Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Technical Topics -- Character Development Scenes

Somebody says -- "I have a couple of scenes that are basically only used for character development, and I'm having a hard time writing them . . .  I feel a little strange about writing it because hardly anything noteworthy actually happens."

That's the sort of scene you cough a little and say -- "That's a character development scene," when somebody asks why it's in the manuscript.  It's the sort of scene that showcases and explains the character --  well, lots of scenes do that --  but when you think about it, nothing important to the plot took place.  There's no necessary decision, no character change, no story action. The scene could be removed without affecting what happens later.

The problem with character development scenes (and flashback scenes, talking head scenes, and prologues of this type,) is that they're written to convey information, rather than getting on with telling the story.

Now, IMO, there's nothing inherently wrong with having a few no-progress scenes in the manuscript. We have all this cool information lying around, after all, so why not pass it along to the reader?

But if the writer's going to drop the reader into a static, informational scene, the writer has to know he's stopped telling the real story. When he's done with his flashback or his character development scene, he's going to pick up the plot again in the same place as before. No forward movement. The writer had better want to slack off on the pacing, because that's what he's just done.

Readers don't so much want the story to stop dead in the water, so the writer had better make this digression interesting.

Some writers always start out with a couple just informational scenes as warm-up writing. It's an exercise that helps them organize their thoughts. It's part of their process. They pull the scenes out later and expect to.
No harm, no foul

But I think sometimes no-progress scenes arise from a misunderstanding of the old saw, Show Don't Tell. Folks feel they have to lengthily 'act out' specific information instead of just having somebody remark -- 'George has always been shy as a wild rabbit,' or 'It's been ten years, and Elinor has never admitted her passion for canasta,' -- while getting on with more important business like sawing up their latest victim or rearranging the political face of Europe.

1 comment:

  1. Another good piece of advice :-)

    Now, do you have a post on Point of View? That is something that really, really confuses me.

    Obviously I'm okay writing in first person cos there is only one POV, but when I get to third person I get very confused about whose POV I'm looking from.

    Can you help, dear Joanna?