Friday, November 13

Posted by Laurel Garver on Friday, November 13, 2009 3 comments
"Write what you know" sometimes spills into our approach to scene writing. We stick to the scene format that feels most comfortable to write, whether that's action, dialogue, description, narrative summary or internal monologue. This, my friends, is not good. Can we say "one trick pony"?

Have you picked up a book with too much dialogue and thought, "Would these people shut up already and DO something?" or read something that's action, action, action and felt completely exhausted within 10 pages? Presenting scene after scene in exactly the same manner can become tiresome to read. It can also hamstring your pacing. Tension that's never released tends to fizzle rather than build.

Self-editing for Fiction Writers delves into this particular problem well. The authors' remedy? Mix it up. Avoid putting the same scene format back-to-back. I'd say perhaps an exception would be when there's a chapter break.

Example time. I'm revising a chapter that opens with a dialogue scene. (And by golly am I entirely too addicted to dialogue scenes.) In it, the MC's grandfather drops a large family secret in her lap. Narrating the event would have sucked tension, so the dialogue is staying. My problem is the follow-up scene. What I can't do is more dialogue, at least not a scene that's driven by it. But alas, what I've drafted is indeed dialogue. My fix? Narrative summary. Not telling it in flashback, but reporting the event in story "real time" (in my case, first person present). I also plan to include some action here to pick up the pace. If I wanted to slow the pace, my best option would be an interior monologue section. Slower yet? Interior monologue with flashbacks.

Narrative summary doesn't come naturally for me. But craft trumps comfort. The more I bang away at it, read writers who do it well, the more the scenes flow.

So, my friends, get out the carrot or the whip, but by golly, teach that pony some new tricks.
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  1. "craft trumps comfort"

    How true. Some authors milk (?) that pony for all it's worth, and make a grand living at it. But for those of us who aspire to more, there's nothing like getting out of our comfort zones to shake up the comfortable routine.

    Keep at the revisions. You can do it!

  2. LOL. Funny mixed metaphor. One could technically milk a Shetland mare (I dare ya to try), I think you'd be more likely to "RIDE that pony for all it's worth."

    And I know what you mean about some authors. In the YA genre, it's extremely common for the MC to yammer on for pages of interior monologue. S-L-O-W. I think Browne and King have some solid advice here.

  3. I'm a dialogue girl, too, probably as the result of having "show, don't tell" hammered into me by early writing teachers. Your example is very helpful in sharpening how scene structure influences pace--thanks for posting it!