Thursday, August 26, 2010

The internal and the external of scenes

Sometimes I read scenes in my manuscripts and think, "Um ... no. Something isn't working."

More times than not, the problem is that I've only written one "layer" of the scene.

All scenes need to have an internal and an external. There needs to be stuff happening both on the outside of the character (car chases, dialogue, dinner prep, etc.) as well as the inside (thoughts, emotions). And when you have just one of those things going on, your scene is going to feel flat.

Like most things, there's a balance to be achieved. Think of it like a car chase in a movie. They don't just show the external shots of the cars, right? And they don't just have a dashboard cam on the actors either. They cut from one to the other. Which is what you should do too.

The place this can be trickiest (for me, anyway) is dialogue-intense scenes. Especially in a rapid-fire, argument scene.

This is a scene from Me, Just Different that I've edited so it's written purely with external qualities:

“I’m not scared.”

“Then what’s wrong?”

He looked around the dark neighborhood and lowered his voice, as if someone might be listening even this early in the morning. “Please don’t make me say something that’s just going to hurt you. Let’s leave this alone, okay?”

I planted my hands on my hips. “You know that’s never going to happen.”

Connor paced the width of the sidewalk. “I’m such an idiot.” He tugged at his hair. “Why did I tell you I think you’re beautiful?”

“I already knew you thought that.”

He didn’t say anything, just continued pacing.

“So . . . what now?”

He stopped moving, looked at me. “What do you mean?”

“I mean, what happens now?”

“We’re friends. Best friends.”

I clamped my teeth over my lower lip. “I don’t understand. If you’re attracted to me, then what’s the problem? Is it my mom?”

“No.”

“Jodi?”

“Of course not.”

“Then what?”

Irritation seeped into his voice. “Stop pushing, okay?”

“I won’t. I want you to tell me, honestly, why you won’t date me.”

Connor’s hands raked through his hair over and over. Finally, he said, “As a favor to me, I’m begging you to not make me discuss this anymore.”

“I’m a tough girl, I can take it.”



And here's the same scene, but the internal perspective has been added (in bold):



“I’m not scared.”

“Then what’s wrong?”

He looked around the dark neighborhood and lowered his voice, as if someone might be listening even this early in the morning. “Please don’t make me say something that’s just going to hurt you. Let’s leave this alone, okay?”

I planted my hands on my hips. “You know that’s never going to happen.”

Connor paced the width of the sidewalk. “I’m such an idiot.” He tugged at his hair. “Why did I tell you I think you’re beautiful?”

“I already knew you thought that.”

He didn’t say anything, just continued pacing. I tried to be patient, but I had limits. “So . . . what now?”

He stopped moving, looked at me. “What do you mean?”

“I mean, what happens now?”

“We’re friends. Best friends.”

I clamped my teeth over my lower lip until I knew I could speak without crying. This was embarrassing enough without an emotional breakdown. “I don’t understand. If you’re attracted to me, then what’s the problem? Is it my mom?”

“No.”

“Jodi?”

“Of course not.”

“Then what?”

Irritation seeped into his voice. “Stop pushing, okay?”

“I won’t. I want you to tell me, honestly, why you won’t date me.”

Connor’s hands raked through his hair over and over. Finally, he said, “As a favor to me, I’m begging you to not make me discuss this anymore.”

“I’m a tough girl, I can take it.” But Connor knew how soft I was inside.


In heavy action scenes (yes, dialogue counts!) the trick is to sprinkle in enough internal elements to enhance, but not slow the pace.

Next week we'll talk about the internal and external of the story as a whole.

Have a great weekend, guys!

8 comments:

  1. Oh, great post. :)

    The external words often mis-guide what's really going on inside. They're protecting themselves.
    It's so much more than what you read...and yet we all feel, have felt and will feel the exact same way.

    I love relating to characters!

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  2. Thats so cool Stephanie! I've read the book and I still get to the end like "what's his problem???"

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  3. I really love how we can integrate this stuff. I just came across an argument in my MS where the hero says something discouraging, but reaches for a shawl to put around the heroine even while saying it. Then she rebuts what he says while pulling the shawl up and smelling his . . . well, it's incense, given the era, but think cologne. A case where the actions show the opposite of the dialogue and demonstrate the inner thoughts. And a few thoughts peppered in too, of course. I love this stuff!

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  4. I love the effect of the external misrepresenting what's going on inside a character. And like Kelly said, it's a very relate-able trait in a character.

    Lol, Bebs. Glad the scene works like it's supposed to :)

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  5. Great post! I love reading and writing first person because you're inside the protagonist's head and can usually relate to him/her more than third person novels.

    Just curious. How many words is your first book "Me, Just Different"?

    Tessa
    www.christiswrite.blogspot.com

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  6. I'm a big fan of first person too, Tessa.

    Me, Just Different is about 55k. The second book is 57k, and the third is like 59,800 or something like that. My contract specified they were to be between 50 and 60k, so I just squeaked in on that last one :)

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  7. How many words are your chapters?

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  8. They apparently range anywhere from 1700 to 2500 words, and each usually has 2 to 3 scenes. There's no hard rule on that, though. I'd actually never even calculated mine before.

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