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What is a scene anyway? (A mini-narrative with beginning, middle, climax, and end, most often an encounter involving two or more people.) Where do you begin a scene? (As close to the end as you can; e.g., after the phone rings, someone walks over, picks it up, says hello.) Where do you end a scene? (When it’s done what it needs to do; e.g., before they hang up.) What happens in a scene? (Something had better.) How does it move the larger narrative forward? (By letting us in on something we don’t already know, either about the story or the people.) What is each person in a scene trying to achieve—overtly or secretly? (Something that conflicts with what someone else is trying to achieve.) But you’re not saying that every encounter in fiction is a form of combat? (I’m not?) But not if the people are friends or lovers, right? (Especially if.) Bring in a scene or two from your own work, and be prepared to discuss why it’s necessary to your larger narrative, what it’s accomplishing, and what’s happening in it—both the actual events and the undercurrents. We’ll pay particular attention to dialogue: what’s said and how it’s said; what’s not said and what that says.
David Gates is the author of the novels Jernigan and Preston Falls, and a story collection, The Wonders of the Invisible World. His forthcoming collection is A Hand Reached Down to Guide Me. He teaches at the University of Montana and in the Bennington Writing Seminars.