Beginning and newer writers often struggle with scene length. It’s easy enough to figure out anyone can go on and on, using too many words to describe details or a conversation, making the scene longer than it has to be. Yet, deciding if a scene is too short isn’t always obvious. Sometimes, writers get excited when writing because they’re in the moment with their characters, but they don’t realize the way the scene plays out in their mind isn’t the way they’ve written it. Some writers write short scenes on purpose, because they want to get the idea or the feeling down as they experience it, but they return later to fill in the details. The trick is knowing when to do this. When shouldn’t a scene be short?
Take a look:
-an emotional scene: Don’t rush to the part where things get heated and resolve the issue just as quickly. Let the reader experience the same emotions as the POV character. Give her time to feel Joel’s anger toward his cheating wife. Allow the reader to miss little Bobby’s lost puppy as much as he does.
-a sex scene: If you’re writing a sweet romance or inspirational romance, you won’t want to show a sex scene. Instead, you’ll “close the door” or end the scene just as the couple is about to take their clothes off. However, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have sexual tension leading up to that moment. The same goes for stories that show the actual sexual experience. Remember, it’s not all about putting the banana in the box. It’s about the emotional connection and/or physical sensations leading up to that point.
-a suspenseful scene: This doesn’t have to be a killer pursuing his victim or a car chase. Many “ordinary” scenes can be turned into suspenseful scenes simply by suspending reactions and reveals. You see this kind of thing all the time on TV. For example, the hero is thinking about telling the heroine that he loves her. When they’re finally together, and he’s about to tell her, something interrupts them. In a novel, the writer can go a step further, because she can get inside the hero’s head and feel what he’s feeling. We’ll sense the hero’s frustration with the situation and feel the awkward tension increasing between the hero and heroine. During the time he has to wait to tell her how he feels, anticipation, nerves, and/or frustration have built up, so when he finally reveals his feelings, we get a stronger reaction from him than we would have if he’d been able to tell her right away. This build up is a way of creating suspense in the scene and can’t be rushed.
There are other cases where scenes shouldn’t be short like the black moment or resolution, but most writers realize that. The three I mentioned above seem to be common misses.
How short is too short? That all depends. It’s not so much about the amount of pages or words but whether or not the scene was developed enough to serve its purpose.
What kind of scenes have you read that were too short for your liking and why?
A quick reminder for anyone who has registered for my class at the Muse Online Writers Conference. Make sure to get your sample and/or contest entry in soon. They need to be in BEFORE class begins so I have a chance to edit them. Thanks.