Tuesday, February 19, 2013

How Long Should Scenes Be?

The length of scenes is a varied thing, differing from author to author and genre to genre. The more you read the more you will notice the similarities and differences. Yet there are some general guidelines that are helpful to follow and as I am working on edits and deciding scene lengths for my own WIP, I thought I’d share these tips.

Jordan Rosenfeld in her book Make A Scene writes “the ending of a scene provides a place for a reader to comfortably take a pause.” Keep this in mind while writing scenes. You want an ending that lingers in the reader’s mind even while they go about whatever else they’re doing, enticing them to come back for more. Try to end each scene with some kind of bang or cliffhanger line. Although every scene doesn’t have to end with “A scream sounded through the night air” neither should they end with something as dull as “She stood and went to wash the dishes.” It’s okay to have a few endings that are a little mundane, but the more times you end with a cliffhanger, the more your reader will want to keep turning pages.

So what’s too long and what’s too short?
For a historical family saga, women’s fiction, literary fiction, romance, etc, scenes shouldn’t be under 1,000 words. This makes the book feel choppy and rushed. The above genres are character driven and in short scenes it’s more difficult to connect with your characters. I confess though, that although I write historical romance, I have several scenes that are 1,000 words long or slightly under. I like reading a faster paced book and tend to write that way as well.

If you’re writing suspense, thrillers, or any genre that is plot driven, you can have shorter scenes and the readers of these genre’s prefer them. These books are more about the action and plot than the characters, thus there’s less internal monologue and higher pacing.

Most chapters in character driven fiction (historical romance, women’s fiction, etc) range from 2,500 to 5,000 words. And most chapters are one or two scenes. This being said, I wouldn’t write a scene that was longer than 4,500 to 5,000 words. It’s just too long. You don’t want your reader putting a book down in the middle of a scene and not picking it up again.

On average, most scenes should range from 1,000 to 2,500 words. You can throw in a few longer ones and a few shorter ones here and there, but this is a good length to try and stay within  for the majority of your book.

Your Turn – How long are the last two scenes you’ve written? Do you prefer longer scenes or shorter ones? How about what you read? Does long or short scenes hold your interest?

Happy Writing,


1 comment :

Stephanie Morrill said...

I think scenes are such a tough thing to teach since so much is by feel. You summarized this so well, Amanda!