August 24, 2011

Just the Right Spark

I thought I'd give you an update on the progress of that pivotal scene I was planning the other day. No earthshaking news, ha ha. I wrote up to a certain point and have gotten temporarily stuck.

Turns out that while planning, I didn't actually decide on the exact spark that sets off the whole confrontation. I guess I hoped it would come to me in the process of writing the first part of the scene. So I got up to where the spark is required, and now I'm stopping to muse again.

It seems kind of silly, because what I'm stuck on is just a sentence or two of dialogue. It shouldn't be hard to come up with a sentence. But this bit of dialogue has to perform a very important, specific function. It has to believably cause my protagonist to say, "Here's what I've been so upset about for so long!" He's not going to blurt that out in response to just anything. That would be ridiculous:

"I like your new shoes."

"I want you to know that this is what I'm angry about! I've been keeping it bottled up inside for years and haven't been able to say it until now!"

"Wow, I never knew you felt that way. In fact, I interpreted your behavior as an indication that you felt quite differently, due to my own issues that I've never been comfortable talking about."

"But that means this whole time, I've been misinterpreting your behavior, too! How can that be what you really feel?"

"Ah, it's because of my deep and shameful secret."

Obviously, if my characters were this forthcoming in their communication, they wouldn't have gotten into this mess in the first place, and I wouldn't have a story. So a lot hinges on that crucial bit of dialogue which is going to subtly provoke my protagonist into letting slip the revelation that will serve as the catalyst for the whole big confession scene.

Man, is he going to be surprised when he finds out that secret.

Good Stuff Out There:

→ Becky Levine offers great advice about Unkilling Those Backstory Darlings: "Your readers do need some information about the characters and the world they're moving in. It's a rare novelist, and I can't name one off the top of my head, who can give the reader everything through dialogue and pure action. As you cut and cut, you’re also going to be trickling. A line here. A few words there."


Anonymous said...

You may have already thought along these lines, but putting on my writing-group hat:

You've got several characters who have been studiously not telling each other stuff, and now you've got a scene in which something has changed enough that someone snaps and tells. Presumably what you're looking for in your spark is itself a change, something someone wouldn't have said before but something about the new situation drives them to cross a previously un-crossed line. (You've also previously talked about a scene in which the main character just wants to leave, which I think might be this same scene but I'm not sure, and I've ranted about character goals that have them actively wanting things from each other.) So, what are the goals of the other characters in the scene? What are they trying to get out of the protagonist, that causes them to act in this line-crossing way? What is he trying to get out of them, that pushes him to act in a way that pushes them to cross that line?

("Tell me what happened that fatal night or I swear I'll burn the house down!" "All right, all right..."

"I've decided I'm moving to Miami" "--No, wait, don't go!"

"If we're not going to have kids, I'm going to have to leave you." "But don't you see, I *can't* have kids, because...." )

Lisa Eckstein said...

These are great points, as always. Thanks a lot for taking the time to provide feedback when all you have to go on is vague, simplified descriptions of scenes. I can't wait to get your actual critique of the actual manuscript if you have time at that point!

Anna Scott Graham said...

It's hard to place all the pieces just so, so every domino (or those you want to topple) fall on schedule. Noveling is akin to putting together a puzzle; so many edges and slots that look almost right, but don't quite fit. And when they do... Ah, a thing of beauty!

Lisa Eckstein said...

Yes, Anna, it's so much like a puzzle so much of the time. That's one of my favorite parts, but also the most frustrating!

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