jordanrosenfeld

When should characters think, act or speak?

In Business of Writing, Classes, Craft, Musings on June 22, 2010 at 6:28 pm

Lately, rather than imposing an order on my blog posts, I’m simply blogging about the issues that come up for students and clients.

When writers struggle with a scene, I’m finding the most common reason is that they don’t know how to balance the elements. And by “elements,” more often than setting and sensory details, I find it comes down to this:

When should my character think, speak, or act?

The best scenes have a little bit of all three.

In every scene, a character should set out with an intention that is thwarted or met with conflict (and sometimes achieved).

Dialogue and action are the best ways to convey most things: plot info, character personality, as well as character’s feelings and opinions.

But: When there is something your character can’t/won’t say, that can’t be acted out (unless s/he is a mime!), thought (interior dialogue/internal reflection/contemplation) is required.

And remember to SAVE dialogue for hot topics–the kinds of conversations you’d like to eavesdrop on; for tense and conflictual exchanges; for subtle but necessary plot details.

As for action–it runs from the smallest physical tic to the biggest global catastrophes. Action creates a sense of “real time”–which is crucial to bringing people into your world.

When you’re trying to find the balance in a scene, start by asking: Should my characters: think/act/or speak more or less here? And what would be the most active way to demonstrate my scene goals? (Hint: internal reflection is not the most active).

If you’d like to learn more strategies, I’m teaching Revise for Publication, 6 weeks, beginning August 16. www.jordanrosenfeld.net/events-classes.html .

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  1. Perfectly timed post! I was just thinking about this.

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