Sunday, 22 February 2015

Quiet quiet is too quiet?

I received an email yesterday morning from a website that gives tips on how to write. I'd completely forgotten I'd signed up for this mailing list, but it was nice to have a little something to read that I wasn't expecting.

Anyway, the topic of this email was all about how to transform your quiet scenes into exciting scenes. Have you ever read a book where the characters all suddenly stop whatever it is they're doing and have a cup of tea? Or they all sit down and talk about their feelings? Or the author describes in loving detail how their MC makes Spaghetti Bolognese; from pulling out the long, thin strands of golden pasta and placing them lovingly into a pan of water that bubbles and boils, mirroring the inner turmoil of the MC's heart; to sprinkling that freshly shaved parmesan on top of the mound of rich, red mince and inhaling deeply, all their worries fading away as they breathe in the scent of a thousand Italian dinners past...

You get the picture.

There is nothing wrong with having a few well placed quiet scenes throughout your book. It gives the reader a chance to breathe, and reflect on what's happened and what's to come. The main issue with quiet scenes is that - as you can tell from my horrendous example above - sometimes scenes are a little too quiet. How many of you switched off while reading that above passage? I know I switched off, and I was the one writing it.

Quiet scenes don't have to mean that there's no action going on. There might be tensions underneath the surface between two characters, which should come across in their dialogue. Depending on your POV, one of your characters might know something another one doesn't - or maybe your MC knows something that no one else does - and you have to ask yourself: how does this change the scene? Will they be nervous or scared? Or angry? Or maybe your MC is completely oblivious to the tension, and keeps chattering happily, while everyone else is looking dagger at each other? Or maybe there could even be small, subtle hints throughout the conversation that hints at a bigger picture?

What about the setting? It's fine if you want to have a conversation taking place between two characters over dinner, or a mother and daughter having a heart to heart over a cup of tea - but don't forget what the point of this scene should be. It should be moving the story along. You only have a limited amount of time to keep your readers interested; every single one of your scenes should contain vital information for keeping your story flowing. It doesn't always have to be some huge revelation - it can be something small, but which may have bigger consequences later on. (But be warned, don't take this too far - quiet scenes aren't for info-dumping. An info-dump will more than likely lose a reader's attention just as quickly as my Spaghetti Bolognese story did).

Quiet scenes are great. I actually like it when I read a book and the author gives me a moment to think about what's happened so far and how the MC is feeling. Sometimes I think that, in YA books especially, authors feel as though everything has to happen at breakneck speed. All the action happens in quick succession BAM! BAM! BAM! and there's no time to explore how the characters are feeling (insta-love doesn't count. That's JUST AS BAD as not explaining anything at all! Ahem, sorry...), or what the consequences of their actions might be. This, to me, feels even more unrealistic that everyone suddenly sitting around a table and having a good ol' catch-up. I find it extremely difficult to get into books where the heroine or hero flits from danger to danger, without pausing for thought. I feel as though I never really get to know any of the characters, or what their motivations are.

All in all, quiet scenes don't have to mean boring scenes. They can be a fun way for getting subtle (or maybe not-so-subtle) information across to the reader. Just remember - you can have tension in the most normal of circumstances and it's up to you, the writer, to capture the reader's attention throughout.

Have a lovely Sunday, everyone!

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