Friday, July 18, 2014

My Three Step Plan

One of my Beta readers sent me a compliment. She liked my dialogue. It was very kind of her and very much appreciated.

I responded by explaining a little about my three steps to building a scene.

When I first begin blocking out a scene, I think about what I want to accomplish and how best to advance the plot. Then I chose the characters I need. Since I’ve gotten most of my characters developed to the point I can hear them when they speak—I let them. Step one: I run through the scene with dialogue.

After I get a good sense of who’s saying what, who’s placing the important clue, who’s dropping the snarky remark, who’s making a joke—I get on with step two: making them move around within a defined space.

Step two takes awhile. I blame it on my high school English teacher, a no-nonsense WWII vet who marked down any padded writing that crossed his desk. It left me with a natural inclination for sparseness and brevity, good traits for a short story or an essay, but not so much for a novel. In a novel, the reader wants more details about everything.

As hard as it is for me, after I get the furnishings in the room, the room in a building, and the building in Bishop Hill, I’m faced with my most difficult task—step three: giving them emotions.

Seriously, at an early point, I considered the merits of an autistic protagonist. But I kept at it using the feedback I was given in workshops, writing groups, and from my primary reader, my husband.

Every time I revisit a scene I find something to fix, improve, and polish. All the little changes build up to enrich and add more depth. It reminds me of layers of varnish and wear on an old table, part of the whole that sets it apart, makes it unique.

This three step plan works most of the time. Once in awhile, one of my characters will take off on their own. I have to follow. It usually works out for the best. I’ve discovered that I need to pay attention to their dialogue. They know what they’re talking about.

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