Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Authenticity in Action

Maven Darcy BurkeEver forget to practice what you preach? Raises hand. I swear it was an accident. Recently a lovely writer friend of mine graciously read Her Wicked Ways. She had great things to say (yay!) about the last two-thirds. What about the first third? She found the pacing off. Too much introspection and non-relevant action. Oh no, but I try to balance action/introspection/dialogue! Remember AID? Uh, yeah, I guess I forgot. Or wasn't paying attention, more likely.

Regarding the introspection, I think I was in a rut of inner dialogue to replace action. In a character's POV scene, it's cool to ground their external dialogue with inner dialogue. Fun technique, but easy to overdo. Same with tagging external dialogue with action. We all know the pitfalls of arching brows, shrugging shoulders, and flexing fingers.

But I had plenty of non-arching/shrugging/flexing action! Except the action still wasn't tied to the goals of the scene. Whaaaa, you say? I'll give an example. I had a scene in which the hero and his mentor/best friend type discussed his romantic progress with the heroine using the miserable summer and the failing crops as the backdrop. The cold weather and disastrous planting play hugely into the hero's GMC. So, here they are checking out the fledgling plants that are woefully behind schedule and musing about the potential for a freeze that night. Out comes the heroine and conversation turns to her and blah, blah, wake up!

After my friend gave me her comments, I reread the first several chapters and immediately saw her point. When I got to this point in the story, I sat back for a moment and pondered how best to make the action in this scene more relevant. I mean, standing around talking about the weather is nowhere near as exciting as doing something about the weather. So if a freeze could be imminent, why not dump snow on them? Now. As in, we need to get these plants covered before the snow accumulates and kills the tiny sprouts! (Yes, Maven Carrie's technique of "how can I ruin my characters today" mentality was incredibly helpful and I want to give credit where it's due.) Now my scene had real action that mattered to the story. And the conversation that was there still happens, but it's more authentic. Yes, that's it, authentic.

So thank you dear friend/CP (you know who you are) for reminding me that action should be authentic for the scene and contribute conflict as well as interest. And thank you Maven Carrie for helping me torture my characters.

What do you do if a scene just doesn't have "it?" Do your scenes have authentic action that moves the story forward, that contributes to the purpose of the scene? How do you keep track of all the myriad things we aim to achieve in our writing?

Congrats to our friends over at Riding With the Top Down on your second anniversary! Speaking of anniversaries, the Mavens have been blogging for a year this week. Crazy, huh? Stay tuned for exciting anniversary happenings...


Marnee Bailey said...

If a scene doesn't have "it" I generally rewrite. I've been doing it this week. Frustrating, but I always think that if I'm bored by my scene, my readers definitely will be. LOL!!

By the way, you guys got an E from us over at

Check it out!!

Bill Clark said...

Speaking of anniversaries, the Mavens have been blogging for a year this week. Crazy, huh? Stay tuned for exciting anniversary happenings...

Only a year?! It seems like you've *always* been there. I can hardly remember a time when I didn't start my day with a cup of coffee and a solid dose of Mavenry!

Happy Anniversary!! The Mavens rule!!

Jackie Barbosa said...

I LURVE the Maven Carrie "what's the worst thing that can happen next?" method of plotting. Whenever I get stuck and don't know where the story should go next, it ALWAYS works.

I also truly love the way you explained making the scene's action mesh with the dialogue and introspection. And you know it's working...because I can't wait to read what happens next!

Courtney Milan said...

You know, I have the same problem, and I'm beginning to accept it as just part of my process. I will write these scenes that are basically, my hero and heroine sitting around in some arbitrary room and talking. And my CPs will complain because they're sitting around and talking, and even though the dialogue is fun, it's just not THERE yet.

But sometimes I kind of think I need to write them that way, to get the emotional part out on the table in a way that works. After my CPs have grumbled their grumble, I go back and admit that they are right and try to make the scene work. The changes are usually radical at that point--less talking and more action. Usually, I have to give up my favorite lines to fit the scene snugly into action--but that's where I've gotten some of my favorite scenes.

Thus, I had to delete this exchange, which I loved:

"Couldn't you have been lonely at ten in the morning?"

Gareth peered at his nails. He could barely make them out in the dense darkness. "Unfortunately, my schedule tomorrow is packed.

But I got out of it one of my favorite lines of all time:

"I can't reach behind my back, either."

Carrie Ryan said...

Yay that the "what's the worst that could happen" method works!

I also remember Ally Carter once talking about a scene she wrote that was really important but was just characters talking. She thought it was boring (though authentic). To spice it up she moved it from their dorm room to a martial arts class so there was lots of action, even if tangential. It really spiced up the scene!

Michael Devers said...

I think it's the same idea as Carrie's, but when I have a scene that lacks in "itness", I raise the stakes. It's something I learned from poker. Tired of folding marginal hands for an hour straight? Play the hand like it's A-K suited and you'll add some excitement to the exchange. Of course pick the wrong time to do it and you'll get crushed, in both poker and writing.

If the scene still illicts only a "meh" from a CP, I'll cut it in half to distill out the impurities. If it's still not there, it's time to move it to the "bit bucket" and re-examine the thought process that took the story there.

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