WFMAD Day 9 – Movement

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.)

image copyright Anita Kunz
image copyright Anita Kunz

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

5 Replies to “WFMAD Day 9 – Movement”

  1. Laurie, I can’t begin to tell you how relevant this whole prompt is today. My most prominent WIP is mostly character driven: I sometimes worry that most of my scenes contain too much dialogue and not enough action. I’ve made sure that my characters are always going on picnics or on the train visiting people or out walking the dogs etc., and that’s fine, but nothing ever seems to HAPPEN. There’s symbolism and hidden meaning and imagery, I think, but the only conflict comes from within her, almost entirely through her reactions to her past and how it’s shaped her.

    Thank you thank you thank you for Day 9 and for all the days before it; I’m momentarily grabbing my Mad Woman Sweatshirt and fleeing to my favourite coffee shop to get started on this prompt. It’s going to be a sunny day for writing this afternoon. I can feel it in my bones.

  2. I love this advice. It reminds me of something screenwriter Kathleen Rowell calls the “Pope in the Pool.” She was explaining a poolside scene in a movie that was heavy with characters delivering important information, but it was such a data dump they needed something to make it all go down easy. The solution was to put the Pope in the pool and have him swim laps. The novelty kept the viewer’s attention and anchored the scene in a setting that enhanced the story. So, whenever I start writing talking head scenes, I remember “Pope in the pool” to bring the scene to life. It’s simplistic, but it’s an easy way to remind myself to add texture to a scene.

  3. I’m feeling a great deal of friction leading into the school year and some friction with my first story, but I’m moving on with my first and bouncing off a second of a different flavor. Sometimes friction makes me more determined, and I I believe that my character(s) will do the same. Still pondering the talking heads. It will come. But instead of getting lost in the whiteness of the page, I’m working one one story and then bouncing off to the other. Perhaps then I’ll not lose courage or momentum. 🙂


  4. Back from LASCBWI and able to get my 15 minutes back. I tried to write a little while I was there but so much was coming in and there was so much to do it was hard to find even 15 minutes of down time. I hope my breaking away for those days is okay.
    I may not have had time to write but I got inspired. Thank you for your speech you ended the conference perfectly for me!

    I’m an illustrator most of the time so writing is all new to me. Thank you for not only giving us encouragement to write but tips and prompts.

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