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Monday, February 21, 2011

Where's the Beef? - Contrast in Writing

Drama is all about contrasts.

I thought about that when considering the fact that two weeks ago we had several inches of snow here in East Texas, and this past week spring has sprung. The daffodils are popping up all over in pastures and along the side of the roads, and people are tilling the soil for spring gardens.

Talk about extremes.

And maybe that is what works best in fiction.

I've never been much for extremes. I've always been a middle of the road kind of person and for the longest time I didn't realize how much that affected my writing. For instance, I have never been comfortable with anger or violence, so it has always been hard for me to let a character really go to an extreme.

That was first pointed out to me when I was writing a film script with a director in New York and there was a scene where two people had to get into a verbal fight. This was a pivotal scene in the couple's relationship, and I took them to the brink, but then backed them off. When I turned those pages over to the director, he looked at me and said, "You call this a fight?"

He then goaded me into a verbal sparring match, and when we were finished, he smiled and said, "Now that's  a fight.."

I learned a lot working with that director. Whenever I would be pulling back in a scene, he would always ask me "Where's the beef?" That was my cue to ratchet it up a notch or two, or three, or four.

I hear his voice when I'm working now, but it still isn't easy for me to let those extremes happen. In my current work in progress, I have a scene where a killer attacks a young woman, and my first attempt to write it was... well, pathetic. So right after I plant my spring garden - which should have been in the ground already - I will go and find the beef.

What do you struggle with most in your writing?


  1. Great post! I struggle with trying NOT to make my characters sound & act like me and make the same choices that I would. Grrrr-it's hard for me to put myself in someone else's head!

  2. Marianne, I think we all struggle with that. I know I do, although it has gotten easier with practice.

  3. I just can't put my characters completely through hell .. you know the type: Their parents are killed, they lost their only child (and can't have another one), their puppy is run over, their beloved husband gets terminal cancer, they lose their job and a tornado hits their house ....

    It's tough, because you want a "dark moment", but I tend to keep mine dark gray instead of inky black.

    RE: So right after I plant my spring garden - which should have been in the ground already ... I'm green with envy! I live in the northeast, and still have a couple feet of snow on the ground.


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