Sunday, December 07, 2008

Technical Topics -- Talking Heads I

When to use 'Talking Heads'?

I brought up a message and response down in the comments trail that deals with one specific use of Talking Heads.

I stopped by to comment on MLAS (aka Jessamyn). I just started reading it . . . and was wondering if you kept the scene about Sebastien rooting through Jess's bedroom (I recall it from a previous post . . . and although it's a little different, it's still there!)
Yah! Why did you think an editor would cut it?

A raft of Really Cool Scenes got cut out of the manuscript. I had to write other stuff to replace them.

The searching-Jess's-room scene managed to escape the slaughter.
This pleased me.

Putting the matter in a philosophical teacup --

All scenes have to justify their existence.
Scenes that do not contain the H&H interacting really have to justify their existence.

At heart, the structure of the search-Jess's-bedroom scene is Talking Heads Exchange Information. Sebastian and Adrian are -- I hope -- interesting Talking Heads, exchanging vital information and doing nifty stage business while they're at it.
But they're still Talking Heads.

This is a weak structure for a scene. An easy, self-indulgent structure.
You have to ration yourself to maybe one or two Talking Head scenes per manuscript.
This kinda scene is the first to get chopped if your pacing is slow or you need to lose words. Rightly so.

So ... why is this scene in the final book?

I think the search-bedroom scene survived the cuts because it was truly about character revelation. (i.e. it was not using 'character revelation' as an excuse for taking up space.)
The scene 'told' stuff about these three characters that would have been difficult to 'show' in any reasonable length of time . . . which is one of the justifications for Talking Heads.
The scene is short.
It found a spot where I could afford to slow the pacing.
And it made an efficient framework to reveal character.
I let Sebastian look at Jess's possessions and straightforwardly tell the reader what they 'said'.

You'll say this sort of scene isn't so much 'efficient' as 'bloody obvious' and 'heavy handed'.

Hmmm ... yes ....


  1. I know what you mean about the rationing. I was reading a signature silhouette category last night and there was a phone conversation scene that went on for 3 and ahalf pages with nothing but talking heads. I got really sick of it.

  2. Hi Moth --

    It's not that we can't DO Talking Heads.
    You can DO just about anything.

    The idea is not to get caught.

  3. LOL. Bless you for trying to get Talking Heads done right.

    That's why I always employ the third person omniscient view for the opening of my books. If I'm gonna infodump, I'm gonna do it right up front, as I establish the tone of the book. :-)

  4. Hi Sherry --

    One thing I do ...

    I'm willing to slip out character POV right in the middle of a chapter and go to more distant narrative voice.

    I do this, for instance, when I'm describing scenery. If it's something the characters wouldn't notice, but I want the reader to 'see' it, I'll slip loose of character POV and do the Omniscient bit and then sneak back inside the character head and hope nobody noticed.

    They say, 'never let your morals stand in the way of doing what is right.'

    I figure 'never let knowing how it should be written stand in the way of the writing.'
    But this is probably specious.

    Congratulations, btw, on the Romantic Times nomination for 'Best First Romance of 2008' for Private Arrangements.
    So cool.

    (I had to withdraw from that category as not eligible. I may be re-entered, elsewhere)