Step 5: Craft Riveting Dialogue and Scenes

Why can’t I just start writing? I once read a manuscript where every chapter began with a character waking up and ending with her going to bed. This is not a scene. You do not have to relate every moment of every day in a story. You jump to the next turning point. In addition, I’ve read manuscripts where two people are ordering food, asking, “How have you been?” and other such droll wasted words on a page. But—the good news—read on. I can tell you how to learn to craft scenes and dialogue like a pro and come up to speed quickly without reading 10 how-to books. First, let’s define what dialogue is and is not.

  • Dialogue IS NOT the same as people speaking. Listen to a conversation over lunch, eavesdrop—that is not “dialogue.” It’s talking.
  • Dialogue IS carefully crafted words that move the story forward, create tension, and reveal character. This is the stuff of “great lines.”
  • The fast and easy way to learn powerful dialogue and how to craft scenes is simple: buy and read scripts. Seriously—you will learn more than 10 books on writing in a single week. Go to ScriptCity.com, where you can purchase scripts. They are no more expensive than buying a book. And, a feature-length script is only 120-pages. You can blast through them.
  • Choose your favorite movies and/or scripts in your genre. If you’re writing a mystery novel, buy mysteries; if you’re writing a love story, buy top-selling movies, like Sleepless in Seattle (awesome dialogue!), or An Officer and A Gentleman. Also pick up award winners.
  • Because you will read “scene-by-scene” and because a movie is all action and dialogue (no narrative), you’re reading the essence of a story. This method taught me scene-building, character-building, story structure, dialogue techniques, tension, conflict and more. This is the very craft of fiction!

Let’s Get to Work—Buy and read scripts Do not go on until the next step is done.

  1. Buy scripts. Read them. Analyze each scene–why is it there? Does it push the story and character arcs forward? Does it provide emotional impact? Do you see a major plot point (as discussed in  detail in Step 2.  As you read, you may think of scenes for your novel or screenplay. Keep your plot-planner handy and add to it or jot notes to add scenes later.
  2. Revise your plot outline. Fill it in. Brainstorm again. When it’s complete, you’re ready to write.
  3. If you’re still missing scenes, just go to Step 6 and start writing. You can add scenes in the revision process. You can also rearrange scenes.
  4. Now is the time to separate the analytical half of the brain and the creative side of the brain. You’ve done your homework–you created dynamic, conflicted (internally) and conflicting (to others) characters. If they are interesting, unique people to you, chances are, they will be riveting to your reader. Trust yourself, let all inhibitions go. As you write, craft the scenes one-by-one. Do NOT edit or you’ll never finish a manuscript. The first draft never feels entirely right. It’s like playing the piano for the first time. You know the notes and can read music–but you won’t hit every note on cue. You’ll hit some stinkers. So what. This is not the only draft. Your goal here is simple: write each scene to the best of your ability and write until you hit “the end.” If you think of changes to earlier parts–make notes, but keep going. Now, I can easily go back to make simple changes as I write or toss in a scene, but still, my motivation is to finish the first draft. It took practice to reach that point. Initially, I kept starting over–that was a mistake. Get to the end. You know this story, now write it! And have fun!

Go to Step 6: Write Your Novel 

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