Small Scenes in books that really stand out for you.

There is a scene in The Silence of The Lambs where Clarice is laying in bed obsessing over whether Dr. Lecter is going to try and contact her. She eventually gives up trying to sleep and says “fuck this” and decides to do laundry.

Her room mate says: You are over there trying to corrupt a moron aren’t you?

There follows a marginally witty dialog where her roommate tells her that if you are trying to corrupt a moron you must be more specific and you can’t just say what *Clarice *said.

It is something that I think Harris does well. He makes his characters a little more real by showing these tiny parts of their life. It showed us that Clarice was obsessing, but it also showed the bond these women have. While Clarice is laying in the dark obsessing, her roommate is laying in the dark worrying about her.

I thought it was a neat little scene. It wasn’t needed to advance the plot, but it made Clarice seem more real to me. Do you have any that stand out for you? Things that didn’t necessarily advance the plot, but still stick in your memory as kinda cool?

I think the end of “Catch Me If You Can” with the interaction between Leo and Tom when he passes the check through the jail window. For me, the neatest thing about the movie is the interaction between those two and occurs in the last 15 min of the movie.

Same sort of thing with “The Fugitive” I can’t remember the exact lines, but the fugitive said he was innocent and the Marshall said he didn’t care.

There’s a moment at the end of one of the chapters in “Light in August” where Faulkner tells us what Joe Christmas is not thinking, and it’s so specific…you have the sense that he did think these things, but subliminally. Or else, the character is not supposed to think these things, but you, the reader, are. I thought that was a really interesting (and cool) literary move on Faulkner’s part.

I think he does it more than once, but I can only find one instance:

ETA one more small scene in “Light in August” that has always remained with me:

On review, it says BOOKS. Sorry.

In Stephen King’s IT, one of the characters has a wife who is a minor character at best. Toward the beginning of the book, he goes into quite a bit of detail about her backstory, how she was turned away from a country club dance as a teen because she is Jewish. Now granted, Stephen King has apparently never met a backstory he didn’t like, but for some reason that I don’t really understand, that one really stuck with me and it always comes to mind whenever that book comes up, even though plot-wise it’s completely unrelated to the main story. I guess I think it’s successful because it ties in well to one of the main themes – people who are on the fringe of things for various reasons.

One of Alan E. Nourse’s sci-fi-for-youth novels that didn’t particularly stand out overall was Rocket to Limbo. But one scene alone elevates it to memorability.

Book starts out with a little preface in which with no faster-than-light drive available some kinda crazy early pioneers took off for the stars. Never got anywhere, just disappeared, but their spirit inspires subsequent generations and research and whatnot and the species human gets out into space in a big way in the subsequent couple centuries.

Some marooned explorers have spent a day and a half under grueling conditions trying to get to where their reconnaisance says a missing starship is located; it’s what they came there for and getting it in running order is pretty much their only shot at survival.

Exhausted, they get a couple glimpses of it through the fog and go charging off towards it. But at close range it’s all wrong. Too big. At really close range, too ruined, too rusted. It’s the long-lost centuries-old sublight vessel described in the preface.

I always like the bit in Dracula when a couple of our fearless heroes hear a knock at the door, and the narrator sets you up to believe that it’s Dracula at the door (mentioning how the knock seemed off). It turns out it’s just Lord Godalming.

:slight_smile: No worries. I don’t see why you can’t include scenes you like from movies.

I actually got this idea because I’m reading the last Potter book. There is one tiny little scene, barely noticeable, where Harry is in Luna’s room. There is a picture of them all and around it Harry thinks a chain has been drawn. On closer inspection it is FriendFriendsFriendsFriends.

It really didn’t advance the plot at all, but I had a moment of empathy for this lonely girl who probably never fit in and the 3 of them showed her a little kindness. Harry feels a burst of affection for her.

These little things are often what make a book for me.

There is a scene in The Maltese Falcon (the book) where Sam Spade and Brigid O’Shaughnessy are waiting for the other criminals to arrive at Spade’s apartment.

With no preamble or explanation, Spade tells Brigid about a case he worked on of a missing person. “He was gone like that,” says Spade, “like a fist when you open your hand.”

Spade finds the guy later, and the guy explains that he was going to lunch and a beam fell from a construction site and nearly killed him. And the guy had a revelation, that life was happening at random, and that organizing your life in a rational manner means that you are out of step with the universe. So the guy decided to do something random, by going away at random. So he does.

But when Spade located him, the guy had recreated his life in pretty much the same ordered and rational way that he was living before his “revelation”.

Spade is trying to explain to O’Shaughnessy what his approach to the case and to life in general is going to be, and why he gets away with it. He throws a monkey wrench into things, and watches how people adjust to it, and that’s how Spade decides what people’s motives and assumptions are.

It’s brilliant, but they left it out of the movie, because it wasn’t obvious enough. But it is the basis for our insight into Spade’s character and motivations.


In the science fiction collection “Tuf Voyaging” by George R.R. Martin, the initial novella introduces Haviland Tuf, a down-on-his-luck trader who has been hired to transport a gang of mercenaries across space. There’s a wonderful little scene in which one of the mercenaries, a fat woman named Celise Waan, is complaining about the food aboard Tuf’s ship. All he’s served them the entire trip is vegetables, and Waan is a spoiled person – she likes her protein.

So she’s pitching a hissy fit during dinner, and at the end of the fit she says “I want meat!”

Tuf calmly responds, “Indeed. I myself want wealth beyond measure.”

Tuf’s personality is fleshed out in much more detail in the rest of the book, but that’s a wonderful microcosm of him. Plus, the line tickles me.

In “Gone With The Wind” Scarlett thinks about what a wonderful mother she’ll be to her & Rhett’s unborn second child. Then she tries to interact with her own two children (Wade & Ella) and realizes she cannot–Ella is scatterbrained and Wade is scared of her.

When Bonnie dies, Scarlett thinks that she wants more children by Rhett (a boy with Rhett’s dark handsomeness and a girl like Bonnie). Then she wishes that her own daughter Ella had died instead of Bonnie.

Scarlett likes children in her mind. In reality, not so much.

There’s a bit in THat Hideous Strength where a few of the characters are discussing the difficulty men and women can have working in the kitchen together.

One of the characters says, “The cardinal difficulty in collaboration between the sexes is that women speak a language without nouns. If two men are doing a bit of work, one will say to the other, “Put this bowl inside the bigger bowl which you’ll find on the top shelf of the green cupboard.” The femal for this is, “Put that one in the other one over there.” And if you ask them, “In where?”, they say, “in there, of course.” There is consequently a phatic hiatus.”

I really love that scene. “Women speak a language without nouns” has become a sort of catchphrase in our house.
And from Gilead, a novel in letters, narrated by an elderly minister who is dying:

Since supper was three kinds of casserole with two kinds of fruit salad, with cake and pie for dessert, I gathered that my flock, who lambaste life’s problems with food items of just his sort, had heard an alarm. There was even a bean salad, which to me looked distinctly Presbyterian, so anxiety had overspilled its denominational vessel. You’d have thought I’d died. We saved it for lunch.

Not any one scene in particular, but just the way the two moravecs Mahnmhut and Orphu interacted with each other throughout *Ilium *and *Olympos *by Dan Simmons.

They both speculate on what’s really happening on Mars and Earth, and despite being old friends, Mahnmhut gets increasingly impatient with Orphu every time he gets into pedantic lecture mode. Orphu likes to pique the interest of his audience with a hook, but Mahnmhut has grown weary of this method of conversation and just wants him to get to the point. Even though Orphu is mortally wounded, can’t see, and only knows what’s happening through Mahnmhut’s relating of events, Mahnmhut still doesn’t want to give him the satisfaction of an ego trip when he starts going into intellectual discourse.

It’s petty, but I’ve felt the same way about some talkative people I know. :slight_smile:

It’s not really a scene, more a bit of narrative description, but in Heinlein’s The Rolling Stones, there’s this moment where Heinlein describes the progress of technology. How first humanity does something the hard way, and then the figure out the direct way. I don’t remember the details, but somehow it suggests that internal combustion engines in cars is not a very efficient way of powering cars.

And that moment made me want to read more Heinlein. Even though I was no where near the end of the book, and can’t recall the details, that moment made me think “I get why people like Heinlein so much”.

Heinlein alludes to this concept in Job: A Comedy Of Justice as well, where the protagonist comes upon a highway of cars that are eerily silent. The protagonist remembers something a teacher had once told him: noise is a byproduct of inefficiency.

That’s always stuck with me, and I recall it every time someone blows past me with a ear-splittingly loud motorcycle or muscle car.

My favorite little scene is the one, always the same and always different, that opens a Sherlock Holmes story. The fog swirling about the windowpanes, the fire crackling on the hearth; the breakfst dishes are pushed aside; Holmes has just explained some trifling deduction to the good Doctor and is sitting back from the breakfast table, lighting his pipe. The Doctor wanders over to the window, looks out, and says something about an escaped madman out on the street. And then there’s a knock at the door, the agitated client bursts into the room, and off we go…

Of course. Of course!

My favorite of these is the one where Holmes deduces what happened to Watson’s brother from an examination of a watch. All perfectly correct (of course), but Holmes describes the downward arc of the brother’s life in cold-bloodedly analytical terms (“Finally, taking to drink, he died. That is all that I can deduce.”) and forgets completely that he is talking about Watson’s brother.

But when Watson reacts badly, Holmes, although surprised, expresses his sympathy, albeit belatedly. Holmes genuinely forgot that anyone else has feelings in the joy of showing off.

Their relationship in a microcosm.


I’ve just been re-reading Alfred Lansing’s Endurance: Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage to the Antarctic. The whole book is a marvel, but one part that has always stood out to me was a description of a particularly happy time before the demise of the ship.

There’s something about this scene which so beautifully captures the unity of all the men on the Endurance – their humor, companionship and willingness to make the most of a bad situation. Comparing this time against all of the struggles they were to go through in the coming months makes me appreciate their bond and respect them as real people, not just a group.

I love Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series, and there’s so many good scenes, but I think my favorite is when Claire walks into Jamie’s shop after being gone for 20 years.

He has his back to the door, and he thinks it’s his apprentice, and calls out to him without turning around.

Claire responds, “It’s not Alex. It’s me.”

Jamie slowly turns, Claire walks up to him, touches his nose, and asks when he broke it. He says about ten seconds after the last time he saw her.

Then his eyes roll up and he faints to the floor.

I get all shivery reading that. I wallow in it, like a big down comforter on a rainy night.

The scene that always grips me in that particular short story is when Mushroom is used as an environmental test animal. Somehow, I can cope with laboratory guinea pigs and rabbits and such being used this way…but not a pet, and especially not a pet cat.