One of the fundamental differences between most writing and creative writing is that creative writing has a much different purpose.
While both convey functional information, the goal in creative writing is to provide an artistic expression beyond the mere literal events.
If you’ve been following my bubble method (click here for an archive of posts), you’ll know that it’s a light and fractal organization method I use to help stay on task and hit every point I need to hit.
But keeping things straight only gets you half-way to solid organization in creative writing.
For that, you need to think between the bubbles.
Bubbles vs. Scenes
The function of a bubble is to contain a single important concept and all the sub-concepts of that concept.
This makes it great for providing information, but that doesn’t correlate well with how we handle creative writing; while you might have the largest element correlate with a bubble (e.g. a chapter) and the smallest element correlate with a bubble (e.g. a piece of dialogue).
A scene functions like a special bubble; one with a distinct purpose.
Keeping this in mind is important because scenes are going to have certain universal components.
Each element within a scene is a beat (or a collection of beats) that serve a particular purpose.
This is helpful to keep in mind; if you get feedback on your writing like “this chapter is too slow” then you’re focusing on exposition to the detriment of action, and you can probably diagnose that issue by looking at the beats in a scene.
Having delineated scenes is great for figuring out your purpose in a section of a passage and responding to reader feedback.
Setting the Scene
You set up a scene to keep the audience’s attention on a particular point in your plot.
When that point goes away, you switch to a new scene.
This ties to the cognitive functions of the reader. Rapid or absent transitions and unclear scene boundaries confuse the audience, while languishing transitions and scenes that go on and on bore people. Orphans make great transitions and poor scenes. The classic advice to have someone show up and fire a gun into the air draws from this theory: a clear and minimal transition is ideal.
Finding the point of a scene is essentially identical to the bubble in its first step: something is going to happen, and you want to say what it is.
Scenes need more, though. You should aim to keep a consistent tone and mood, meaning that you’re going to have the same emotional energy throughout a scene. A well-developed emotional transition works, but this is rarely a happy accident and requires deliberate effort.
Likewise, the subject needs to be the same. This doesn’t have to be a character, but the vast majority of the time the subject will be a focal character. Places and events can also serve as a subject (e.g. Shakespeare having multiple characters come and go in a central location over the course of a scene in his plays), but it is important to make those your subject deliberately and not accidentally split a scene by focusing on a now-absent character.
Given the fractal nature of bubbles, it is necessary to caution against writing scenes within scenes. This is theoretically possible, but not recommended.
Each scene has its own point. To put a scene with one point inside another scene is difficult; one point shown through a sequence of individually meaningful actions works better than trying to make one point while also making multiple distinct underlying points.
This puts your writing at cross-purposes. If you have multiple points, make each its own scene.
Scenes need not be of identical size to each other. In fact, fluctuation is good for keeping a work well-paced.
So avoid meta-scenes (scenes around scenes) and you’ll cure yourself of headaches. I suspect that many of my complaints with the stories and films I dislike stem from attempts to over-organize the storyline and result in mediocrity when the creator’s intent cannot live up to the initial drafting process.
Don’t forget when writing that you will need special considerations in special contexts, and scenes are one element you need to be conscious of in creative writing.
No bubble should be added to a creative work unless it has the added guidance provided by a scene (though a bubble may be a scene unto itself). Otherwise you can create a major disjunction and lose the focus of your audience.