The Anatomy of a Scene

Anatomy of Scene - pinterest.jpg

This Tuesday’s post is a little weird folks, I won’t deny it. I was explaining the components of a scene to someone the other day and I used the analogy “in the anatomy of a scene, dialogue is the backbone.” Well, that analogy grew, and it developed into a full-bodied illustration that I ended up thinking, What the hay, I’ll share it on my blog.

So, without further ado, here is the dissection of a scene. If you have any additions or substitutions for your own version of this, let me know in the comments! I’d love to hear your thoughts!


The dialogue of any given scene can shape or warp the health of your overall story. Dialogue is what makes a scene stand out, what carries the tension and, if executed poorly, can cripple your characters. If you have weak dialogue, you have a weak story. The question then becomes, in this analogy, is eavesdropping to study natural conversation flow the equivalent of drinking milk?



Like a person’s muscle and fat index, there’s no perfect measurement for how much description you need. It completely depends on your preference and writing style, so long as you stay “healthy.” If you’re too lean or glutinous with descriptions, you’ll lose your readers.



The life supply of your story is dependent on having sympathetic, believable characters. Your characters touch all the other elements of your story, much like blood in the body. Be sure to keep your characters active, fully submersed in dialogue, description, theme, the plot—everything. End of the day, it’s all about your characters.



Well obviously, your themes lie in the heart of your story. But more than that, everything in your writing passes through the theme. Characters bring life to the other members of the body, but the theme is the driving motivation behind their actions. It’s not visible at first glance. You can’t see someone’s heart when you first look at them. It’s buried in the actions of your character, protected by your dialogue, flushed across your genre and fueling the tone of your descriptions. (see what I did there? Tone . . . muscle tone . . .)



More than anything else in a story, the plot is structured, organized, and often gives direction to the actions of others (but that’s not to say that your characters should be driven by the plot—only that they move with the major plot points in mind). A good plot will make readers think long after they put the book down.



They say you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, but no one’s hopped on the “don’t judge a book by its genre” campaign yet. We should start it. But it’s hard not to. When you tell people about your story, the first thing they notice and pass initial judgment on is the genre. You notice a person’s face first when introduced to them (or you should), but are there only a set number of facial variations? No way! Just as every human face is unique, so is your story within its genre. Why? Because your story comes from you, and no one else can write your story but you.



Okay, this one’s a bit of a stretch (man, I’m just nailing these puns!), but follow me here. You may not be super flexible as a person, but you can do some basic twists and turns. If you weren’t flexible at all, you’d break—or at least have a very hard time moving around. The same is with your syntax, or, sentence structure. Being able to bend and rearrange your sentences’ structure will improve the flow of your narrative. If you form every sentence the same way, it’ll kill your prose. Pacing is how quickly your story progresses. One easy trick to manipulate the pacing in your story is to write concise, action-heavy sentences versus longer, wandering ones. The more in-shape your syntax is, the better you can make your story run. So stretch your structures and try new forms!


Comments Call

You’ll notice I didn’t make conflict one of the anatomical elements in this post, even though many agree it’s a vital element to every scene. What do you think conflict would be in this analogy? Something new, or would you have it replace one of the illustrations above? Let me know in the comments!


3 thoughts on “The Anatomy of a Scene

  1. Conflict would be the lungs! It’s the respiration that keeps the story alive and moving. But when conflict is resolved, that’s where this analogy falls apart. :-p


    1. Oh, the lungs would be great! Once the conflict is resolved, your story is over, and if you have weak conflict, your story could have trouble moving…maybe the analogy doesn’t fall apart so much as it just naturally ends! (That’s kind of morbid…) 🙂


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