Monday, 19 September 2011

How to Make Static Scenes Interesting

At some point you're going to have to write a static scene.  Static scenes are just that - static.  In other words, the characters can't move around much eg job interview, prison visit, date in restaurant, morning coffee. Static scenes tend to end up as two characters talking while facing each other across a table, and are dull dull dull unless you work at bringing some action in.  

Take the prison interview.  We're in a plain room, no furniture except a table and 2 chairs, both of which are screwed to the floor so no movement there.  But you could add...

- a fly on the wall (literally)
- a mirror: the viewpoint character could wonder if it was 2- way and if the wardens were watching inside.
- spy camera in the corner, especially if it moved around.
- high up window: clouds might be visible scudding across the sky
- impeded action, such as trying to move the chair and not being able to
- actions using props such as a briefcase with papers to rustle and pass across the table

You could also add details which imply action...

- a bruise: perhaps the prisoner has been attacked
- cut on cheek: cut self shaving - or something more sinister?
- badly fitting uniform: scratching, edginess, shifting in seat, gestures showing it's too tight etc.
- noises outside: footsteps, doors clanging shut, car horn sounds.

I try to move all my static scenes into locations where they are active but sometimes it just can't be done. It helps to make a list of all the ways you can add actions and active details (as I've done for the prison interview) and then weave them in to create a static, but interesting, scene.  

Finally, don't forget to use interesting verbs - don't have your characters just sit in their chairs, let them slump, fidget, lean.  And as a final resort, if they've absolutely got to be still, they can always radiate menace.

Anyone in St Ives for the September Festival?  I'm giving a talk on Friday 23rd September at 11.00 am in St Ives Library.  Go to the website for more info.


JO said...

Useful, this - I love writing dialogue, but characters need a context as well as great words to speak.

Sarah Duncan said...

And the context needs to be active.