Scene development is critical to good storytelling, whether the work at hand is a play or a novel. Building a story scene by scene takes time, patience, and a large dose of ingenuity. It’s often tempting to use scenes as a kind of glue to hold the fragments of a story together, but this is rarely as effective as using them as a source of energy: a tool for pushing your plot forward and building momentum.
In an ebook called Showing & Telling, Laurie Alberts, offers some helpful advice on avoiding “the sin of nothing happens” — creating scenes that accomplish little or nothing in moving a story forward:
If a scene doesn’t include an important event or revealing interaction, then summarize what’s necessary without devoting a whole scene to it, or simply leave it out.
Each aspect of a day doesn’t merit a full scene if no key information about a character is revealed or if it doesn’t advance the plot or theme of your story.
Save your scenes for important occasions — for hitting the high points of your story and “heightening complications” so that each scene becomes a building block that carries your reader or audience toward the climax.
Quiet or slow scenes can be used to set up information and expectations for something to come, but use this approach very sparingly: it can really bog your story down.
One useful tip I learned in my playwrighting class: use small index cards to summarize scenes and then shift their order around and see what interesting combinations emerge. Write on!