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The Surprising Secret to Snappy Scenes

Got a scene in your novel where a group of characters argue and discuss, but no matter how important the subject is, somehow the tension falls flat?

You can fix this scene, and I’ll tell you the trick right up front: get rid of some of your characters. Why? 

Because chances are, you have too many in the scene.

Remember: Every dialogue scene is
a conflict between two characters.

In ensemble stories, it’s a common mistake to try to get “the gang” all in one place to deal with a problem. But that leads to muddy scenes with a lot of cross-talk, which slows down your story and lets the drama fall face-first into the mud.

I know you’re trying to keep all of your characters engaged and present in the story. Makes sense. But all that does is overcrowd the stage. So don’t do it.

Fewer talking characters equals more drama. Why?

Because every dialogue scene is a conflict between two characters.

That’s it. Only two. Don’t believe me?

Head over to your bookshelf. Take down your favorite novel. Open it to any talky scene and read it closely.

Here’s what you’ll find: the point-of-view character wants something in this scene. And he or she is opposed by another character. Any other speaking parts only exist to bolster one side of the argument or the other.

Or, occasionally, someone interrupts, which usually ends the scene or sends it in a new direction between the same two characters.

Now, take a hard look at your problem scene. Count how many characters are present. More than two?

Ask yourself:

• Which character is driving this scene?
• What does this character want, specifically?
• What does the opposing character want, specifically?

Once you’ve answered those questions, you know what your scene is about. Rewrite it with just those two characters. Get rid of everyone else.

And if that breaks your heart, remember: You can always add them back in on the rewrite.

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