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Writing Short Stories: How Many Scenes Do You Need?

Writing Short Stories: How Many Scenes Do You Need?

You’re writing a novel, or are writing short stories. You’ve hard that you need to be “writing in scenes”, so that you’re showing, rather than telling. But what’s a scene?

A scene is defined as a unit of action; the operative word being ACTION. Something happens in a scene. If nothing much happens, it’s not a scene.

An aside. PLEASE don’t worry too much about scenes and sequels and anything else in your first draft. Your first draft is always the “what the devil is going on here?” draft. You’re getting to know your characters, and working out your story. In my first draft all I care about is the word count – and the number of scenes I’m writing. Tidy up, improve and get fancy in your second and later drafts.

VITAL: short stories  are all about emotion

All fiction is all about emotion. And since scenes are showing rather than narration, the reader is right there, in each scene. As I said in Scenes In Fiction: 5 Powerful Writing Tips:

1. Give readers the emotional charge they want (what’s the genre?)

If you’re a movie fan, you know that movies made from novels are usually much less satisfying than the novels themselves. Why? One reason: a novel reveals characters’ emotions, via their thoughts, and we experience what the character experiences.

Writers often ask me how LONG a scene should be…

Scene Lengths in Fiction – You Decide.

Your scenes can be any length. Chapters can be any length. It’s all up to you. You decide. 🙂 You can write a scene with a sentence or two, no judgments. That said, when you’re planning your stories, knowing approximately how many scenes you’ll need for a short story, novella, or novel is useful. It just helps you to plan.

My scenes tend to be anywhere between 1200 and 1800 words in a first draft. Call it an average of 1500 words. This isn’t set in stone – how long your scenes are is up to you, as we’ve said. You can have very short scenes, and then longer scenes for your BIG scenes, the “pinch points” as Dan Wells puts it.

Let’s look at how many scenes you could have in stories of various lengths. Assuming that your average scene length is 1500 words:

7 scenes for a short story: 10,000 words

27 scenes for a novella: 40,000 words

60 scenes for a novel: 90,000 words

Here’s an infographic.

Writing fiction: how many scenes?

Planning a Short Story of Seven Scenes.

Let’s imagine you’re writing a short story. It’s a mystery; someone dies, and someone else (your sleuth) discovers whodunnit. Knowing you have seven scenes is useful; it helps you to plot and shape your story.

In the first couple of scenes, the body’s discovered. For the next few scenes, your sleuth is exploring various red herrings, and discovering clues. Your final scene is the big reveal; the climax. Your sleuth discovers and reveals who the murderer is, and your story is over.

You’ve created the bare bones of a story in a couple of minutes, by choosing what you’ll write (short story), and your genre (mystery). Since you know the number of scenes, and what has to happen, you’ve gone from wondering what you’ll write, to plotting your story.

Tip: in Short Stories, Include a Twist (a Little Something Extra.)

Short stories are SHORT. They can be very satisfying for readers if you include a twist. O. Henry is the master of the twist. However, in our terms, your twist doesn’t need to be super-clever. It just needs to intrigue the reader: make him FEEL. Fiction is about emotion. So give your readers a little something extra to excite or intrigue them.

Let’s say in our mystery short story above, you decide that your twist will be that you’ll set your story in ancient Rome, or you’ll set it in the year 2198.

Or… anything you like. Rip something from the headlines. At the time of writing, Flight MH 370 has been in the headlines for weeks. Currently there’s still no trace of the plane. Perhaps you decide to set your mystery in an airport.

If you’re writing erotica, your twist can be a new kink – good luck with that, I think most kinks have been covered. 😉

Spending a few minutes thinking about how you can make your story a little different and a little more intriguing, will not only make your story more fun to write, it will be more fun to read, too.

Good luck with your short stories. 🙂


Updated on January 30, 2018

I wrote this article around four years ago, and it’s one of my most popular posts, and rightfully so. Focus on scenes and emotion in your short stories, and readers will LOVE you. 🙂

Step By Step To Fiction Which Sells: Plotting And Scene Magic

Step By Step To Fiction Which Sells: Plotting And Scene Magic

eBook: $5.99

Your readers want to enter your novel's world. They want to experience your book -- they want to live your book with your main characters.

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Heart To Heart: Romance Writing For Beginners

Heart To Heart: Romance Writing For Beginners

eBook: $5.99
Series: Romance Writing, Book 1
Genre: Writing
Tag: writing fiction

Love makes the world go round, and of all the genres in fiction, romance, with its many sub-genres, is the most popular.

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Ebooks: Novellas Are HOT

Fiction Frenzy Kindle Fiction

Many authors are realizing the benefits of our new digital publishing world: you can keep your books SHORT.

Big publishing is cottoning on to the trend too.

Here’s a new imprint, from Harlequin, “Cosmo Hot Reads”, Harlequin.com | Cosmo Red Hot Reads from Harlequin: “Stories Can/Will:

Include multiple points of view
Be told in first person
Be contemporary (but not paranormal please!)
Urban international settings are good
Heroes can be bad boys, successful entrepreneurs, geeky scientists—different flavors of men for different fantasies”

This shows you novellas are HOT. If you’re working on a novella, and you think it might fit, you can submit your synopsis.

Of course, if you get rejected, you can publish it yourself… “rejection” isn’t a death knell these days. 🙂