View Full Version : Do you write in scenes or do you treat every chapter as a short story?

04-07-2011, 08:35 PM
I remember that when I first started writing I would treat every chapter a short story, and move on when I was satisfied. Then I heard about scenes, and for a while I've been testing them out, trying to see if I can make each scene pull the reader on to the next.

PS: I don't think either method of writing is better, mind you. I'm just wondering how everyone else works :-)

04-08-2011, 12:36 AM

Chapters are divisions of the overall story. Without them, a novel would be unwieldy, and whereas there are novels with no clear chapter divisions, they use some means of offering the reader a break. Chapters begin and end where necessary. They serve to move the plot along. They are sometimes a single scene, other times contain several scenes. They rarely stand alone as stories by themselves, but that isn't a taboo, or unheard of.

Nick Blaze
04-08-2011, 02:11 AM
I write from start to finish the novel itself. I suppose technically I write by scene, be that the case, but I really just write from plot point to plot point. If I write a scene ending, then it ends, but I never write chapters out. Chapters are subject to change when the plot/characters make decisions I didn't expect.

04-08-2011, 02:15 AM
I write from scene to scene. Sometimes I don't even put in chapter breaks until final draft. Just scene breaks.

04-08-2011, 03:13 AM
Back in the 1980's, I was in a writers' group with a multi-published and multi-Hugo-nominated SF author of short stories who had never written a novel. The concept of writing a novel baffled him, but he was determined to do this because one of his friends (editor of major SF house of the time) was willing to publish his first novel should he write it.

He went about the novel during his first draft by treating every chapter as a short story. The problem he discovered is that a short story has to have an ending that wraps up all the story questions. That's a bad thing for a chapter to do because that doesn't give the reader a good reason to turn the page and keep reading the book.

The other thing that was a problem (can you tell we had several discussions on this topic?) is that the very basis for his writing short stories was "quick ideas"--something fast and simple that didn't require a lot of set-up but could produce a big punch moment in the ending. I don't know if this is true for other short story writers (I'm not one), but this base concept really doesn't lend itself well to novels which, by their nature and size, needs more complications and layers than the limitations of a short's size allows.

As a beta for that book, it read more like an anthology than a novel which really wasn't the experience any of us in the group were looking for.

It took him a while, but he finally did finish the book so it read like a full novel and it was published (http://www.fantasticfiction.co.uk/books/n/n11516.htm) in the late 1980's. Ted said that he never wanted to write another novel again because it was far too much like learning another language.

As someone who can't comprehend how a short story is put together, I totally agree with his conclusion. Writing both is something that some, maybe even many writers can do, but not necessarily all writers can (unless I'm really, seriously weirder than I thought).

Contact me (rep points are always nice) if you'd like to hear Ted's analogy of short stories and novels. ;)

Hope that helps.

A.V. Hollingshead
04-08-2011, 08:17 AM
I shy away from using the term 'scene' much in regards to novelization. When I think of scenes, I think of plays and cinema. It's never quite the same as how it is best applied in a novel or other form of prose. Still, as the basic idea, I certainly write "scene to scene", although I also don't have any chapters at all, so... there's that. My novel is epistolary (composed of various "materials", like journals, newspaper articles, magazine clippings, VCR instruction manuals, etc.), so it's just a collection of those put together to form a narrative.

If I am writing a non-epistolary narrative that isn't a short story itself (which is, admittedly, a rarity for me), I consider chapters to be a group of 'scenes' that connect a theme or narrative point. They cannot stand alone, so I wouldn't compare them much to a short story, but I do think they need to have some cohesiveness within themselves. I don't like reading a chapter which is half-flashback, half-present day. Or a chapter where we're following character X for a bit, and then character Y. Chapters can also separate points in a dramatic moment. As an example, in the sixth Harry Potter film, there is a chapter break right after *OMGSPOILERSYOUGUYS* Snape kills Dumbledore. If you will, the 'scene' is broken up into two chapters because in the first half, Dumbledore is alive, and in the second half, he isn't. So chapter and scenes are also not corresponding things. The same scene can continue into different chapters.

04-08-2011, 05:57 PM
I write in scenes. Many a time I am to be found bashing my forehead with the heel of my hand, crying, 'What's my next scene?'. I love scenes. I never break a novel into chapters until it's finished--if then.

Anne Lyle
04-08-2011, 06:41 PM
I write in scenes - it seems to work best for me. I will then generally break the scenes up into chapters once the book is written and I can get a better view of the overall flow of the story.

Liosse de Velishaf
04-08-2011, 09:45 PM
You can write a good novel with short-story-like chunks, but mostly I prefer to read and write in scenes. Short stories are not constructed the same as novel stories, and throwing a bunch of them together makes for a short story collection, not a novel.

04-09-2011, 12:12 AM
Scenes. Incident to incident, place to place. I actually struggle with chapter functions, it doesn't come naturally to me.

04-09-2011, 12:43 AM
I'm currently writing in scenes, using the yWriter software. It's a new thing for me, as previously I opened a Word document and started at the beginning and went on from there to (hopefully) the end.

04-09-2011, 01:01 AM
I'll be the nonconformist here and say I lean more toward short story for each chapter method. I don't wrap everything up in a nice little package though. I think of my book more like a restaurant, if you will, and each chapter is a meal. I want every meal to be satisfying by the end so my customers will come back again.

A girl in my old writing group was working on a novel where each chapter is a complete story. In fact they’re each the same short story. Told over and over again but from a different perspective. It was a witty and fun mystery, and I totally want to steal the idea some day.

04-09-2011, 01:57 AM
I write in scenes, and clump scenes together in chapters. Some scenes are long enough to be chapters on their own, and that's cool too. Scene and chapter delineation are on the Mighty List of Things About Which I Obsess.

So are lists.

Jon Sprunk
04-09-2011, 02:02 AM
I write in scenes. Each, of course, has a beginning, a middle, and an end. But the end doesn't (usually, until the climax) wrap up the questions posed within the scene.

04-09-2011, 08:13 PM
I write from beginning to end, which is from scene to scene. But I also use outlines, so the general flow of each chapter, and where it ends, is already known. I know where all the scenes are headed, and that allows me to stick the build and peak where they should go.

So I suppose I do both. Is that allowed? ;)

The best example of treating each chapter as a short story was in Neil Gaiman's The Graveyard Book, in which each chapter literally is a short story with carry over themes that connect the book.

Paul Anthony Shortt
04-12-2011, 01:59 PM
I think very visually when I write, so it's instinctive for me to picture everything as scenes. I do make very intentional chapter breaks, though. Often, if a chapter is particularly intense, it'll be a scene all to itself.

Linda Adams
04-12-2011, 02:13 PM
On creation of the story, I write all my scenes and don't worry about chapters. On revision, I look at the bigger picture to group them together. What's going to fit the best? What's going to end the chapter on the best setback? I have one chapter that ended up being three scenes, but the next two chapters were one scene each. Another has only two scenes.

You can write a good novel with short-story-like chunks, but mostly I prefer to read and write in scenes. Short stories are not constructed the same as novel stories, and throwing a bunch of them together makes for a short story collection, not a novel.

Agree with this. I used to be a short story writer, and the two forms are quite different, even though they're both fiction. Thinking 'short story' instead 'scene' also might create problems with the natural flow and how it fits into the bigger picture.

04-12-2011, 05:59 PM
I've thought that it might be a good idea to see each chapter as having some of the elements of the whole — you want to hook a reader at the start of a chapter in the same way as at the start of a novel, and there needs to be some complication that they have to deal with. Stuff like that I guess.

At the moment, I basically write in scenes, but a sort of hybrid approach might have something going for it.

04-12-2011, 08:21 PM
I write Chapters as short stories. Makes it easier on me.

04-13-2011, 02:50 AM
Can anyone think of any examples of published works in which chapters are written as short stories?

04-13-2011, 06:44 AM
I'm a scene-builder. Scenes help me focus on essentials and eliminate unneeded verbiage. I over-use ellipsis to shift perspectives, and then apply chapter headings more as sectional designations. "I'm in the middle of a good scene" tells bystanders to clear a path for a short while.

04-14-2011, 01:13 AM
I write in scenes. Most of my chapters are single scenes, although some are two or three knitted together with summary/narration/etc. I tend to be always aware of where my chapter breaks are going to be, and generally set them at or around the high point of tension (if the issue the characters are dealing with are going to be dealing with the same stuff in the next chapter). I suppose a lot of my lower-key chapters end around the denoument of the scene, often with character reflection.

I don't think looking at each chapter as a short story would be extremely helpful for me, because ultimately a short story accomplishes something extremely different from a novel. I think, however, that remembering that every chapter should contain the basic rising action, climax, and perhaps denoument could help avoid chapters in which nothing happens.

04-14-2011, 06:24 PM
I remember that when I first started writing I would treat every chapter a short story, and move on when I was satisfied. Then I heard about scenes, and for a while I've been testing them out, trying to see if I can make each scene pull the reader on to the next.

PS: I don't think either method of writing is better, mind you. I'm just wondering how everyone else works :-)


04-15-2011, 02:30 AM
I write in scenes. I think that the short story route makes my book seem jumpy.

04-15-2011, 03:16 AM
oh... the thought of "short stories" makes my head hurt....

04-18-2011, 01:34 PM
I have only a handful of scenes which I know I want in a book, and I warp the plot of my writing to twist around and conform to that desire; recently I've begun working more on the quality of the chapters, and thus the book as a whole.
My main 'novel' style work right now is a science fiction novel. I've got a few different sub-plots woven through it so that each chapter has some interesting little tidbit of information. All I know is I'm not even to chapter 5 in this one, and it's already past page 70. Might need to trim it down a bit. (There's 17 chapters plus an epilogue).
I see chapters as being short stories of sorts, but only so far as they move along the main plot and sub-plots in a novel.

04-19-2011, 05:03 PM
I don't really do either, but I'd probably lean towards the short story definition if pressed, and if it were true that there are only 2 options.

Basically, each chapter for me revolves around a central event and/or reaction to that event, and it can spread over a period of minutes or hours or months if necessary (one chapter describes the passage of several years through a montage of individual scenes), but there is an overriding thematic unity to the chapter, and that's what's important.

For example, one particular occurrence is told 4 times from different perspectives in different chapters, because in each retelling, the reaction of different pro-/antagonists is illustrated, and each one moves the story onwards in a different direction.
It wouldn't work to either limit the story to describe the event in one chapter (the strict "scene" approach) or to pretend that the other retellings didn't exist (the strict "short story" approach).

The main approach I follow is that, if you're using chapters, there needs to be some thematic link to tie them all together, and that the beginning and ending should make sense.
A chapter neither exists in isolation nor is it a simple continuation of what came before (so I don't stop mid-thought nor continue mid-thought, but each chapter starts with an element of scene-setting).
For example...
{continued in Chapter 2}

04-30-2011, 08:31 PM
I write from scene to scene. Sometimes I don't even put in chapter breaks until final draft. Just scene breaks.

Same here.

Also, your avatar has me sitting with my feet up off the floor. O_O

04-30-2011, 09:03 PM
Scenes. Definitely. But chapters are made up of scenes so it works out.

05-01-2011, 01:30 AM
Both-ish. Sort of.

I start with a (very!) rough outline, then break it into chapters, then name each chapter in a thematic way that flows through the general outline.

Chapter titles are important to me, and each chapter gets its own Word file.

Some chapters might not have a single line of content in the outline yet, but that's fine - the name tells me what it's supposed to look like.

Then I'll take the chapters that have some outline, and copy the relevant bit of the outline into the file for that chapter. These bits of outline then get chopped into scenes. The chapters I've already got notes for get the notes dumped into the file for that chapter too.

Then I'll start writing whichever bit takes my fancy at the time, breaking the outline notes into scenes as I go.

Its a sort of cinematographic storyboard process to begin with, but needless to say most of the above goes to pot once it comes to life, as it were. Chapter names change as the emphasis of that chapter changes. Scenes move forwards or back on the running order to better fit the flow of the story, but what I 'llend up with is a series of movie-like scenes collected into thematically grouped chapters, if that makes sense.

05-02-2011, 08:32 PM
Like a lot of people here, I write in scenes. It helps me manage the flow and pacing of the story. It's often referred to as a cinematic technique, but I think it works just as well for novels.