Friday, August 15, 2008

Welcome Guest Blogger - Maralys Wills

Drama, drama, drama!

Tis the stuff fiction is made of. Without it we would be reading books about doing laundry and riding the bus. The stuff of tedium.

Then again, too much drama and it's all falling off cliffs and navigating bog waters in a dug out canoe. Interesting, but not all that believable. I mean, how much family tension can Grandma take the ol' ticker just gives way? (Oooo, more drama!)
There's a line, fine or not, that separates great fiction from ho-hum - the great dramatic scene. But how does an introverted, bookish sort like, oh, let's say YOU (and me) work up a dramatic froth that fans will rave over? Ahh, you need to meet Maralys Wills.

Maralys Wills calls herself a “genre-hopper.” Her twelve books span no fewer than six different genres, though this wasn't her intent when she began writing. “In the beginning,” she says, “I just wanted to write. The genre-hopping was an accident.”
Her fiction works include four romance novels and a techno-thriller about airplane sabotage: Scatterpath. The New York Times called Scatterpath “exciting, down-to-the-wire stuff...her cockpit sequences all but put the reader at the controls.”

For the past 18 years, Wills has taught novel writing on the college level, and in 2000 was voted “Teacher of the Year.” In addition to frequent speaking engagements at local colleges, she gives writing seminars: “All you have to do is ask.” She is a past president of the Orange County Chapter of Romance Writers of America.

Maralys Wills. Author, “Damn the Rejections, Full Speed Ahead: The Bumpy Road to Getting Published.”

Visit Maralys at:

Today she'll being going over the basics of the dramatic scene. Grab a defibrillator and lets get dramatic!
Writing Dramatic Scenes

Like a vacationer who leaves his suitcase at home, a novel or memoir won’t travel far without some great dramatic scenes.

Dramatic scenes are why readers buy books.

Book lovers wallow in them. Readers like me don’t just hope for them, we lust after them, yearn for them, read madly until we catch up with them. And then, having found what we’re seeking, we read the scenes over and over, soaking up the drama, letting our feelings become involved. We relish them more than dramatic scenes in movies, because on the written page we can slow the scene down and revel in its individual parts; we can re-read the best lines until we’ve wrung out every scintilla of emotion. These scenes become ours, they’re part of what we know and feel about certain characters, but even more, they’re part of what we learn about the world.

You may think I’m exaggerating, but I’m not.

Show me a novel or memoir that’s rich in great, dramatic scenes and I’ll show you a book that becomes a best seller.

SO HOW DO YOU create a dramatic scene?

The first rule is easy. Write and keep writing. You can’t do it in a line or two—or even a paragraph or two. A truly dramatic scenes takes pages: paragraphs for the build-up, paragraphs for the unveiling, paragraphs for the characters’ reactions, paragraphs for the resolution.

If this sounds like quite a few pages, it is—for a major scene, fifteen to twenty manuscript pages, at least.

Recently, one of my long-time students (a very smart man who is also a teacher), submitted a chapter that summed up the end of a several-year period (and many chapters), in which a decent frontier man, let’s call him Jake, had been searching for his kidnapped wife. Jake makes a terrible decision when, at a crucial moment, he decides to pursue the “bad guys” instead of chasing those who almost surely absconded with his wife. Having come agonizingly close to getting her back, this foolish Jake realizes the wife might now be lost to him forever.

The whole class waited for the inner fireworks . . . a desolate husband raving to others about his terrible mistake . . . a long period of loneliness and frustration . . . hours of agonized pacing across his meadow . . . nights spent alone in his cabin, acutely aware that his life could have been rich and full but now, because of his unthinkable misjudgment, isn’t.

What we got from the writer was almost nothing—a sentence, I think. And then he wrote, “Fifteen years later . . . “

As I finished carrying on in class, beating up on the poor fellow about the enormous hole in his manuscript, he looked at me and asked with a grin, “You mean the word ‘regret’ wasn’t enough?”

We were all still laughing as class adjourned.

NOT ONLY DOES IT take pages to build a dramatic scene, but only with sufficient pages will the reader think to himself, This is important. Subconsciously, the reader equates sheer volume of words with significance, guessing, correctly, that if something is said in a line or two, it can’t mean much.

Which is why crafty authors work hard to pull excess lines out of minor moments and add as many lines as possible to the great dramatic turning points.

THE SECOND RULE for a dramatic scene is that you must have dramatic material: heart-stopping events are required, as exemplified in these five scenes from published books: (a) a “devoted” husband tells his wife he’s leaving her for a pregnant girlfriend; (b) the director of the FBI tells a new lawyer his firm is full of crooks and killers; (c) the parents of a hang gliding champion are stonewalled for hours in a hospital, only to learn their son has died; (d) a defeated witness attempts to murder the children of the lawyer who disgraced him; (e) a young girl is lured into a neighbor’s underground hideout and raped and murdered.

It’s a rare author who doesn’t recognize his dramatic moments long before he writes them.

Assuming we have most of the ingredients for drama, how do we make the scene dramatic?

In a subsequent essay, I will illustrate the ways in which these dramatic scenes are played out—exploited to their fullest.
Subsequent essay???? What???? We have to WAIT?
Oh, the pain of it all.
Uh, okay, re-read this amazing blog article and make some notes. I'm going to go work on my dramatic prose.
I bid you good writing.

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