How do you handle “stage directions” when writing your novel? Is there one rule that always works, or is it more complicated than that?
Davalynn posted this question on my “Ask A Question For My Blog” page:
I have followed your blog and newsletter for several years and have learned a great deal. In your recent blog post about managing interior monologue, I locked in on one of your comments in the rewrite: “Eliminated the stage direction about walking across the room, which isnít all that interesting.”
Exactly. I’d like to hear more of your thoughts on “stage direction.” I know some is necessary, but I often stumble over it in my own writing. So much can be assumed (as dangerous as that word is). As in, “She drove away.” Do we really need to say that she got in the car, fastened her seat belt, and checked the rear-view mirror? Sometimes we need a “beat” and one of those actions might fit.
Randy sez: Davalynn has been one my Loyal Blog Readers for a long time and it was nice to meet her a couple of years ago at a conference where I was teaching.
When I talk about “stage directions,” I mean those little bits of action that fill in the picture and show people coming onstage for a scene, incidental motions while onstage, and then exiting. They’re not essential to the story, but they fill in some detail. They also serve to reveal your character’s personality.
In my view, the purpose of stage directions is to flesh out the visuals of a scene. They function in the same way as description.
When do you show stage directions? How much do you show? When do you leave them out?
I think it all depends on the speed of the action.
In a high-intensity scene, you focus on the bright and shiny parts of the story — exploding helicopters, interrogation scenes, heaving bosoms — whatever it is that makes your reader’s heart rate zip. There’s just no room for stage directions here, so you show only essential actions.
In a low-intensity scene, you are giving your reader a chance to catch her breath. You need these scenes once in a while for contrast. To slow down the pace, you intentionally add in needless words. Stage direction, descriptions of scenery, exposition, longer passages of interior monologue — all of these will serve your purpose.
In a medium-intensity scene, you take a middle road between these two extremes.
Let the pace of each scene dictate the amount of stage direction and you won’t go far wrong.
If you’ve got a question you’d like me to answer in public on this blog, hop on over to my “Ask A Question For My Blog” page and submit your question. I’ll answer them in the order they come in.
Davalynn Spencer says
She scooted her chair closer to the desk and clicked on the comment box. “Good clarification. Thanks.”
The brief reply said it all.
A J Hawke says
Thanks for a clear, concise response to a question I have had. When I first started writing I felt the need to give every movement but have since learned that often less is best. Your explanation of the three types of scenes and the purpose of the stage directions in each is very useful.
“Let the pace of each scene dictate the amount of stage direction and you won’t go far wrong.” Such a simple solution but spot on.
Rewrites are a good place to find these directions. I’ve found when I feel like I’m reading a road map, it’s time to start deleting.