1. Heidi
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    Heidi New Member

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    Help with a difficult scene

    Discussion in 'Plot Development' started by Heidi, Jul 12, 2011.

    I am new here, so any help would be appreciated! I am writing a historic novel set in Trinidad just prior to the War of 1812. In the scene I am struggling with, a young lady is having a dinner at her not very well off sugar plantation. They have invited much more successful sugar planters to the dinner and most only accept because a baronet directly from London will be in attendance. (Too detailed to explain why he is there)

    I do not know what to do with my characters in this scene. It seems SO slow and hard to write. I have toyed with throwing it out completely, but I keep coming back to why I need it. There's been a big build up toward this scene and this is where I have the opportunity to reveal the attitudes of the successful planters toward the fallen gentry family.

    Has anyone here written this sort of scene? What keeps the plot moving? How do I keep it from stagnating and becoming a real drag to read and to write?

    If I am not making myself clear enough, I am happy to explain further, I'm just trying to keep the question short as possible.
     
  2. Mallory
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    Mallory Mallegory. Contributor

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    In this case, make the scene all about little things that show their attitude. The key here is to be passive-aggressive rather than direct, because that's how the uppity characters are going to react. Have them make double-edged-sword "compliments" about the cooking, the decoration, the home, etc. Throw in awkward silences. This scene is one where you'll have to play around with subtleties, but also have fun with writing snarky assholes (that's what they are, right?). Think of the cliquey snobs from when you were in 7th grade, and imagine them as 1812 farmers eating dinner with their fellow clique people plus a lowly outcast or two who they can mess with. Psychological toying and the like.

    Hope I helped at all! :)
     
  3. Heidi
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    Heidi New Member

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    That does help a little. Something else that may be important in replying...

    The main character's mother is gentry, married beneath her class. The daughter wants to rise again to her mother's status and is rather twitterpated with the visiting Baronet... but she's not the only one. There are other higher status girls with finishing school educations at the dinner and she fears her abilities will be sorely lacking.

    As I write this, it seems like it should be easy to write as it is to explain, but for some reason when I try to write it, the characters start acting clumsily and refuse to move the plot along. They just sit around and eat and won't do anything important. It's getting very frustrating for me.
     
  4. Mallory
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    Mallory Mallegory. Contributor

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    So use it. Your characters are acting appropriately for the scene. I realize you're being metaphorical for your writers' block, but imagine someone in a situation like that. They'd probably worry about being clumsy, and they'd be quiet out of fear of saying the wrong thing.

    Use this. Make the silence awkward. Describe what's going on during said silence, and do it in a way that creates a really tense atmosphere.

    Then...throw in a catastrophe of some kind. Maybe the host accidentally spills something all over herself, or lets loose a huge fart she wasn't expecting, or maybe her kid sister says something excruciatingly embarrassing.

    Then let the various characters' reactions play out.
     
  5. SteamWolf
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    SteamWolf Senior Member

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    Or introduce something to mix things up and have the characters show their personalities and traits. Two servants have a fight that spills into the dining room; a guest has a heart attack or chokes (recovers or not - depends on your plot); two guests have a hostile history your MC wasn't aware of and they cause a scene; a loud noise from outside; a snake or large/scary insect appears in the room and so on.

    Not all dinners go to plan and having something happen may spark something with you. It doesn't need to be Chekov's Gun, but it can enrichen the story.
     
  6. Heidi
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    Heidi New Member

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    As I read these replies I think I know my biggest problem. I don't even KNOW the people at this dinner. Neither does the MC. She knows ABOUT them, but they've never really extended a warm welcome. The dinner probably has about 20-25 guests besides the MC, her family and the baronet and I only have a brief idea of who 2 of them are and I've mentioned a third. That's all. There is a servant who normally works the fields who was pressed into service at this dinner. He does not enjoy his duties and there is ongoing tension between himself and the MC.

    I suppose he could do something clumsy to mortify the MC in front of the people she is trying to impress... but I still don't know who's at dinner. That could help me come up with some good character development. Seems like a pretty basic thing to realize you're lacking...
     
  7. Mallory
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    Mallory Mallegory. Contributor

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    You can try the character development clinic in word games, that's for this type of thing. But I'd say first, just try and write the thing. Develop them as you go. have fun with it.
     
  8. SteamWolf
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    SteamWolf Senior Member

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    In this case, start writing a bit of back story for each of these characters. This information will probably never make it into the story but will make it a LOT easier to write about them and will make their reactions distinct.
     
  9. lemurkat
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    lemurkat Senior Member

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    I would say create the names and personalities of the people directly beside her. They're the important ones. Then set them up having a conversation. About her, or about someone in a situation similar to hers. You could have her getting more and more stressed out by this, or just anxious about the situation in general and then do something small but embarrassing - like dropping her cutlery or knocking over her wineglass.

    I suggest you do this by opening up a blank document page and just beginning to write that one scene. Start with a length of dialogue, maybe the woman next to her could be gossiping to her other neighbour or some such thing.

    Good luck!
     
  10. WriterDude
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    WriterDude Contributing Member Contributor

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    My current novel is 30.000 words in, and other than three small cameos, there are only two characters in it. Really. And I'm considering letting the story run like that, so I have an entire book with two characters. At first I didn't think it would work and planned a few ways to give the cameo-characters bigger parts. But after reading through what I had (20k words or so back then), I really enjoyed it and stuck with it. A story doesn't need a certain amount of characters to be good. A good story lasts on it's own. I bet you can even write a great story with just one character, if you want.

    The important part to keep in mind is that each scene needs to have a point and drive the story forward. And if not the story, then at least the characters. If you are having problems with the scene, ask yourself why you include it. A fun trick is to strip the scene down to the bare essentials and see what's left. The more you are left with, the more vital the scene is. If you aren't left with anything, you might as well remove it and give room for a better scene. ;)
     
  11. tiggertaebo
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    tiggertaebo Member

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    I would start by having the characters eat and make overly formal small talk - a few sutble barbs would be nice as long as the reader will understand them. You could have the girls who have finishing school educations make little in jokes that exclude the daughter.

    To be honest if it will fit into the environment I would have them all drinking heavily that way as they get more intoxicated they can get more and more direct and you can have the more successful planters reveal things that they never would while sober. For a little more freedom of movement with the characters and for a bit more flexibility in who talks to who I think the best thing would be to move through the actual dinner fairly quickly and maybe have some sort of after dinner drinks. That sort of environment should be alot easier to pace to your liking.
     
  12. Felipe
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    Felipe Active Member

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    I had a scene in my second book where two different groups of people are sitting down to dinner. Felipe Montoya, the main character is falsely accused of piracy. his father is killed during the arrest, he kills a guard and makes his escape after killing the man who killed his father. He and his uncle free slaves to be their crew then steal a large warship anchored in port. They become pirates and capture the king's daughter, the sole heir to the throne. she falls in love with him and sires a male child, the legal heir to the throne.

    The king wants this grandchild and offers Felipe amnesty. When they all sat down to dinner with all of the royalty attending, it gets quite awkward when the queen asks them what they did for a living without thinking about it. They were slaves, prostitutes and prison escapees. i had fun with that chapter.
     
  13. Heidi
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    Heidi New Member

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