I've noticed that many authors discuss "building" their novels using scenes as the fundamental building block. Be it by software or notecard, the scenes are identified, arranged and written, then chapter divisions made. From what I have read, it appears to be the accepted method of novel writing these days. Does anyone know when (and where) it first started to be used?

The reason I ask is that 25+ years ago I received my undergraduate degree in Creative Writing and although I had a number of courses in fiction writing, I can't recall ever even hearing about scenes in writing. Nor were they mentioned in my literature courses. Is it something relatively new or were my undergraduate studies subpar?

1 Answer 1


How did your education propose that you prepare a project before sitting down to write it? I mean rather than using notecards, how did you define the plot?

Scenes obviously dominate screenwriting. So it's likely a crossover from that. Calling the events that happen in one time & place a "scene" is just a handy metaphor, and I'd be surprised if it had an identifiable point for when the metaphor crossed over from screenwriting to other forms.

I have a filmmaking background, and in college I took three screenwriting courses and one creative writing course, and the screenwriting courses were 100% structure, beats, and scenes, while the creative writing course contained absolutely no formalized structure advice, just focused on reading great stories, then writing and workshopping short stories. The screenwriting teacher was younger and the creative writing teacher was older, so that may support the idea that the scene metaphor is a newer phenomenon in creative writing.

  • My experience was similar to yours, no formalized structure as to HOW to write, just reading, writing and work shopping. Oh, we'd have a different topic to focus upon with each assignment, such as POV or imitating a specific style of whatever the assigned author was (e.g. Hemingway, Chekhov), but other than Aristotle's theory or Freytag's Pyramid, no real guidance on how to actually make a plot. Guess it was more character driven than plot driven....
    – Tre
    Commented Jun 13, 2012 at 20:57

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