Scene Making: The Essence of Storytelling
with Elizabeth Stark & Ellen Sussman
A dramatic scene takes hold of a reader and insists: Pay attention. Live here. Engage fully. Great scenes make the reader lean into the story, refuse to put down the book, dream the tale we put on the page. We know this and yet developing the images and ideas of our stories into wonderful, fleshed-out, vivid scenes challenges all of us. This Master Class will explore what “show, don’t tell” really means in the books we love — and in our own writing. We’ll aim to create unforgettable scenes that pull our readers into the story and don’t let go.
We’ll examine all of the elements that go into great scene-making: gripping narrative, revealing inner thoughts, sensory detail, pitch-perfect dialogue, great back-story, flawless prose. Does the setting serve your story? Have you chosen the right point of view? Is there dramatic action that moves your story forward? We’ll use in-class exercises in order to explore the many ways in which we can make a scene come alive on the page.
If we are socialized not to “make a scene,” how do we do just that? Push your characters over the edge, make things happen, get out of the habit of keeping quiet! Fiction is not life, but a heightened version of life. Same with narrative non-fiction. Get to the heart of your story and let it beat, loud and hard and with great force.
Ellen Sussman is the New York Times bestselling author of four novels, A Wedding in Provence, The Paradise Guest House, French Lessons, and On a Night Like This. She is the editor of two critically acclaimed anthologies, Bad Girls: 26 Writers Misbehave and Dirty Words: A Literary Encyclopedia of Sex. She teaches through Stanford Continuing Studies and in private classes and she is the co-founder and co-director of Sonoma County Writers Camp.
Elizabeth Stark is the host of Story Makers Podcast, and author of the novel Shy Girl (FSG, Seal Press), finalist for the Ferro-Grumely and Lambda Literary Awards. A feature film she produced, Lost in the Middle, won Best Feature at the 2019 Broad Humor Film Festival and was a Festival Favorite at Cinema Diverse in Palm Springs. She co-directed and co-wrote several films, including FtF: Female to Femme, a creative documentary and Little Mutinies, a short (both distributed by Frameline). She earned an M.F.A. from Columbia University in Creative Writing and has taught at the Pratt Institute, UCSC, St. Mary’s, where she was the visiting distinguished writer, and elsewhere. She currently co-directs and teaches at Book Writing World and Sonoma County Writers Camp.