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Saturday, March 05, 2016

Use Your Own Pope in the Pool

We know the rule: make every scene interesting and keep the story moving forward. Easy enough when there's bombs going off or bullets flying or people kissing. But what about those "in-between" scenes? You know, the scenes where your characters have to chat and exchange information that the reader must know as well. Easy, you say, I have my characters meet in a coffee shop and...yawn...oh, I'm sorry. You were saying?

Fret not, there's an easy remedy for this quandary. Take that dialogue and make something interesting happen while the characters are talking! Can't think of anything interesting enough to glue your reader to the page for an entire chapter? You need look no further than your own childhood.

If you’ve read a few of Stephen King’s early works and his excellent book on the craft , On Writing, you’ll discover that the King of Horror pulled many of his scenes from his own childhood experiences. Remember the scene in It where the two boys built a dam across a small stream and ended up backing up all the sewers in their small town? Yeah, Stephen and his brother actually did that.

So why is it that so many of us fail to use the best material stored in our aging gray matter? Especially when such imagery will spice up an otherwise flat dialogue scene?
Now, I understand that women are at a disadvantage. You ladies have probably never dammed a stream, or built forts of old plywood and rusty nails twenty feet up a tree, or shoplifted beef jerky on a dare (I've only heard of these things, mind you). Despite your less adventurous (and less stupid) antics, you do have plenty of childhood memories to sprinkle into your stories.

And if we understand the basic elements of scene building, we can use any of those memories. And yes, you can make it work. Writing an 18th century romance that needs an interesting scene to pass on information between characters (what Blake Snyder refers to as “The Pope in the Pool”)?

Maybe your characters don’t have access to microwave ovens or firecrackers. But they surely have access to gun powder and a cast-iron stove. Same principles. Different technology. And maybe your characters don’t have a BMX bike to ride freestyle down a forty-degree slope, but they have wheels of some sort, and tools. I’m assuming the horse is too smart.

My point is that your in-between-the-action scenes can be spiced up a bit. Dialogue between characters doesn’t have to take place in a coffee shop. Ever. Again. Why not pass on that same info while something more intriguing is going on. Trust me, no matter how dry the dialogue is (though, let’s work on that), if your characters, in a fit of recklessness, are waiting on the either small or large explosion to rock granny’s stove, your reader will stick around for the ride. She’ll get the necessary information while surfing a small wave of microtension.

Try this: write only the dialogue for your scene. Now come up with some past experience of your own--one of those stories that tend to surface over a glass of wine with siblings--and use that as your backdrop. Simply insert it between the dialogue. Of course, it has to make sense to the rest of the story, but I'm sure you're crafty enough to make it work. 

And no using the Pope in the Pool. Quentin Tarantino already used it, and once is enough.

1 comment:

  1. Ron, this is great advice. It's something we don't always think of.


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