Set the Scene

I think people give the advice “show, don’t tell” too much. That being said there is one place in every story it’s very important to show. If you don’t show in this place, readers will have a very difficult time orienting themselves and actually enjoying your story.

The point where you need to focus on showing is at the beginning of a scene.

How To Start Scenes

Most scenes should begin with two essential pieces of information:

  1. Where are we?
  2. How much time has passed since the last scene?
  3. Who are we with (for stories with multiple viewpoint characters)?

This can be done in one sentence or one page, but if you don’t set the scene with this information, your readers may feel lost and frustrated.

Story Audit

Audit the story you chose in the first lesson with the following questions:

  • Take note of the beginning of each scene to check if you’re being clear enough. Do you include location and time information?
  • If not, is the scene clear to the reader?

Ready for your final exercise? Click here


    Speak Your Mind


  1. BernardT says:

    As it happens, this was especially relevant for my story as the scenes don’t come in chronological order, which meant it was very important to be clear about the WHEN

  2. Audrey Chin says:

    I’m spanning too many time frames for a short story, or even the first paragraph of a story. Back to the chopping board.

  3. Mirelba says:

    I am surprised to notice that I actually did set the time information. Is a reference to a kitchen table enough of a location indicator?

  4. Ack! The time information is something I’m constantly lacking in my scenes. Thanks Joe, one more thing to be careful about in my writing.

  5. Ann Stanley says:

    Just changed the first paragraph to add this. It probably wasn’t clear, except in my head. Too bad I can’t just take a picture of my brain. The scene is so clear there. Finding the right words is a challenge!

  6. Describing the setting is probably one of my biggest weaknesses as a writer. I’m more of an action/dialogue type, but I know how important setting and description (in the appropriate moderation) is to a story and I’m trying to work on that more.

    I like how you started with people give the advice of “show, don’t tell” too much. I went to a critique group last week for YA/MG writers. One of the writers there just gave that advice. She’d go through and get nit-picky about typos and a lack of comma, then just say “you should show here, not tell” to everyone. While it’s helpful to have your grammatical errors and typos pointed out, I think it’s a sign someone needs to learn how to give critiques if typos and “show, don’t tell” are the only two things they have to offer.