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Optimum Scene Length

I'm often asked about scene length. Writers want to know if there is an optimum length for a scene, but there is no correct answer to this question. When I first began writing, I was lucky if I could write five pages, so I sometimes suggest the "five-page scene."

Five pages provide enough length to get an active scene on paper, complete with scene goal, complications, and scene resolution. For those who have no trouble with length, limiting the scene to five pages forces them to tighten writing that might otherwise be too loose and "flabby."

I also recommend writing a scene and then reducing it by 50%, aiming to lose nothing of importance. This is always possible by combining sentences, removing redundancies, and tightening dialogue. Once you perform this exercise a few times, it becomes obvious just how much revision is necessary for writing to reach the required density.

To illustrate, I more than halved the previous three paragraphs, condensing them from 154 words to 65, with the following result:

"Writers often ask about optimum scene length, and while no optimum length exists, I suggest writing the "five-page scene," which provides space for a scene goal, complications, and scene resolution. A restricted word count teaches the art of refining flabby prose. Reducing original work by 50 % forces writers to improve diction, combine sentences, remove redundancies, and tighten dialogue. The enhanced results speak for themselves."

Initially, don't worry about length. Write everything, including as many details as imagination allows. A will lead to B, which will lead to C. Always ask "what if?" and "what prevents the character from reaching her scene goal immediately?" Once you conceive of a scene and write it, go back and revise it to improve tension and make the narrative sequencing as effective as possible. When finished, edit and enhance the writing to the best of your ability. Another day, improve diction, combine sentences, remove redundancies, and tighten dialogue to cut the passage in half. Then, whatever the length of your scene, it is correct.

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