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Make a Scene: Crafting a Powerful Story One Scene at a Time

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Scenes are useful fictional units, and if a single unit falters, then an entire novel or short story can be weakened. This title explains the fundamentals of strong scene construction and how other useful fiction-writing techniques, such as character development, description, and transitions must function within the framework of individual scenes.

276 pages, Paperback

First published November 23, 2007

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About the author

Jordan E. Rosenfeld

11 books295 followers
Jordan E. Rosenfeld is an author, editor, and freelance writer. She is the author of WOMEN IN RED, NIGHT ORACLE, FORGED IN GRACE, as well as the writing guides: How to Write a Page Turner, Writing the Intimate Character, Writing Deep Scenes, A Writer's Guide to Persistence, Make A Scene: Crafting a Powerful Story One Scene at a Time, which is now in its second edition, and "Write Free: Attracting the Creative Life" with Rebecca Lawton. Her essays & articles have appeared in: The Atlantic, GOOD, DAME Magazine, Mental Floss, Modern Loss, New York Times, New York Magazine, The Rumpus, Salon, San Francisco Chronicle, Scientific American, Writer's Digest, The Writer and more.

She holds an MFA in Fiction and Literature from the Bennington Writing Seminars, and a BA from the Hutchins School at Sonoma State University. Her essays and stories have appeared in literary journals such as the Blue Moon Review, Night Train, the Pedastal Magazine, Pindeldyboz, Opium, LitPot, Smokelong Quarterly, Spoiled Ink, the Summerset Review, Void Magazine, Zaum and in literary anthologies. Her fiction has also been performed by actors as part of the Page on Stage project in Santa Rosa.

For three years, Jordan hosted the literary radio program Word by Word: Conversations with Writers, which received an NEA Chairman’s grant for literary projects in 2005, on NPR-affiliate KRCB radio. She interviewed authors such as T.C. Boyle, Aimee Bender, Louise Erdrich, and Mary Gaitskill.

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5 stars
457 (40%)
4 stars
381 (33%)
3 stars
220 (19%)
2 stars
45 (4%)
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20 (1%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 102 reviews
Profile Image for Jordan.
Author 11 books295 followers
January 1, 2012
I wrote this book. I really do think you'll take up your level of the craft if you read it :)
Profile Image for Lisa Anne.
1,397 reviews18 followers
April 27, 2012
Bottom line, Rosenfeld covers scene structure, scene types, and everything that goes in to a scene.

Specifically, she covers:
The Architecture of a Scene--Beginnings (Launches), Middles and Ends
Core Elements--Setting, Senses, Character, Plot, etc.
Scene Types--First Scene, Suspense Scene, Dramatic Scene, Contemplative, etc.
Other Considerations--POV, Secondary and Minor Characters, Transitions, etc.

I think that the strength of this book is that Rosenfeld covers the core elements of a scene, such as how characterization works within the scene. I also like her classification of scenes. The drawback to this book and the reason I docked it a star is that it's slanted toward literary fiction. She doesn't include an example from genre fiction in the chapter on Action Scenes, for instance, but points out that action doesn't necessarily mean exploding buildings. Maybe not, but there are an awful lot of books out there with exploding buildings in them. Those authors could have used a boost instead of a sneer. -1*

I also highly recommend Scene and Structure. It's a classic.
Profile Image for Debbie Ann.
Author 4 books10 followers
March 9, 2008
I am reading this very slowly, but I am almost through. I like taking it in step by step as I write.
I'll cheat and say I have finished. Excellent, practical book for all writers. Very well done!

I would recommend going through it slowly, step by step.
Profile Image for David Crow.
Author 1 book874 followers
October 5, 2020
There are many books that teach the craft of story telling, but one would be hard pressed to find anyone as good as Jordan Rosenfeld. She is also an excellent speaker. Her books help the writer forge a relationship with the reader by using brilliant and sometimes subtle techniques to strengthen ones writing. I highly recommend picking up her books. She has written several and they are all wonderful.
Profile Image for Vicki Roberts.
58 reviews
January 9, 2014
I normally try to read two books at a time, one for pleasure and one as a learning tool for my writing. Last week I finished Make a Scene by Jordan Rosenfeld, and I have to take a minute to just sing its praises! Of course no book will be the best fit for every writer, but for me, this book was hitting pay dirt.
Since I'm focused on writing my novel scene by scene, Rosenfeld laid out every detail I need to be paying attention to. Because I borrowed the book from Amazon on my Prime Membership, I took eleven pages of notes from my reading...but I already know I'm going to have to buy a copy for my shelves!
The book is laid out so logically, which is great because a lot of writing books seem to skip around frenetically which are harder to reference later.
Part one talks about beginnings, middle and ends; and the goals of each one. Part two talks about core scene elements, such as setting, objects, senses, plot, subtext and dramatic tension. I especially took a lot from the sections on subtext and objects. The best part about this part of the book is her advice on not only what's important, but what's NOT important ie: mundane events, vague objects etc.
By the time I got to Part three, I was telling everyone I knew how helpful the book is - I promote what I love!
Part three didn't disappoint: Scene Types. Rosenfeld gives clear examples of scene types such as dramatic, suspense (yes the two are different), contemplative, action, flashback, epiphany, climactic and post-climactic. And of course she hits on first scenes versus prologues and the final scenes.
So much information packed into a easily digestible read!
The last part of the book is all about other scene considerations, such as POV, having multiple protagonists (of help to me since my novel has more than one) and character emotional threads. Then, in regards to characters she talks about the differences between secondary and minor characters, and how to tell if a character should be promoted.
And if that weren't enough, she recaps the entire book with a few pages of checklists you can use to make sure a scene belongs, does it set up the next scene and making sure all the core elements are present. I honestly was thrilled to find such a great mentor in Rosenfeld. With the myriad of books out there giving writing advice, it's a true joy to find one that I will always use and tout to other writers as one of the deserving ones...kudos Ms. Rosenfeld.
Profile Image for Newton Nitro.
Author 3 books100 followers
June 12, 2015
Um dos elementos essenciais para qualquer escritor de ficção é a construção de cenas orgânicas e empolgantes dentro de uma história. Afinal, o que é uma história senão uma sequência de cenas integradas umas às outras, com alguns sumários narrativos fazendo de cola? Por isso, o livro Make a Scene: Crafting a Powerful Story One Scene at a Time de Jordan Rosenfeld é uma ferramenta e tanto para escritores iniciantes, que queiram entender os elementos essenciais de construção de cenas narrativas e até mesmo para escritores experientes, que queiram revisar seus conhecimentos e, quem sabe, aprender algum elemento novo.

Rosenfeld desconstrói os diferentes elementos da construção de cenas, de uma maneira muito acessível, e o melhor, com vários exemplos da literatura. O foco do livro está em como os elementos de uma cena irão afetar o leitor. Esse foco no leitor transforma o livro em um excelente guia para ajudar escritores a editar e revisar suas cenas para conseguir o maior impacto emocional em seus leitores.

Só para ter uma idéia, olha só o índice, com os elementos abordados:

Parte 01 - Arquitetura de uma Cena
Funções de uma Cena
Poderosos Inícios de Cenas
Poderosos Meios de Cenas
Finais de Cenas Bem Sucedidos

Parte 02 - Os Elementos Principais de uma Cena
Cenário
Os Sentidos
Desenvolvimento de Personagem e Motivação
Trama
Subtexto
Tensão Dramática
Motivo das Cenas

Parte 03 - Tipos de Cenas
A Primeira Cena
Cenas de Suspense
Cenas Dramáticas
Cenas Contemplativas
Cenas de Diálogos
Cenas de Ação
Cenas de Flashback
Cenas de Epifanias
Cenas Climáticas
Cenas Finais

Parte 04 - Outras Considerações sobre Cenas
Pontos de Vista Múltiplos
A Linha Narrativa Emocional do Seu Protagonista
Personagens Secundários e Menores
Transições de Cenas
Edição e Revisão de Cenas

Só pelo índice já dá para ver o quão útil é um livro desses, não é mesmo? Assim que terminar a sequência de NitroDicas (meus vídeos de dicas para escritores iniciantes no Youtube), que estou baseando no Writing Fiction for Dummies, devo começar uma nova série centrada nesses capítulos do Make a Scene, de tão claras e didáticas foram as explicações. Infelizmente, continua a enorme falta desse tipo de literatura no Brasil. Fica a dica para a tradução do excelente Make a Scene: Crafting a Powerful Story One Scene at a Time de Jordan Rosenfeld , para as editoras interessadas em entrar nesse mercado de guia para escritores.

E agora, partindo para a leitura do conto/noveleta The Slow Regard of Silent Things, do fodásico Patrick “Nome do Vento” Rothfuss (que ainda pretendo reler os dois primeiros livros antes de sair o terceiro!). E vamos ler porque ler é doidimais! :)
Profile Image for Melinda Tyler.
Author 1 book18 followers
August 30, 2017
I have two books that I go to regularly when I'm writing. The Elements of Style by Strunk & White and On Writing by Stephen King. The former was a gift from my mother when I first told her I wanted to write. It's a technical bible to writing. On Writing gave me more: many great tips, good prompts, but most of all, it gave me the confidence to tackle my first book.

Make a Scene is a great book for anyone who is writing fiction. But like any 'how to' book, you have to take what works for you and then leave the rest. I would never follow all of the 'rules' in this book or I think an author's personal style may become lost in the minutia of replicating what works for another artist. What works for one person doesn't always work for another (hence the many different--and valid writing styles in thew world). However, this is a great guide for writing a dynamic scene that has the elements of making a reader want more. It's also a good one to read as you are reading one of your final drafts as some of Rosenfeld's best tips are for tightening scenes up so they can keep readers turning pages.

I would give it 5 stars but much of it was material I have already learned from other writers, from reading a lot, or from taking creative writing classes. I highly recommend this book to anyone who is new to fiction, as I am. It was a valuable book to read and one I am sure I will turn to repeatedly, as I do with the other two books I mention.
Profile Image for Soulsolfelis.
11 reviews
July 10, 2012
Excellent writing tool. I keep this nearby when I write to read the tips in specific sections.
Profile Image for Keith Skinner.
54 reviews19 followers
March 1, 2013
The author's focus on the scene as the primary building block of a story is what drew me to the book. Yes, a lot of the material is basic stuff: general story structure, introducing conflict, etc. but where the book shines is in the way it frames this material. By concentrating on the scene, the way each begins and ends, setting up the next scene or drawing on previous scenes, not only strengthens the storytelling but allows the writer to have a roadmap. He/she isn't just wandering around in a literary wilderness in search of an elusive grail but rather carefully finding picking a path through a dense and otherwise disorienting forest.

Rosenfeld carefully classifies techniques so they are accessible and can be easily employed. She offers suggestions for using them as well as excellent examples of how they've been used successfully in the past.

I have looked at a lot of books on plot, character development and writing a novel. Many of those were more noise than practical information. Make a Scene was genuinely useful and I'll probably keep it handy with those other rare volumes that I find indispensable.
Profile Image for Kara Rae Garland.
76 reviews43 followers
August 14, 2013
I'm not sure how I feel about this book. On one hand, I'm finding it very difficult to focus on due to lengthy descriptions of what, to me, is common sense. On the other, I think framing scenes this way is a pretty useful way of looking at the fiction writing process. So while Make a Scene is not really my kind of book, I think it has value. It is most certainly *the* right book for some writers.

UPDATE: No, I can't even give this book 2 stars. It is tedious beyond belief. Too much of it feels like filler.
Profile Image for Justin.
620 reviews27 followers
September 20, 2014
Make a Scene is an in depth writing reference on scenes. Rosenfeld covers the Architecture of a Scene, Core Elements, Scene Types, and Other Scene Considerations. Granted, if you've read writing books and have some experience as a writer, then some of the information is review, but it's always good to review and se how characters and plot fit into scenes. Scenes form the whole of a narrative and are crucial to understand for any writer. I found the sections on scene types and other considerations useful as I hadn't read that information elsewhere. Especially when approaching revisions or forming an outline (unless you're a NOP), it's helpful to break the story down scene by scene to make everything work as smoothly as possible. I found Rosenfeld' Muse Points at the end of chapters handy points to refer back to and to use as assessment for my own work. Rosenfeld uses ample amounts of examples from books which I tended to skim due to interest, but were helpful if I've read it. There's a lot of information in this book, but for writers I'd recommend checking this out.
Profile Image for Teri-K.
1,997 reviews43 followers
June 24, 2017
I still remember the day I realized writing a novel wasn't a matter of sitting down and churning out about 80,000 words, but of writing one scene at a time. Obvious now, but it changed the way I viewed writing fiction completely. Still, it's hard to even define a scene, let alone figure out the different kinds and how to write each of them well. This book is a great help.

For new fiction writers this will help make the task manageable before you start. Then, after you've finished both new and experienced writers will find a lot for help for revising. The author discusses scene architecture, core elements, types and other considerations. Can you tell an action scene from a suspense or dramatic scene? Do you know how to strengthen each of them so they're the best they can be? Even if you're a writing rebel and don't find each of your scenes fits one of the types given you'll have plenty of ideas for how to make the ones you've written stronger. I find this to be one of the most consistently helpful writing books on my shelf.
Profile Image for Rachel Blom.
Author 7 books9 followers
February 22, 2014
This is how I like my books on writing: structured, to the point, with practical tips and advice and plenty of examples.

As always, there's a lot of familiar territory here. If you've read two dozen or so books on writing, you're bound to find the same advice again and again. Of course the approach is always different and for me the question is always: was there something new, something that helped me take my writing to the next level.

There was. Make a scene focuses on the scene (no surprises there) and shows how to write great scenes. What I found helpful, were the different types of scenes, when to use these, how to start and end these and how to build the dramatic tension in each. That part of the book was definitely most helpful to me, but the rest was solid advice as well. Sure, some of it has been discussed by others and sometimes in more depth, but this is a good overview with sufficient new advice to make it worth the read.

Profile Image for Turok Tucker.
128 reviews8 followers
March 2, 2017
Begins with a Joseph Conrad Scene, claiming to explain and teach to us how to do exactly that, ends with an everything and the kitchen sink approach that left me feeling. MAKE A SCENE just packs so much into one book that it becomes hard to nail down any one specific lesson. A lot of craft books are the same thing with different verbiage, here the verbiage is plain enough but by the time the complexity of the DOS and DONTS of beginnings were played out MAKE A SCENE was already feeling like a minefield. By the end of the book I'd been nuked, DOS, DONTS, MAYBES, tricks, tips, NEVER-DOS, but wasn't any closer to actually knowing how to get on my 3x5 cards and plot a scene on paper before time so I don't write another novel into a hole. In fact I was more confused than ever on something I normally do naturally being thought over to death.

However, I'm about to reread - since it is so jammed packed with information - and I'll update accordingly.
Profile Image for Janett Wawrzyniak.
Author 4 books10 followers
January 5, 2013
Writing scenes that move your story forward is given in many examples. Different scene structures listed with their components, is a valuable reference tool for completion of a novel. Individually scenes may be intense or mild, contemplative or dramatic, but when they are used in combination, they form a fantastic narrative that feels rich and complex. Entertain and inform the reader through clear and powerful scenes. This book should help build a vivid scene, and link each of your scenes to create a compelling narrative that will engage the reader. When researching for my novels, this book can help keep structure in my research, and reference as needed throughout my writing. I own a copy of this book and appreciate the expertise in its writing.
Profile Image for Theresa Milstein.
Author 9 books59 followers
August 22, 2014
I got more out of this, the more I read. I found the chapters about epiphanies, climaxes, and secondary and minor characters most helpful. The POV chapter had a fresh perspective on multiple points of view, so I learned from that chapter too. The last chapter on scene assessment and revision was great too. There's a checklist, so you can decide if you have a scene or vignette. There's also another checklist to make sure you scene has all the elements in place. I've read quite a few books on writing and revising, so I appreciate when a writing book isn't just telling me what I already know. In a few places, I felt that scene was prioritized over other critical elements, but it's still a good perspective for me to view my manuscripts.
Profile Image for Melly.
161 reviews34 followers
February 5, 2018
I feel that this book has something for everyone, i.e. a lot of what she says is stuff you learn at the beginner level, so it didn't do much for me there, but it also offered me things that are relevant to my work today, and things I didn't know and/or hadn't considered.

It'd be enormously helpful too, I think, to people who have difficulty getting into a character's head, or imagining things from someone else's perspective. It's heckin' strong on the act of storytelling, for your character, for the writer, and for the reader.

NB: she spoils the fuck out of every book she cites, so if you spot the title of something you were planning to read, give that bit a pass unless you are Okay with such as that.

Profile Image for Michelle Cornish.
Author 22 books84 followers
June 28, 2021
With so many writing books on plot and structure, a book on scenes is not only refreshing, but very much needed. Understanding scenes is taking that plot and structure knowledge a level deeper, and Jordan Rosenfeld does an excellent job! The section on the the different types of scenes and why or when you might use them as well as the section on how to evaluate scenes in your own writing were especially helpful. A must for anyone wanting to improve their fiction writing!
Profile Image for Kat.
25 reviews
October 19, 2012
I found this book very helpful. I liked the many lists and "muse points" found in the book. I am right-brained and those appealed to me very much. I took copious notes as I read it and plan on planning and evaluating the scenes of my WIP using my notes.
Profile Image for Amanda.
Author 1 book11 followers
February 20, 2013
Brilliant. Every writer needs this book. Detailed information on all the elements of a good scene, and linking them all together to form one terrific book. My copy is already starting to wear out from all the thumb thoughs.
Profile Image for Rebekah.
11 reviews2 followers
October 22, 2011
Fantastic book. One of the best 'how to' books I've read.
Profile Image for Rachel.
47 reviews4 followers
October 1, 2011
I heart finding a book which inspires me to keep writing, and this was no exception.
Profile Image for Allan Walsh.
Author 16 books72 followers
January 26, 2022
Make a Scene by Jordan E. Rosenfeld is a non-fiction title that covers the creating good scenes and other techniques within the craft of fiction writing.

The Cover: The cover is simple and clean with three basic colours, a swirling floral design, and some circular images. It clearly represents a non-fiction title to me. The white font is well contrasted against the bold red behind, but without the title and subtitle, I would not know this is a book about writing. It is a pleasant and professional cover, but personally I think it could be strengthened with some imagery more significant to the theme.

The Good Stuff: This is one of the best books I have read on the craft of writing, and that is saying something when you have been writing for many years and read many books on the subject. Despite the title, this book actually covers a great deal more than crafting a good scene. It talks about POV, setting, character development, plot, dialogue, and so much more. I have had this book sitting on my bookshelf, gathering dust for over 3 years now, in no rush to read it. The title deceptively understates the content of the text within. If I had known what lay between the pages, I would have picked this one up much sooner. I learnt a great deal from reading this book and that blows me away. Maybe I’m now at a level where I have a greater understanding and I’m able to absorb the information and understand it, or maybe this book is just written in such a way that it makes it easy.

The Bad Stuff: Nope, sorry… there isn’t any. I’m super impressed with this title and will be referring back to it again and again in the future.

Overall, I really enjoyed reading this book and wish I had done so sooner. The author talks you through the techniques of writing in a way that makes it easy to understand, enabling you to grasp the skills needed to write a good novel. I very much recommend this title to anyone who feels they have not yet mastered the craft of writing. This one gets a scene-building, story-making, 5 out of 5 golden bookmarks from me.
Profile Image for Love of Hopeless Causes.
721 reviews44 followers
June 12, 2017
Libbie Hawker and Jordan Rosenfield should decide among themselves if Humbert's goal is to control Lolita or be loved by her, and leave me out of it. If a man used these examples, would we think it's acceptable? I was looking for a book superior to Scene and Structure. This isn't it. The first forty pages were so creepy I wanted to take a shower, blech! If Rosenfield considered the audience, she might find that tales of abuse, prostitution, and under-aged sex, might distract the writer from whatever it was she was trying to illustrate.

There's a new version of this book out, so I suppose I'm the last of the suckers for this edition. If I learned anything it was that Jordan believes readers need time to reflect while reading books, as repeated several times. Bickham, in general, might disagree.
Profile Image for T.A..
Author 13 books55 followers
June 15, 2018
I really appreciated the straight-to-the-point, practical, and clearly actionable tips and advice presented in this book. It forced me to think about the structure of my stories in a way I hadn't really considered before, and I plan to implement several new things into my writing process as a result. The book did get a little repetitive at times, and I felt like some of the more foundational advice for writing fiction would have been more useful to newer writers. As with any instructional book, this contained some advice that didn't resonate with me or that I just outright disagreed with, especially in the section on point of view (which I am admittedly pretty picky about anyways). Still, it's a great read for any fiction writer I think and contains lots of good, practical writing wisdom.
Profile Image for Frank Solomon.
33 reviews1 follower
November 29, 2017
Excellent book on writing scenes, including topics about scene transition and character development. This dovetails nicely with books that emphasize story over plot; for example Robert McKee's "Story -- Substance, Structure, Style and the principles of Screenwriting."

I especially found useful the suggested questions that an author should ask about the scenes in various "acts" of the story.

Well written and interesting.
Profile Image for Angel Hench.
482 reviews9 followers
July 30, 2019
What really excellent writing advice book do you return to again and again? There are so many out there, it's hard to know the good from the bad. Advice, please.

If you've followed me for any length of time, you know I don't read much nonfiction. But I've recently started writing again and this book about writing scenes is full of helpful and practical advice and I have a feeling I'll be returning to it often.
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