Revising My WIP
Working On Dialog Scenes
When I wrote my first draft, I thought every scene that had words in was a dialog scene. I almost cry at how much I didn’t know. I wonder how much I still don’t know.
One of my biggest fears, when I wrote my WIP, was talking heads. That’s a scene where characters talk and talk and talk. But, we don’t know where they are, and nothing seems to happen.
I wrote a lot of dialog scenes without understanding their purpose. So, what are they supposed to do?
Dialog scenes reveal new plot information as well as dimensions of our character, that changes the story trajectory, and our POV emotionally reacts to.
For example, in Jim Butcher’s first Harry Dresden book, Harry goes to a crime scene, and discusses it with his police friend. In that scene, we get a reveal. His friend is under lots of pressure to solve the crime and she expects Harry to drop everything and help her, or else.
Is that a big shift for Harry?
It certainly complicates his life, and move his focus from his real case to this one. It’s not earth-shattering, or so it seems, at the time.
And that’s where reveals are so powerful, if we go back later and see that our story took at turn at the corner of Mundania and Drudgery, and led to something completely different from had been before.
So that we understand, I’m using Jordan Rosenfeld’s template for dialog scenes, as she wrote about them in Make A Scene. At the moment, I have 96 scenes. Seventeen are dialog scenes, and it’s taken me the better part of a week to polish six of them
What am I trying to do in a dialog scene?
I am revealing something in my story that effects my POV in some way.
I real life we’ve all had those conversations where someone drops in oh by the way. We were blind-sided, and emotionally reacted to this new information. Sometimes it was good. Sometimes it wasn’t. So, too, with our POV.
So, what does a dialog scene look like?
Every scene has an opening.
To stay away from talking heads, this is one scene where we want to ground our characters by describing the setting and the people in it.
We want to move quickly into the dialog, which means two people, because we want them to get into a ping-pong match with conflict and opposition. And…we want to start our dialog in such a fashion that we know what the conflict is. This isn’t a suspense scene, so we don’t want to keep our readers guessing why these people are having this conversation.
And…from the start, we want to point everything toward the reveal.
Then we move into the middle of the scene.
Our characters engage in a contest, a give-and-take. They might be trying to convince the other to do something, or just be arguing, or maybe defending themselves. But make no mistake, this conversation is all about winning or losing.
And we don’t have to just use words. We can use other things like body language, details of the setting, important objects, and maybe people are talking around something.
Somewhere in this ping-pong match, new story information is going to pop out. And, wham, our POV caught by surprise. And they are going to react to it, either internally or externally, or both, and they won’t see things the same after that.
Then we end our scene with the famous so what?
Maybe our POV character is, emotionally, deeply disturbed by the revelation. Or they are trying to intellectually process the information. Maybe they resolve to take action based on what they just heard.
How am I doing in revealing stuff in my dialog?
This has been harder than I thought. I presumed familiarity I shouldn’t have.
When I wrote my first draft, I composed 84 scenes, I followed the scene – sequel approach taught by Jack Bickham’s Scene and Structure, thinking of all my scenes as dialog. And when I read Jordan Rosenfeld’s Make A Scene, I thought I understood the revelation concept. And, in my first revision, I wrote what I thought should be dialog scenes.
But, in looking at the six I have worked on so far, I’ve not been impressed. After my first scene, my next three scenes are dialog, and none of the reveals seemed earth shattering. But the next three, a bit further on in Part One, do alter the story, reveal something shocking about a character, or warn the reader that trouble is brewing.
So, before I start characterization, I will go back and review these first three dialog scenes. I’m pretty sure dialog is the right scene type, because I’m still introducing my characters. But I can’t just assume milk toast reveals early in the story. That sounds like a good way to lose readers.
As I went into my scenes, I noticed that some of them started very slowly. And, instead of getting quickly into my dialog, they meandered. After thinking about it, I shortened some of the opening. But, for one of them, I broke it into two scenes. I will rework the early material into a suspense scene. I reordered the dialog part of the scene, and I think it’s much stronger now.
I’m up to 96 scenes now. I fixed six dialog scenes in four days. But that means I still have eleven dialog scenes to finish. I hope I can do that in the next week.
I’m despairing that I will finish my story in 2015. Gawk.