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Thursday, February 28, 2013

A Book Review on Make a Scene: Crafting a Powerful Story One Scene at a Time by Jordan E. Rosenfeld

by Ellen

Last month while exploring my local bookstore, I found and purchased a book by Jordan E. Rosenfeld, Make a Scene: Crafting a Powerful Story One Scene at a Time. Once home, I settled in with interest to read and investigate my new book  . . . hours later, I was still reading, and I asked myself, how had I not discovered this book before? 

As a writer, stories come to me in scenes . . . like snapshots in a photo album. Each page of the album is a chapter, and the individual photos are the scenes. I envision a still life, and then as a film director would, call action! My scene, setting and characters, come to life . . . however, sometimes not the way I would like! 
So when I found Make a Scene I was thrilled. Everything a writer needs to know about constructing a powerful, well-thought out scene, with character, setting, dramatic tension, dialogue . . . can be found within the 270 pages of this book.

I’ll share a bit with you today about what’s inside Make a Scene: Crafting a Powerful Story One Scene at a Time.  

First, the book is divided into four parts, which makes it easy to navigate.

 Part I Architecture of a Scene: part I explains the functions of a scene. Rosenfeld notes that a scene should have “characters that are complex and layered, and who undergo change throughout your narrative, conflict and drama that tests them and ultimately reveals their personalities. Your scene should have meaningful and revealing dialogue. It should have a rich physical setting that calls on the senses and allows the reader to enter the world you created. A scene should also have a sparse amount of narrative summary or exposition.” 

Part II The Core Element and the Scene: part II examines setting, the senses, character development and plot. Rosenfeld states that “plot and character are married to one another. In every scene you should ask: What is plot relevant? What is character-relevant? How are the two related? Your plot should be unable to carry on without your protagonist.” And most importantly . . .  Ask yourself what does my protagonist want, need, and intend to do?”

Part III Scene Types: there’s a lot of information in this section, but since I’m sure we can all agree on the importance of the first scene of any story, this is what Rosenfeld has to say: “the first scene in your narrative bears the greatest burden of all. It must do the following: hatch your plot, introduce your protagonist and provide a brief glance into his inner struggles, establish a rich setting, set up a feeling of dramatic tension and hint at complications and conflict to come. Your opening scene belongs to your main character.”

Part IV Other Scene Considerations: In the last chapter of her book, Rosenfeld explains scene assessment and revision, something every writer has experienced. She suggests once you have a finished draft, or a tough scene, step back. Put your work away for a couple of weeks and then get reacquainted, scene by scene. The last chapter also has a lengthy check-off list you can refer to. Here’s some of what Rosenfeld lists: do your scenes “fulfill the goals of setting and the senses, have well-developed characters, and contain enough tension to keep the reader’s interest? Engage the senses to create a sense of realism and authenticity? Use voice, dialogue, and behavior, rather than narrative summary, to reveal character? In plot, does each scene introduce at least one new piece of information in regards to who, what, where, when, how, or why? Does the plot create a tense atmosphere through setting and senses?”

I highly recommend owning a copy of Jordan E. Rosenfeld’s Make a Scene Crafting a Powerful Story One Scene at a Time.  I’ve barely touched upon the vast amount of information the book offers on developing strong and powerful scenes. It’s well worth reading.

And so on an ending note, I’d love to hear from you! What books on the craft of writing can you suggest I add to my library?      

Rosenfeld, Jordan E. Make a Scene: Crafting a Powerful Story One Scene at a Time. Cincinnati, Ohio. Writer’s Digest Books, 2008.  


  1. Thanks, Craig! This book keeps me from ranting and raving when my scenes crash and burn :)

  2. I just received this book from a wonderful friend, and I started delving into it last night -- what a gem! It is going to be so valuable to me in my novel-writing. Great to see you featuring it today.

  3. Isn't it a great book? Glad you are enjoying it!

  4. I love hearing about really useful tools like this--thanks, Ellen!