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Novelist’s Essential Guide to Crafting Scenes

Written by Raymond Obstfeld, 2000

211 Pages

Reviewed by Beth Morrow 2007– All rights reserved

Over the years, bits of insight from writing workshops have clung to my fiction writer’s brain the way those fuzzy balls of lint stick to knit sweaters: Start in the middle. Heighten the tension. Don’t edit til you’re finished. Make sure you separate knits from cottons.

Ok, maybe that last one isn’t quite writing-related, but in Raymond Obstfeld’s Novelist’s Essential Guide to Crafting Scenes, the good news is that the best piece of advice comes on page five—barely before you’ve had enough time to leave a crease in the spine. In a two hundred and eleven page book covering scenes--one of the most technical, most important elements in successful fictional storytelling—that’s no small feat. And it’s darn good advice to consider when the depth and breadth of the remaining information can send you thinking for days.

And what is this magical advice? Plot your scenes before writing? Connect your scenes through action and reaction? Never use flashback? While these are good, they miss the point: Obstfeld’s advice is much, much simpler and more intelligent to the practicing writer.

Just write it.

I like that Obstfeld starts by sharing that the most important part of writing scenes is, well, writing. Too often, books on writing craft delve directly into the deep meaning, the theory and meaning of the element without reminding the writer that getting the story out—not mentally rehashing it for months or years at a time—is the first step in writing.

And don’t think the simplistic nature of Obstfeld’s advice is typical of what you’ll find in the rest of the book—this book is a gem of a writer’s reference you’ll use again and again.

One of the highlights in Obstefeld’s book that you won’t find in other books on scene is the variety of scenes he discusses. Not just the typical action/reaction treatment, you’ll find useful insight on the elements of the basic scene, the first meeting scene, action and suspense scenes, comic/humor scenes, romance & sex scenes and final scenes. He’s also devoted chapters to finding the proper length for your scenes, choosing point of view for the most impact, using setting in scenes, building novel structure and the all-important but disliked revision process.

For hands-on learners, Obstfeld includes several ‘instant workshops’ in the text for writers to internalize the information through application. In addition, there are ‘tip’ sidebar/boxes that share insight related to the discussion of the moment. Peppered with numerous examples from movies, short stories and fiction, The Novelist’s Guide to Crafting Essential Scenes will have you rethinking your story from the ground up—and might even get you more excited about story structure than no-iron, eternally-creased dress pants.


About the author: Beth Morrow is a freelance writer who once turned a load of whites pink and has never been allowed to do laundry since. When she isn’t helping her husband fold towels, she’s updating her (almost) daily blog for writers at: www.fountainpeninc.blogspot.com or writing. Her latest article on helping fiction writers transition into freelancers can be found in the April 2007 issue of the Romance Writers Report.


         Last updated: March 20, 2007