Scene Construction & Symphonic Dialogue (Adapted from John Truby’s The Anatomy of Story)
What is a Scene?
A scene is defined as a specific moment of action, which means one action in one time and place. A scene is a ministory within the larger story.
Two objectives must be achieved in constructing any scene:
1) Determine how it furthers the overall development of the hero. What does she learn here, or decide to change here?
2) Make it a good ministory. The beginning of a scene should always frame what the whole scene is about. The scene should then funnel down to a single point, with the most important word or line of dialogue stated last.
3) Start as close to the end as possible. Many writers, in an attempt to be “realistic,” start the scene early and build slowly toward the main conflict. This doesn’t make the scene realistic; it makes it dull. Rather, start the scene as close to the end as possible without losing any key structure elements you need.
Write your hero’s character change before any scene. By the end of your full story, what will change about the hero, and what will he have learned about himself and the world?
Where does this scene fit into the hero’s larger character charge?
What problems must be solved in this scene?
What strategy will be used?
Whose desire drives the scene? (Not necessarily the hero). What does this character want?
What is the endpoint of character’s goal (Desire) in scene? How does character’s desire resolve itself? (By knowing endpoint in advance, author can focus entire scene towards that point.)
Who opposes character’s goal (Desire)?
What plan will character use to accomplish his goal? (Character with desire comes up with the plan.)
Direct or indirect plan?
Direct Plan – Character states exactly what he wants. Increases conflict and drives characters apart.
Indirect Plan – Character pretends to want one thing while actually wanting something else. Decreases conflict initially and brings characters together. But can cause greater conflict later when the deception becomes clear. (Other character will either recognize deception and play along or be fooled and give the other character what he wants.)
Will scene end in height of conflict or some solution?
Will there be a twist, surprise, reveal in scene?
Will one character end scene by commenting about who another character is deep down?
Once a scene has been constructed, use description and dialogue to write it. First write scenes without dialogue (letting the character’s actions tell the story). Then write your dialogue.
Dialogue is not real talk. It is highly selective language that sounds like it could be real. Good dialogue is always more intelligent, wittier, more metaphorical, and better argued than in real life.
Dialogue is best understood as a form of music. Like music, dialogue is communication with rhythm and tone. Also like music, dialogue best when it blends a number of ‘tracks’ at once. The problem most writers have with dialogue is that they write their dialogue only on one track, the melody. This is dialogue that explains what is happening in the story. Great dialogue is not a melody but a symphony happening on three major tracks at once.
Writing dialogue (great dialogue) is like a symphony happening on three tracks at once):
Story dialogue (Melody) – Story expressed through talk about what the characters are doing. Story dialogue is written the same way a scene is constructed. Lead character states his desire. Character two speaks against this desire. Lead character responds with dialogue that uses direct or indirect plan to get what he wants. Conversation between the two becomes heated as scene progresses, ending with some final words or anger or resolution.
Moral dialogue (Harmony) – Talk about right and wrong action and about values or what makes a valuable life. Provides depth, texture and scope to the melody line. Not about story events but rather the character’s attitudes about these events. Characters express their values, their likes and dislikes. Two or more ways of life are compared. Lead character proposes or takes a course of action. Character two opposes that action on grounds it is hurting someone. Scene continues as each attacks and defends with each giving reasons to support his position.
Unique Voices: Make sure each character speaks in a unique way