If you are writing a plot-driven book, one in which the main character’s journey is largely a response to exterior forces (Harry Potter, Hunger Games) then you will rarely be at a loss to decide what kind of action a scene can contain.
(CAVEAT – except for when you hit those “quiet” scenes that pacing requires every once in a while. At that point, you’ll want to pay attention to the rest of this post.)
Character-driven novels (Speak, Wintergirls) have fewer Big Dramatic Externally-Driven Turns of Plot. And more scenes in which the characters move the story forward by dialog. However, page after page of dialog with little action sends a lot of readers to sleep. (Barry Lyga and I have an ongoing disagreement about this, btw. Ask him about it the next time you see him.)
My argument is that talking heads on the page are just as boring as talking heads on Sunday morning talk shows. More importantly, they are a missed opportunity. With a just a few lines of action, you can add layers of depth to a scene. Likewise the strategic insertion of a character’s thoughts, or timely setting or sensory details. Why would you chose to portray a scene like this in one color when you have the entire palette at your fingertips?
Ready… This is Week 2. Before you start writing, give a gentle reminder to anyone who might interrupt you that all you are asking for is fifteen minutes of peace and quiet. And that you deserve it.
Set… “Change means movement. Movement means friction. Only in the frictionless vacuum of a nonexistent abstract world can movement or change occur without that abrasive friction of conflict.” Saul Alinsky
Today’s prompt: Write down five scenes in which your character will engage another with a great deal of dialog. Quickly jot down what the purpose of the dialog is, and how it will move the story forward. (This should only take a line or two.)
Then for each scene, try to come up with an action that the characters can engage in while talking to each other. For example: grocery shopping, trying on pants at the mall, looking for lost homework in an overstuffed locker. Extra bonus points if you can come up with an idea for the action that will give the reader further insight into the personalities or lives of one or more of the characters.
Scribble… Scribble… Scribble