Sunday, August 29, 2010

The In Scene

I've been thinking about the virtues of staying in-scene--lots of dialogue, immediacy of action, easy for the reader to picture--versus going out-of-scene, or into what I'll call storyteller voice. In the latter, you can show the reader an entire life, provide a lot more backstory, drop in salient details but not feel forced to give a blow-by-blow account of what happened.

For a good example of storyteller voice, check out Paul D. Brazill's piece, Anger Management, at ATON.

Brazill starts with establishing the character's deep well of anger and explains how he became involved a group of thugs, and how he left that group for a more typical life.

It's the tale of a whole life compressed into a flash-length piece. Through using this distant perspective, Brazill is freed up to do a lot of stuff he would not be able to do if he stayed in-scene. As the tension increases, he drops into present voice and reveals that his narrator hasn't left his anger behind at all and paints a devastating picture.

Personally, I write almost exclusively in-scene. I feel that when I leave the comfortable confines of scene work, I tend to ramble, or get stuck in the character's head, or ignore the story's structure. (For an example of almost entirely in-scene writing, see my story, The Bait.)

Don't get me wrong: I don't really think this is a problem right now. It allows me to focus on what I perceive to be my strengths (like dialogue) and move the story along quickly. But I've been experimenting a little more lately and trying to write pieces that straddle the line between the two.

How about you? Do you prefer one to the other? Do you even think about this kind of stuff when you write?


  1. Cheers for this Cris! I really don't think too hard about what I write. It's usually better that way!

  2. Ha! Yeah, thinking about writing can definitely hinder the process.

  3. This just came up at my writer's group. One fellow is writing an entire novel through dialog. I feel this is a mistake for a piece that long--we never get a sense of where they are, what it looks like, what they are thinking unless they say it--which often sounds off. "Oh, yes, Jane the growing darkness and the storm outside precludes our ability to see a car pull up."
    On the other hand, in a short piece it can work well, making it feel like you are onsite with the characters.

  4. "Oh, yes, Jane the growing darkness and the storm outside precludes our ability to see a car pull up."

    That's hilarious. Yeah, a novel might be a bit much to go all dialogue, but I've definitely seen it work in shorter pieces. I think that would be a good exercise to try--even if the final draft has a more traditional structure.

  5. Kieran Shea writes great dialogue heavy stuff.

  6. Patti, no exposition at all? Ugh. Even THE FRIENDS OF EDDIE COYLE wasn't 100% dialogue.

  7. Great perspective and a top piece by the big bamboozeler