Thursday, March 17, 2016

Scene It

This week author and MFAC faculty member Marsha Qualey* examines the importance that scene can play in her own upcoming projects.  Read on as she reflects on a few poignant excerpts from Sandra Scofield’s The Scene Book and how they have have informed her process.

I’ve got two writing projects going right now and for the first time that I can remember neither one is a new (conventional) novel. One of the projects involves revisiting a novel as I adapt it into a screenplay. The other is a possible graphic novel for young readers.

I am thinking a lot about scenes. Not that I didn’t before, but when writing my traditional novels it was always the connective tissue between scenes that consumed most of my attention and energy.

Sandra Scofield’s The Scene Book is rich in pithy reminders that help me keep to the task at hand. Here are a few that are bulletin-board worthy:

From “The Focal Point”
“[the focal point] is not the epiphany, that old standby moment when the sky opens and meaning shines down on the protagonist” (54).

(Huh. I once ended a scene exactly that way—with literal sunshine breaking through and the protagonist thinking, “Illumination.” Should I go back and see if there’s an actual focal point prior to the epiphany?)

From “Tension”
“Tension doesn’t have to be negative” (86).

(Scofield is writing about sex scenes here, but still, a good reminder)

From “Scene Openings”
“…the scene may be entirely fresh action, requiring a more fundamental orientation” (142). One way to provide this orientation, she later explains, is to “comment on character, setting, or event” (145).

(An editor once told me she hated scenes that opened with dialogue, and ever since I have been hesitant to do just that. Such is the power of our editors.)

From “Scene Activity and Character Response”
“A good scene lets us know the spatial relationship of people and things” (126).

(Hmm. Maybe that’s why my editor hated the dialogue-opened scenes—she’d seen too many that delayed grounding the reader in the physical setting.)

From my bulletin board to yours.

Marsha Qualey has been a faculty member in Hamline's MFAC program since it began. She is the author of several YA novels, one novel for adults, and several work-for-hire books for younger readers. For more information please visit her website.


  1. I don't mind opening with dialogue, just don't stay there too long! EB white did it nicely...

  2. Thanks for the helpful tips, Marsha. Just what I have been encouraging my students to work on. It all starts with scene, eh?