Scene Versus Narrative

I’m still thinking about last night’s writing group (the anonymous one I hinted about in a previous post). Each writer had amazing pages to share, ones that made us laugh, shake our heads or sit there with our mouths dropped open. There were a lot of sentences that slid by fast in the air, but if they were on a printed page in front of me, I would have paused to reread them and savor the language.

Oddly, most of us didn’t have dialogue in what we read aloud last night. That’s definitely an anomaly for our group, as we all have been well-schooled in the need for scenes, and there’s usually plenty of dialogue in successful ones.

I read the opening pages to my novel, and they sounded right, except for the mini farewell scene I attempted between protagonist Jean-Jacques and his dad that did employ dialogue. Did those lines fall flat because I didn’t flesh out their bodies or their physical reactions? Perhaps that part felt off because I was approximating what 19th century French would sound like when translated into English. The result was hollow, with a sort of knocking-on-the-door formality kind of sound. Or I’m not quite ready to write scenes yet, and I threw that one in when it wasn’t needed, just to get the practice.

Or maybe all three.

After writing two first-person voicey novels, about women protagonists at shifting points in their lives, and full of scene after scene, I’m now writing about a 19th century man using third-person omniscient. This might account for how easy it is to drop into narrative and then stay there, bobbling along the current of the story without regard for dropping deeper into scene. I’ve never done this kind of storytelling before, and I’m practicing. And, oh, it’s really fun. But I’m nervous about scenes, which used to come easy to me.

My fellow writers shared some good advice about scene versus narrative, and I’ve paraphrased it here without naming names, because I didn’t take really good notes, and besides, it’s sort of a secret group.

We can’t create scenes because we think we need a scene “right there” in the story. Scenes have to happen organically.

Narration can be just as vivid as scenes. Since my new book is historical fiction, it gives me more leeway to use narrative. That made me realize, of course, if I want this book to have an epic sound to it, the proper ongoing narration is part of creating that illusion of scope and scale. What permission exists in that thought!

With narrative, there are scenes, too. It’s all scene, just told in a different way than actually dropping into the action the way we’re accustomed to.

Dialogue works when it’s particular to the characters, when it reveals something about the characters that another method might not reveal.

I was also told to continue creating this world and the scenes will come. That’s about the best writing advice anyone can give–keep going.

About Laura Stanfill

Publisher, Forest Avenue Press
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