Elements of Scene– What are They?

I was rifling through some papers on my desk the other day and found one that I had written years ago– the “elements” or parts of a scene. Now bear in mind that in the 21st Century, readers don’t need (or want) to read about how something tastes in the middle of your scene about a traffic accident, and certainly not if the ice cream cone that the driver is eating doesn’t actually cause the wreck or become pertinent later in the story. As an example, the dessert happens to be rocky road and later in the story the focal character is eating rocky road ice cream– in a dish as opposed to a cone even– and that flavor reminds him or her of the auto incident days or years before. Without further adieu….the 12 elements of scene…..

  1. Time
  2. Place
  3. Position/Movement/Actions of the characters (focal and otherwise)
  4. Motives
  5. Attitudes of the characters (plural) toward those motives
  6. Light(ing), if any
  7. Sight
  8. Sound (including dialogue)
  9. Touch
  10. Taste
  11. Smell
  12. Body Awareness (Relaxed, Tense, Hungry, Exhausted, etc.)

As corny as this may or may not sound, another way to consider a scene is what we used to call a “salute” report. In other words:

  1. Size– How many soldiers/vehicles/whatever were involved?
  2. Activity– What were they doing there?
  3. Location– Where were they?
  4. Uniform– Who were they with? This is not necessarily confined to American/Russian/Mexican/Italian, it can also include Christian/Buddhist/Mormon etc. if that is pertinent to the topic at hand.
  5. Time– What time of day was it? The exact time of day during the scene may or may not be important to the characters involved, but that in and of itself can affect the scene in countless other ways. Is the sun up? Or is it down?
  6. Equipment– What were they carrying/using/possessing at the time of the scene or incident? This can be anything from an M-1 Abrams to a toothpick– if it’s pertinent to the yarn.

As an afterthought, right or wrong in the 21st Century things move faster than they did before. Elements of scene are all well and good but one of the fastest ways to get a reader to close your book is to– waste their time.

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