they’d rehearsed. Now, it was just the fast, fun dances, like “The Wobble”. It just wasn’t her thing.

    “Why aren’t you dancing, sweetie?” her aunt Deb asked.

    “I’m just tired.” She said. “I’m resting.”

    Aunt Deb gave her a withering look of disapproval but did not question her further. She didn’t know how Jessica could love Ainsley so much. Ainsley was such a stubborn girl sometimes.

    After her Aunt Deb left, Ainsley tried to smile brightly as if that would be a way of making amends for her lack of frivolity. Her smile was meant for her cousin and friends, so that they would not feel badly for her, standing alone, far away from the excitement.

    Jamison Brooks was the younger brother of Diana’s new husband, Liam. He did not have Liam’s stature, or charisma, but was short, with soft features, and buzzed hair.

    He took part in some of the dancing, but like Ainsley, hung
    at the fringes after deciding that dancing was not quite his favorite pastime
    in the world. Then, he found himself seeking out Ainsley’s face in the room,
    and felt his heart warmed by the glow of her smile.

    Ainsley had not realized Jamison was near her until he spoke from her side.

    “They are a good match, aren’t they?” he asked.

    Some what startled by his closeness, Ainsley replied, “Who?”

    “Your cousin and my brother, silly!” He playfully jabbed her arm.

    “Oh, yeah. Yes. I’m sorry. I was a bit startled when you started speaking. I didn’t know you were here.”

    Jamison smiled and took the opportunity to gaze at her face from a closer vantage point.

    The room was dim except for candlelight at each dining
    table, and the string of lights that went around the perimeter of the room and
    the dance floor. In the soft light Jamison admired her delicate features, the
    tight reddish brown hair that peaked out of her white headscarf. And she was
    stunning in the red bridesmaid dress she wore. He didn’t think there was a more beautiful girl in the room.

    Ainsley didn’t know why Jamison had chosen to stand near her
    when there were plenty of people he knew better around. He was staring at her now. Maybe, now that they were related he wanted to be better acquainted. She decided she should make some conversation, so that Diana could not scold her later.

    “They are good for each other.” She said. “When I get
    married I want to be as happy. But, I would be fine with a small wedding. Maybe a garden wedding in the spring, when everything is just starting to bloom. With only me and the groom and our closest family and friends.”

    Jamison took mental notes and smiled as her light eyes gazed dreamily into space.

    “Are you talking about the garden near your home? Your home
    in Lennox?”

    The wedding was held in Denver, where Ainsley’s Aunt and
    Diana stayed, as well as the Brooks family. Ainsley had been there for college
    until her graduation this past spring. She would be returning home for good and could not wait.

    Ainsley turned to him and smiled. “Yes. There is a beautiful
    botanical garden that my mom helped to design when I was a little girl. It is
    so huge and lush that you can get lost in it.” For a moment, speaking of her
    paradise, she forgot she’d been uncomfortable all night.

    “It sounds like a place out of a fairytale.” Jamison laughed.

    Ainsley shot him a stern glance and he immediately felt
    embarrassed. “Believe me, I am not exaggerating how beautiful it is. You would know that if you saw it.”

    “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean that I thought… Yes, I’d love to visit it.”

    Ainsley smiled and looked a bit excited. “Yes, you should come! You can see our house and we can give you a tour of Lennox, and the botanical garden I was telling you about.”

    Ainsley was happy to show a visitor her hometown, no matter who they were.

    Reply
    • John Fisher

      Good portrayals of the two characters Ainsley and Jamison. I admire Ainsley’s staying true to herself and her own sense of boundaries — even if others see her as “such a stubborn girl”. And Jamison, who shares her opinion of the dancing, makes admirable friendly efforts to get to know someone he finds attractive, not always knowing exactly what to say but accepting Ainsley on her own terms. Could be the start of a beautiful relationship, at the very least a friendship! Good expositions of the characters’ feelings behind the things they say.

    • Elise White

      Thanks for the kind feedback, John!

  10. R.w. Foster

    I hope this works.

    After an hour of role playing, and no battles, we had managed to ambush the boss of the area, a savage gold dragon. Unlike in Dungeons and Dragons, they weren’t aligned based on their colors. Anderson called for a recharge break. Mike and Stacy went into the living room, Meghan sat next to Lucas, talking quietly and Anderson scowled at them. I pushed a curtain aside to watch people walking by.

    The formerly sunshine filled day was gone. In its place, a nasty thunderstorm. Rain pounded the window, streaking the light from the street lamps. Lightning sheeted across the sky, drawing my attention upwards. Grey brume warred with blackish ones. Another flash of static electricity. An image flashed over the clouds in the afterglow of the fulmination. ‘I couldn’t have just seen a castle,’ I
    thought. ‘That’s crazy.’

    Yet the vision stayed with me: A towering black edifice with massive fortifications and intimidating crenellations. The walls seemed like razor sharp teeth. Dragons soared in the air around the thing and a horde of monsters spewed from the tremendous drawbridge.

    “Hey, Carter!” Anderson’s voice broke into my contemplation. “You gonna rejoin us, or no?”

    “Sure. I’ll be right over.”

    I turned, and another flash of lightning froze me in place. A tall man in buckskin fought with what could only be a demon with ebony skin, a pair of forward-growing horns above its glowing red eyes and short ones growing upward from its forehead. The two moved in a blur. They seemed evenly matched, but then, the human thrust a pure white sword into the chest of his opponent. The demon crumpled to the ground, and the image faded from view. I shook my head, and returned the table. I vowed to stay away from the Keebler cookies and Pepsi. ‘They’ve got me hallucinating,’ I thought as I sat.

    “What’s Drago gonna do?” Anderson asked.

    “Huh?”

    “Everyone else has decided to explore, or move. What is Drago going to do?”

    I mentally shook myself and lifted the miniature. The pewter figure felt red hot. I dropped it, and flapped my hand as pain bit into me. At the same time, I hissed in agony and cussed.

    “Are you okay, Carter?” Meghan asked, touching my shoulder. “Did you cut yourself?”

    “No,” I groaned. “This fucking thing is hot! Who’s the smartass?”

    Hurt turned to anger. I glared around the table, but everyone appeared to be concerned. Mike poked my figurine with the tip of his finger and looked back at me.

    “This is cool, Carter. You couldn’t have been burned.” He picked the little statue up. “See?”

    While I stared in surprise, Meghan pulled my fingers open. She gasped and Stacy said, “Ohmigod.”

    I glanced down. A nice outline of Drago’s features was seared into my flesh. I got up and hurried over to the sink. I ran cold water over the burn while the others whispered about what had happened. The stinging stopped and I held my hand up to the light. With the exception of the faint outline of Drago’s sword, the scald was gone.

    “Hey, Carter! Wake up, man. What’s Drago gonna do?”

    I blinked. I was seated next to Meghan and Stacy. Mike was next to his girlfriend and Lucas was on the other side of Meghan. Anderson stood with his hands on his hips, his eyes narrowed. I stared down at the battle grid. A Minotaur miniature was before Drago’s.

    “Kill him, of course.”

    “Roll for it.”

    As the others played, I switched my attention to trying to figure out what had happened. I surreptitiously glanced down at the palm of my hand, the outline of Drago’s sword still visible. However, it had the appearance of an old wound. ‘What the hell?’ I wondered as I refocused on the game.

    I wouldn’t find out for many years.

    Reply
    • Beth

      I want to know what it was! I hate being left hanging like this! In other words, marvelous job. 🙂

    • R.w. Foster

      Thank you. I’m glad you enjoyed it. It’s a scene from my upcoming novel, “Into the Realm: The Chronicles of Carter Blake, Book I.” It’s due later on this year.

    • John Fisher

      Agree with Beth, and I love the young-hangin’-out comraderie! The scene moves with a good quick pace.

    • R.w. Foster

      Thanks. I’m happy you enjoyed it.

    • taittems

      WOW! You got me hooked, I’d want more, great scene!

    • taittems

      Cool, I checked it out. read some, may read more. Get rid of the “to him” in the first line of the May 7 post if you haven’t already done so,

  11. John Fisher

    My practice reads more like a stand-alone story, and if I’ve got more than one scene here, y’all can let me know about it. However I wrote with the word count in mind and this came to 749 according to Mr. Computer.
    ******
    They had all taken leave of jobs and normal routines and part of their senses, coming together again while Mother painstakingly and quietly completed the process of dying. Having accumulated leave at work, he was off the job for these three months. When he’d taken the night shift, he’d lie in his brother’s old room staring into the dark. His dad, on a cot close by the hospital bed in the front bedroom, did the immediate chores and only needed help infrequently.

    When he had taken the day shift, he would buy a case of beer, go home and watch cartoons and laugh himself silly, and then to sleep.

    Later he would see his boss’s signature, the one he’d typed many a letter for, in the guest book and wonder, how did I miss him?

    The service over, he walked out of the sanctuary among his relatives in his one hateful suit, dark sunglasses firmly in place, caught sight of Alta from the office, gave her thumbs-up and a winking thrust of the bottom lip that amounted to a rather flirty grin; she responded with a quick stirring of her body and a thousand-watt smile topped by brimming eyes that just warmed his little cockles. Keep walkin’, lover-boy. Today of all days.

    They sat subdued — Dad, himself, big sister number one, big sister number two, brother, sister-in-law (and what was *she* doin’ in here?) — guilty, captive worshipers at the crumbling family altar (he kept checking, curiously, to see if he had on white gloves), in the hearse while Mother was gently loaded in the back. The others made muddy little murmurs of conversation among themselves.

    They rolled down the street and onto the interstate, all four security-service guys laying their motorcycles down across the other feed-in ramps for the procession to pass. Determined, he said, “Oh, look. This is what I need every weekday mornin’ about six-thirty.” His sister-in-law’s barroom guffaw issued from the other end of the seat, then was suddenly cut off, no doubt by a well-placed hand on her leg.

    The family dignity, picked up and brushed off and polished and set back carefully in place after each onslaught. Well, f*&k that, he told himself. I’m gonna be the same today as any other day. Mother understood. He really didn’t give a rat’s &ss if the others did or not. Sister-in-law was actually an unexpected ally today.

    The procession headed north along the highway choked down to two lanes, and sometimes one, by the construction ongoing to accommodate brand-new suburbia, the triumphant migrations of the professional classes occasioning more acres of McMansions, pristine gated communities, obliterating the barns and pastures he and his Grandpa had loved in his childhood. A sudden lump came to his throat. *Hell* with that, he scolded himself, and swallowed it.

    The driver was just telling Dad, “I don’t like this road . . .”, when he felt the limo brake pretty hard, slow to a crawl, stop briefly. Then the radio emitted some static and a few words, one of which might have been ” . . . down.” After a short wait, the hearse slowly resumed moving forward, and word got back to them in a minute or two — one of the motorcycle guys had been hit by an oncoming car.

    He felt all the sass and vinegar drain out of him, and the sweat dribbling down his sides turned cold. Good golly miss molly. That someone should be in harm’s way — Mother’s last ride, the dignity, the foolery, the humanity — for this. They would learn that the man’s injuries were not life-threatening.

    But at the entrance to the quaint country cemetery, now hemmed in closely by a new “township” and looking as out-of-place as himself at a Jaycees meeting — three rather than four motorcycle officers stood by their rides, giving a lofty extended-arm salute as the hearse rolled by. He managed to get the words “Oh, look . . .” out before his throat caught again. He caught the eyes of one of the men. He felt funny about putting his own hand into the air, so he just held the man’s eyes and simply nodded slowly and emphatically, hoping to convey all his thanks and respect. The man looked squarely back at him, ducking his head in a definite affirmative nod, never dropping his eyes as an observable tear ran from one of them. Message sent, message received.

    Reply
    • Winnie

      “While Mother painstakingly and quietly completed the process of dying” sets the whole tone of the story. The detailed description helps with the showing. While there were too many … and — for my liking, the scenes felt just right. The closing line puts the cap on a good story.

    • John Fisher

      You may have a valid point about the dashes and the elipses, which I think show the influence of my current reading of Henry Miller, that old madman. Thanks for reading!

  12. Beth

    This is a bit short. It’s only 549 ish words but I wanted to share it because it’s part of my WIP. 🙂

    What can I do? Desperation was beginning to take hold. She didnt know how to do anything! What on earth was she doing here? Ria shook her head. No. She would not think that way. She just needed help. Digging around in her bag, Ria located the small purple stone that had saved them before. She glanced up and saw that the wolves were beginning to get closer. Torturing their captives. The air was tense. Ria knew there was not much that could help them if this stone could not. Ria looked at it again. Smaller than her palm , glistening and shiny. It was beautiful. Ria kissed it gently and tossed it in the air. It hovered for a second. Nothing happened. Even the wolves were distracted by it. It’s natural light was growing brighter and brighter by the second. Without warning, the light shut off. The stone wobbled, then fell back into Ria’s hand. Lifeless. 
    Raknar the wolf snarled. He seemed to be making a sound that Ria assumed would be laughing. 
    “Shut up.” She mumbled. The laughing grew louder. Now all the wolves were making the same sound. It was so very strange in the throats of animals. It became unnerving to listen to. 
    Ria had nothing left. No more magic potions. She put down the stone and drew her dagger. 
    “Might as well die with honor.” She said, glancing at Sandor. He looked back at her. His eyes were full of pain but in a moment, the pain was replaced by determination. He nodded to her. 
    “I say, today let’s live.” 
    Ria smiled without humor. “Let’s.” she replied. Sandor turned to Raknar, yelled, and jumped at the beast. His blade met the flesh of his leg. The wolf let out a pitiful howl. Ria turned to the three near her. Swallowing nervously, she got into a ready position. Now or never. She thought. She lept at the nearest beast and slashed his oncoming paw. Without waiting for a pause, she stepped even closer and sunk her dagger deep into it’s chest. The beast howled with surprise before falling to the ground and slowly melting back to human form. Ria stepped back in surprise. She hadn’t expected that! Before she had time to think about it, another beast lept at her. Having no time time to think, Ria dove to the side and slashed upward. It grazed the skin. The wolf snarled at her. It had her cornered. There was nothing she could do now. This has happened before. Ria thought ruefully.  Why can’t I do better? 
    The wolf opened it’s mouth and bit down on Ria’s arm. It picked her up and shook  her before throwing her body across the clearing. Ria’s mind went white with the pain. She could not even gather the wits to scream. She was vaguely aware of making a whimpering sound too faint to hear. Nothing but pain. She barely noticed when she hit the ground. Or when the wolf came back to her, sniffing her as though imagining how good she would taste. But she snapped back awake when she heard an all too faniliar voice cut through the pain. 
    “Did ya miss me?” Cooper thrust his sword through the wolf’s chest and used it to hurl the body a feet feet away. Ria blinked. Cooper was here. Blinked again. Her mind was hazy. I’m going to pass out. She thought. And I’m so glad too. Darkness. 

    Reply
  13. The Striped Sweater

    This is something I’m just starting to think about as a new writer. I have noticed that I tend to slap labels on things and call it good rather than really getting into a full description of what’s going on. I’m looking forward to getting better at this.

    Reply
  14. Winnie

    This was quite a challenge. Writing a story in 750 words is one thing, but writing a story in one scene of 750 words is another. I find I always bring in too much backstory, which distracts from the flow. Here’s my effort.

    “So. Europe, the Middle East, the Far East? Where are you heading?” Vic plonked himself next to Jerry.
    Jerry had just finished a short teaching course he’d fitted in evenings
    in his final year. Surrounded by packed suitcases the two sat in the studio
    apartment they shared. Saying goodbye was always awkward.
    “Back to school.”
    “What? And share the same staff room as Old Cold Well?” Vic shook his head and downed a swig of beer. Picking up a handful of peanuts he threw one in the air and caught it in his mouth.
    “Don’t you believe me?”
    Vic stopped chewing. “What about the career in a multi-national company you always dreamt about?”
    “You mean, moving straight into middle management then working my way up the corporate ladder, and marrying and raising a family on the way?”
    “Don’t forget the comfortable retirement at the end in a gated luxury estate next
    to the sea.”
    It was Vic that had put him onto the course he’d just completed. A year ago after exam results had been posted up in the University Grand Hall they’d gone off with other jubilant students to celebrate in the canteen
    This course was a chance to see the world, his friend had explained over
    the first round . And who didn’t want to explore what lay beyond his own boundaries?
    ‘Teaching English to Foreigners’ was a breeze for an English major. But for the practical classroom sessions Jerry would otherwise have lost interest and reverted to spending evenings chatting with his buddies.
    The Saturdays in front of a class were a new experience. The first session was a nightmare. The sea of blank faces staring back at him was so unnerving he’d raced through his lesson plan. Luckily he wasn’t marked for his first foray into teaching.
    Over the following sessions he felt a growing empathy with his students. From diverse backgrounds and cultures, they drew him out of himself as he
    explained how to open a bank account, buy a concert ticket, and shop for
    groceries. In English.
    “It’s like that, is it?”.Vic’s voice carried a trace of disappointment.
    “Que sera, sera, my grandmother always sang.” Whatever will be, will be;
    Jerry hummed the words to himself.
    “Do you really say what I thought I heard?”
    Jerry nodded. “It’s my calling.”
    Vic leaned across and shook his hand. “Best of luck. I’m still deciding
    what to do with the rest of my life.”
    You mean, what’s left of it. Jerry smiled wryly; after spending thirteen
    years studying and preparing to become something, Vic was still undecided what it was he wanted to be.
    Jerry never had to think about it. Teaching had been in his blood. The
    time in the classroom had opened a door he otherwise would never have tried.
    He remembered the graduation ball, and a certain handshake. From Mr.
    Caldwell. Old Cold Well got his name for his indifference to their excuses.
    The greying old man had taken everyone’s hand in a firm grip. “Best of luck. Remember what I always said.” By then they’d forgotten everything he ever uttered, consigning his words to the furthest recesses of memory.
    Jerry’s mind then was also fixed on what lay ahead. Ten years had
    seemed too long to spend learning facts he’d never use again. Vic had told him
    that’s what the professors said when he first stepped into a lecture room: “Forget all you learnt in school.”
    Being called Mister by the lecturers, choosing your own time when to
    study – that had also appealed to Jerry. So much so it almost cancelled the
    years he considered wasted sitting on a school bench.
    Vic could say what he liked, but that old man lived his profession.
    Now, what was it again he was always saying?

    Reply
  15. Deep

    This is my first post: I may have overshot the limit, but I think it holds together all right as a single, introductory scene.Let me know what you think 😛

    Togarn Smoke-Walker woke quietly, as he always did. The
    other clan members were still sleeping : Togarn woke up sooner always. Although
    he could not see them, he knew his his eighteen surviving brothers and sisters
    had woken up as well: It was the hour of last hour of Da’dem Rauth, the war-god
    of the night. Tag lay silently on his back, listening for any signs of
    distress. He could not hear any.

    The herd of Small-Brown-Creatures-Who-Could-Not-Run, or
    “humans” as the War chief called them, were camping nearby their spot. They of
    course could not see them, or hear them, or indeed feel them, as Demeters could naturally. Taguro had pitied them and
    wondered what their lives must be like, trapped inside small stone prisons. He
    had wondered often why they did that to themselves. He had often wondered what
    they ate, that they were so small.

    Now he only hated them.

    Tagaru tried to go back to sleep again, but it was impossible.
    So Togarn got up and walked up to the edge of the circle where the last
    Demeters were sleeping. There were no guards, because Demeters needed none. The
    Ancient Spirits watched over them. All five hundred Demetrii would wake
    together and would be ready to fight any danger in a matter of a few minutes. It
    was a gift of nature: Demetrii could never be ambushed or otherwise be taken by
    surprise. They were the Chosen Guardians of the Forest of this Age, just as the
    mighty Oden had been before them.The spirits always chose well.

    A few warriors of clan Rockfoot stirred as he passed, but
    none woke. None of them would wake till their chief, Drogon Iron-Arm did. And
    Drogon was the War-chief now, so of course he would not wake till well into
    mid-day. Demtrii derived their strength from their ancestors, the holy priests
    said. Sleeping was actually the process of transporting oneself to the spirit
    world, where the Great Spirits would speak of wisdom and strength. The longer
    you slept, the more strength one’s spirit would absorb.

    Togarn climbed a nearby tree and snapped off a relatively
    thinner branch and started chomping it down. His hunger was not quite what it
    used to be. Nothing was as it was before. They would have to choose a new clan-chieftain
    soon or risk becoming weak for lack of sleep. And being the son of the previous
    chieftain of clan Riverside, he was a natural choice. In fact, most of the
    remaining clan- members were already looking up to him for guidance. Especially
    the younger ones.

    Togarn snapped off another branch. He had never taken his
    Father seriously when he had told him to prepare for the Choosing. Togarn never figured he had a chance- he was only
    three-quarters as tall as his Father, who was of course the largest, being chieftain.
    There were many others who were much, much taller and accomplished than he was.

    Or had been, anyway. They were all dead now.

    He did not wish to lead his people. Not because he felt he
    could not do it, but because he felt he would do terrible things as Chieftain,
    things brought on by rage and bloodthirst. He did not know if the spirits
    wished this, but he knew he did, and he was afraid he would not be able to
    bring himself to listen to The Elder’s better judgement.

    Suddenly from the distance there came a loud, dull
    thumping.Togarn stiffened. These were human sounds.

    They were drawing closer. Togarn jumped off the tree and
    landed on the earth, making the ground shake. As he ran toward the circle, he
    saw humans come out of the trees. He instinctively knew they were not
    attacking, but he ran nonetheless. By the time he reached the circle, it was
    already a flurry of activity. Demetrii were rising, claws reaching for their axes
    and war-hammers even before they looked around. Others were already planting their
    flags and setting rally-points for their clans.

    In a matter of few minutes, the Demetrii were bunched up in
    twelve groups, facing the human approach. Twelve Clans. In the center was Clan
    Rockfoot, with Drogon Iron-Arm at the front, his face painted in red, as was
    the custom.

    Drogon was massive. Larger than even Togarn’s father by
    atleast two heads, he easily dwarfed any others that stood near him. In one
    hand he held Magdros’thiel, the War-Axe given to him by the Spirit Of Battle,
    Karlien, and in another hand he held a massive pole bearing the standard of
    Clan Rockfoot : two mighty war-axes crossed in combat.Drogon’s bodyguards
    lurked nearby but he needed none. At his side stood a giant mountain bear:
    Drogon had taken him as a pet, apparently.

    The humans were slow to approach, though there were not
    many. As far as Togarn could tell, there were only twenty or so- on the back of
    those absurd four- legged creatures. They stopped a good distance away,
    apparently waiting for them to meet them.

    Drogon stepped out of his clan and walked toward the humans,
    his bear alongside him.

    Togarn prayed to the Spirits to deliver Justice.

    Then he held his breath, and waited.

    Reply
    • James Hall

      Has some interesting material. Fantasy, awesome.

      I don’t want to seem over-critical, so up front i would like to say that I like the idea behind this scene. I also believe that this site, and the people on it, will benefit the most if all stories get read and critiqued, not just the ones that are great. Not to say that this one is in any way bad or not up to standard, or any of that.

      I may not be the best or even the most accurate critique, but I’ll take a bash at it.

      Up until you said Demeters as a race, I thought were talking about Indians. Not really important probably.

      Sounds pretty fantasy-like… I like fantasy. I read D&D monster manuals for fun. I don’t know what a Demeter is. I’m not sure how many reader would.

      Exposition – I see quite a bit of exposition – telling not showing the reader what is happening.

      A battle scene starts:
      “Suddenly from the distance there came a loud”

      In the next two paragraphs the anticipation is building. A battle is going to take place. The reader is pumped for action, gore, something. Then, an information dump occurs. Drogon is massive, bigger than some father, two weapons, with names, and his dogs name is, and his cats name is and … Details the reader is going to skip at this point. The suspense for action is either destroyed or damaged until the reader recovers from being disoriented.

      If I were to list all the things you did right up to this point, I wouldn’t have enough room. You put thought into and you wrote it. That is more than most would have done. Good Job.

  16. Jack Chaser

    Hey everyone. I am nervous about this but here is what I worked on. I hope its acceptable –

    The sound of fingers wiped across damp glass woke caused Jake’s
    head to snap up from the glass counter. He had fallen asleep staring at the
    glass panels in the door again. The skin on his left cheek had taken on the
    imprints of the buttons of his black long sleeved shirt. He rubbed a hand over
    a chin that once had been stylishly stubbly but now was lengthening to a level
    normally reserved for Louisiana fishermen.

    He could hear them shuffling outside. The slow and steady
    amble of the undead punctuated by one of them shaking handle of the door
    periodically. Every rattle echoing through the room and causing the tendons in
    Jake’s neck to tense as tight as piano wires.
    His entire body ached from having slept sitting on a stool in the same
    clothes he hadn’t changed out of in days.

    There really was no reason to go home. The shuffling horde
    was everywhere it seemed. Great roving bands of them on every street cover and
    alley way. Their hands reaching out like supplicants. He could hear their
    whispered moans and the hems of their clothing sliding over the frosted glass
    store front no matter how deep he tried to bury himself in the recessed
    alcoves.

    A chill had wormed into Jake’s bones and he made his way
    around the assortment of display cases and tables to the electrical panel. He
    tried to avoid looking at the shadows passing back and forth over the white
    filmed panes as the thought of the assemblage out there caused shudders that
    had nothing to do with the damp morning air. His lank hair felt plastered to
    his skull and he ran a hand through it to push it away from his forehead. He snapped the first switches to turn the
    lights on before cranking the heat to level just below volcanic. All around him
    thrumming hums began to drone out as heaters and machines began to warm up from
    the fresh feeding of electrical life blood.

    The lights and noise from inside the store caused a fresh
    and loud series of groans from outside as the masses pressed even harder
    against the glass. Their grey hand prints now a mosaic of want on the glass. It
    was really only a matter of time before the sheer weight of them shattered the
    windows and allowed them entry.

    Jakes shoulders slumped and a sigh escaped him like a
    whispered prayer. He hadn’t left the store in days, hadn’t slept properly in weeks.
    The roving bands outside never seemed to disperse. The mornings were the worst
    when they knew he was moving around inside the small space and their need overcame
    them. He had fought the urge for so long to let them rush inside and overwhelm
    him that it now seemed like it was the only escape left to him.

    The smells from the machines blazing behind him wafted
    forward and drifted under the doors causing the pressed hands to begin to pound
    on the door with murderous intent. The sound of them becomes roaring din. The
    early morning sunlight frosting their silhouettes on every surface it touched.
    It really was inevitable that they would pry their way in.

    Jake walked slowly forward at a pace reserved for the long
    last walk to the electric chair and placed his hand on the lock of the door. He
    had resigned himself to the fact he would die in here. Cool beads of sweat
    pooled at the back of his neck and slid with glacier slowness down his spine.
    If this was to be his fate then he would meet it on his own terms. With a
    simple twist of his wrist, Jake unlocked the door.

    As soon as the click was heard, hands reached forward from
    outside and yanked the door open bathing Jake in the glow of amber sunlight.
    His eyes met the gaze of the gathering and knew he would never leave this
    place. His sweat stiffened clothes almost creaked as he stepped back as they
    hurriedly filtered forward. The great bulk of them were pushing the first few
    forward to pop into the room like a hastily opened champagne bottle. They surrounded
    him with expectant glares and gritted teeth, like wolves running down an
    injured deer.

    Jake had prepared himself for this moment and faced it with
    a calm resolve. He smiled as he looked out over them. Their palpable need was
    almost pathetic. Turning his back on them he walked back to the counter and
    stepped behind it. His fate sealed, he spun on his heel and addressed them en
    mass.

    “Welcome to Starbucks, what can I get for you today?”

    Reply
  17. James Hall

    Most of my scenes are over a 1000 words. Had one that was over 3000
    words. A few 200 or less words, some Variety seems good. I break it up
    where it seems plausible to do so. I would say I would lean towards
    longer scenes that shorter scenes. If the scenes are well-written and
    engaging, I would think longer scenes would make the novel seem less
    put-down-able.

    What do you do when you are reading? Do you stop and go to bed when you hit a stopping point (IE scene or chapter marker). Most times, I’ll try to run to the end of a chapter.

    I’ve seen a fair amount of cliff hangers being used at the ends of scenes,
    as opposed to chapters. Even more common if Point of View. (IE So-n-So
    is about to die. Cut. So-N-So cousin is eating broccoli…)

    Another thing to consider is how often Point Of View is changing. if your POV
    is changing every scene, it becomes disruptive to the reading flow. In
    my scenes, so far, I don’t think I have actually changed POV, simply hit
    the fast forward or rewind button. Funny thing is, I’m not sure POV
    will ever change. Very 3rd person limited. But the character also
    becomes a narrator of a story in the story… I’m digressing… so…
    I’ll mark it… FURTHER DIGRESSION THIS WAY -> Neat thing about it
    occurred to me the other day, if a character in the story is telling the
    story and slips up and keeps inserting his opinions and such (kind of a
    no-no for US as the narrator – Very Exposition-y) you end up with characterization of the character. Win-win?

    Now, to get back on topic.

    Arrays of extremely short scenes, to me, would make the reader feel like a birdy in a game of bad mitten.

    Honestly, both when reading and writing, I’ve paid little attention to scene length.

    Reply

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