Flight School with Jennifer Lauck
Flight School Podcast
Flying Lesson #2 ~ Pt. 1
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Flying Lesson #2 ~ Pt. 1

Exclusive Writing Lab: Scene defined
5

Hi and welcome:

It’s time to get into our metaphorical plane 🛩 once more and hit the sky with a teaching on the most important element of memoir writing: Scene.

Generally speaking scene is the building block of creative nonfiction. There are exceptions to this statement—more academic or technically oriented writing, the essay of ideas perhaps—but overall, the widespread notion that nonfiction is the writer’s thoughts presented in an expository or summarizing way has done little but produce quantities of unreadable nonfiction.

~ Brenda Miller and Suzanna Paola, Tell it Slant

As you know from reading these posts, I have studied creative writing and creative nonfiction in various settings for several years: undergraduate studies, Dangerous Writers, and in a graduate program. But all of that was in the 90’s and early 2000’s. Tell it Slant, first edition, released in 2004. I had published three memoirs by that time and did so largely in a vacuum of confusion. Which was a shame. But there you have it.

Miller and Paola’s book is in a third edition now and I just ordered it, pronto, when I saw it had been updated You can too via this link with proceeds supporting local merchants.

Tell it Slant is, in my humble opinion, one of the best teaching books on creative nonfiction and deserves a place on your shelf. It does a nice job explaining scene with solid examples but it doesn’t do a great job. The reason, to me, is that it moves too fast. So let’s get this aspect of storytelling worked out here and now. Let’s make it extremely clear. Let’s help you take the leap from being a good writer and to a great one.

At the simplest level a scene, the basic element of all story, is a moment in time where something happens to move the story forward. Make note of the singulars here: “a moment,” and some “thing.”

Many writers, who have many thoughts and a great deal to write about those thoughts, cram-jam their pages with all of their…thoughts. This is to be expected but not indulged in the early stages of learning. Contain yourself, as a writer, and try to grab ONE moment where ONE thing happens in that moment.

I like to think of a scene as a single, beautiful, and complete pearl. And as I write, I thread pearl after pearl onto the string to make my story (this necklace, this glorious string of pearls) whole.

A narrative essay has about five to fifteen scenes (pearls) but this is not a rule as much as a general guideline. A full length book can have as many as three hundred scenes (pearls). Again, not a rule, but more an observation from years of study and from counting scenes in many books.  

Scene. Representative scene. Flashback scene.

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Flight School with Jennifer Lauck
Flight School Podcast
A safe haven for those writing from life