16 April 2010

Dead Bodies and Tea

I had a very instructive critique session with my group (two of whom are fellow editors here) and it got me to thinking about plotting in a macro sense.

Take the second chapter of my WIP, for instance. The information and negotiation between characters is necessary to the plot and character development. We also get a good glimpse of setting surrounding one of the character groups--important as the reader is just meeting them. There's even tension--one character has the other pretty well balls to the wall and he uses that to get what he wants. The other character is NOT happy about it. All good, right?

And yet, as Dave said: "It's basically two characters negotiating over tea."

Dave knows what he's doing with plot. He has a way of taking the big picture and stealing elements from it to ramp tension, as well as cutting down to the heart of a scene. And our group sort of has a collaborative "anti-tea" sentiment in fiction because, in real life, people negotiate over tea (or, if you're a writer, over beers) but in fiction, they should be negotiating over something more exciting, like, say...a dead body?

There's a past death mentioned in the scene, used as a motivator, and Dave said, "Why not have the dead body right there in the scene?"

And of course it seemed so obvious once he said it. A prime example of how a great critique partner will help you.

I mean, can't you see some character dragging in a beaten, bloody body of someone important to the other character and dumping it right in front of her? It's all showing--with that one act, the characters are motivated without sparing a word of dialogue. In fact, I'm guessing the scene could easily be half as long with the insertion of that one event.

I think I see this in stories a lot without really putting a name to it. There's often an unnameable deficiency in my rejected stories (it's tough even for editors to see what's not there). It comes from writers not pushing a scene to its full potential.

So my advice for the day? Take a look at your current story or scene and ask yourself, "How can I get a dead body into the room?"


lesleylsmith said...

Wow. This Dave guy sounds really good!

Mario said...

Rather, how do I get a dead body out of the room. And quickly.

Betsy Dornbusch said...

I've found in pieces, assembly-line style to work the best, Mario.

Aaron said...

Cool, this is very insighful. It allows me to see every scene differently. Coincidentaly, I was wonder how to find a critique group or other readers to look at my work in progress.

Betsy Dornbusch said...

Aaron, online I recommend critters.org. They deal in spec fiction, short and novel length. You'll get as much critiquing too as you do getting critique (or more, really).