Wednesday, September 4, 2013
e-Mail question--writing tip
QUESTION: Arline, I'm taking another class and folks are complaining about my transitions. Not you, but my other teacher said that opening a scene with dialogue is good and gets the reader's attention right away. But the other students say they are confused. How can I fix this?
ANSWER: Well, I know the textbook we used, too, advised dialogue. But I always advised that the WHO? When? and Where? questions have to get answered in that first line or two of a scene. Otherwise the reader can feel disoriented.
That doesn't mean you can't start with dialogue, but -- lot of this is plain common sense. I can't tell you how many manuscripts I see as a publisher now where scenes open with conversation between two people, but we don't know where they are, or even who they are. Worse, many times a third person will say something, then following the speech, will be the words, "Danny Martin joined them on the post office steps." It's just plain disorienting for Danny to speak, before he joins them. Sort of like someone sneaking up behind you and poking you in the back when you're not looking.
And it's even worse if the first two people have been talking for half a page before we find out they're at the post office. Especially if we've already built them a street corner, or a grocery store parking lot in our imagination, because when left without a clue, the reader's imagination will come up with something...
But you can still do it with dialog!
"Lorrie!" Janet Eiselmann called to me from the top of the post office steps. "I've been meaning to call you. Did you hear about the murder? It's all over the news!"
"What murder?" I hurried up the steps as our postman, Danny Martin, came through the doors behind her. "No, I haven't heard a thing."
"Mayor Dabrovnik was found this morning, dead in bed, they said." Janet's eyes were wide and blue, but her voice was gleeful. "Shot in the forehead!"
"Who, beside me, would want to kill the mayor?" I asked remembering how much I had wanted to strangle him at the last city council meeting. "Don't look at me! I don't even own a gun."
"Don't play innocent with us, Lorrie." Danny laughed as he fished in his bag and handed me my mail. "We know you did it. Nobody could have wanted him dead as much as you after he turned down your last rezoning request."