A few weeks ago I wrote about the opening scene in my novel, which I'd changed to ground more in scene. You may recall, I was quite excited.
But apparently just because something is in scene and written well does not guarantee that it can do the job.
In this opening, my protagonist was having a conversation with a sleeping man, telling him she loved him, and ruminating about the problems of their relationship while he snored loudly. I submitted it for critique by a very reliable, well-respected writer. She wrote back, “You are telling, not showing that M is an unsatisfying relationship for Luna. We just see him sleeping and then gone. So her dissatisfaction and therefore everything she tells us subsequently, is unearned. For all we know he’s prince charming and she’s just a complainer.”
When I shared this with my friend Pascale she said of my critiquer, “Oh, please. Has she met a man?”
Be that as it may, apparently the information needs to be verified.
My critiquer said all I needed to do was use a different scene in which there is an exchange of dialogue.
This is a lesson I’ve been taught before, and ignored. At a writing conference a few years ago I read the same scene, and a famous writer said, “How about some dialogue?”
I said, “The guy’s sleeping.”
She said, “What if this were a movie?”
I said, “It’s not a movie. It’s a novel.”
I thought I’d added enough dialogue when I created lines for my protagonist to say to her sleeping lover. And when I had him snore back in response, I thought it was funny. I still do.
I don’t feel completely wrong here. I should be able to have a scene with a sleeping man if I want to. My protagonist does a great job creating the angst, which is another major ingredient to get that plot moving. I’ve read internal books – and this isn’t completely internal¸ plus it’s only one scene. It’s an entertaining scene anyway. But I can recognize when the fight is futile, so I’ve changed it to a scene when both parties are awake. I hope to use the sleeping stuff elsewhere, because it’s good.
I still think you can create a dynamic scene with little or no dialogue (as I did in every scene of my picture book BY THE SWORD), but apparently I’m alone in this line of thinking. “Show don’t tell” actually means “show interaction between characters, ” I’ve just learned. We’ll need to let James Joyce and Virginia Woolf know asap.
Yes, we must kill our darlings. Sometimes, the reasons are obvious. And sometimes, the hardest times, we must abort a perfectly viable literary fetus.
You have to do what you have to do, and move on. If you want to be published, that is.