Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Scene Chomping

In Writing The Breakout Novel, uber-agent Donald Maass cautions us about scenes in which characters are eating. (In fact, if memory serves, he says he’ll toss a submission if the first chapter contains one but, like I say, don’t quote me on that part).

Anyway, his advice (as always) resonates with me. Especially when newbies join my crit groups, I notice a whole lot of forking going on, and I don’t mean the good kind. ‘Course, it’s understandable. I mean, to break up the dialogue, you gotta have something for your characters to do while conversing but…well, mealtime almost NEVER adds anything to the scene (unless you’re Jenny Crusie or somebody equally talented).

So I avoid them like the plague.

Only, last night I was working on a current scene and it happens to be really pivotal to the plot (it ends with the characters making love for the first time). And what are they doing? They’re eating friggin’ ice cream in the living room.


What was I thinking??? Is the Jenny Craig diet seeping into my brain…as in, I’ve now gone three weeks without ICE CREAM? (Oh, and by the way, it’s the end of week two—took a week off for Atlanta—I’ve lost a measly two pounds. Sigh. But I digress.)

I thought back over the rest of the manuscript and realized that either subconsciously or by design (hopefully the latter!) I’ve been pretty good about making the setting do double duty. Like when Rose takes Sam’s daughters to a surfing contest, we get both a set-to with the eldest daughter over an embarrassing situation, and Rose’s first run-in with her ex and his pregnant girlfriend.

Similarly, to cover up an otherwise static conversation with best friend Tory, I put them at a canine rescue center where they exercise the doggies (one of which—who?—whom?—will figure into a subsequent plot point.) Ditto another conversation with Tory that occurs at the gym (Rose stumbles onto a life-changing idea while perusing a magazine on the treadmill).

So, given that you’ve already established the purpose of the scene, and that an important conversation simply MUST take place, and that eating ice cream in the living room will put the reader to sleep NO MATTER HOW SCINTILLATING and TENSION FILLED the DIALOGUE…what do you do??

Ah…back to the list of 20 (see previous entries or check out Stephanie Bond’s article on “Lose the Muse.”)

Tomorrow I’ll post what I came up with.

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