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Writing a Well-Rounded Scene

mockingjaybrandybuck asked: “Hi Lizard, I also most enjoy dialogue and feel pretty comfortable writing it, however, I struggle with the text to fill out a dialogue heavy scene. What are some other ideas I can be thinking about when writing a dialogue heavy scene that is more well rounded?”

Good question. Sometimes while I’m writing and just so into the dialogue I forget I’m just writing the conversation and not actually writing the scene itself. 

I tend to be a little wary of my writing when it ends up like that. If I’m just describing character body language and can’t visualize the scene beyond that, there might be something wrong with it. I won’t say this is always the case, but often a problem for me. When I go into what I know will be a dialogue-heavy scene, I try to imagine it like a screenplay or a theater production. While that’s a lot of dialogue, you can’t just have the actors standing in one spot on stage. That’s boring. Well, you can do that, but not for long bouts at a time. It can get old fast. 

I try to think of a setting or an activity that is natural that will help add to the dialogue or show the conflict in a more physical way, like if an angry character happens to be cleaning her house, she might take out her fury by beating a rug with a broom. It’s a matter of allowing the setting and the characters’ lives infiltrate the conversation and add more dimension to it. It’s going to be a matter of getting creative. It’s not quite as simple as having a character cross their arms or turn to stare out a window, while there’s nothing wrong with those actions, it doesn’t say a ton about them, their lives, or their personalities. 

Or say your character is going through a really rough day and needs a pep-talk from their best friend while sitting alone in the car before going back to work. Maybe while she’s on the phone, she can’t stop thinking about breaking her diet and eating the half-melted Snickers bar she’d stashed in her glove compartment. They might be getting a pep-talk, but also, they’re sneaking bites of a chocolate bar when they can, and don’t want their friend – who might be in the middle of the same crazy strict diet –  to notice. 

Think of the dialogue just as one layer or dimension in your scene. You can add more tension and depth through added elements that bring out the setting, have the characters being active – even in trivial ways- and draw out their personality through their behavior. 

I always think after writing a scene of almost straight dialogue that it’s so hard for me to go back and make it into a fully fleshed out scene, and often, when it is, it’s because I just don’t know my characters quite well enough to know what else they would be doing in this moment. It doesn’t need to be big actions, but small actions, or frustrated non-actions can go a long way. In the process of fleshing out these scenes, I end up learning so much about my characters and about the world I’m writing. It becomes so much more real to me and- I’d hope – to my readers as well. 

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