I’ve said before that a writing group is a great thing. And though last week I posted a link to another blogger’s tip about avoiding writing groups gone bad, good writing groups can help immensely.
Case in point. I have been struggling with a scene in my mini-story for nearly a month. I’d gotten a few notes that the scene didn’t have the punch that it could, the reader wasn’t feeling the drama, that kind of thing. I couldn’t figure out what was wrong. I read the scene over and over and over, even tweaked it a few times. But it didn’t quite grab like I wanted it to. It was close, but still not there. This past week, however, one of the men in the group phrased his thinking of what was wrong in a way that finally clicked for me. And once I heard it, it was the most obvious thing in the world. But I hadn’t realized it until then. I’ll use a television or movie metaphor for what was wrong with my scene.
In a show or movie, when the action heats up between two characters, the camera tends to zoom in on them. This gives you a better view of their expressions, gives more punch to their words (they’re clearer, and you can hear a hissed whisper) and allows you to see all the details and the subtle interplay between them. This gets the viewer more involved in what’s going on. Writers use the same technique. This part I knew. It’s related, in a way, to deep point of view. The kicker is there is a corollary to this. Don’t zoom out from the close-up too many times during the tense exchanges. It’s distracting and keeps the viewer from getting into the action.
In my scene I had been cutting between close-ups and wide shots, back and forth, instead of staying close-up longer. That was a big part of why the scene wasn’t as dramatic as it could be. It’s fine to occasionally pull out to a wide shot to give some detail of surroundings, but not in the middle of a dramatic moment or as you are trying to build up the tension. Wait until a lull between exciting parts or maybe slip it in before the action gets going. After looking over the scene with this in mind, I made some adjustments. I was more careful of where the narrator intruded and watched where (and how) I described surroundings. I think it worked. The scene seems snappier and more tense.
So, if you are having trouble getting a scene to ‘pop,’ check if you are making too many switches between close-ups and wide shots. Stay with the close-up longer!