Tuesday, July 17, 2012

A lesson on dramatic scenes from the JSA

Good morning, blogosphere! Today, we are flashing back to collegiate Becky and my time as a budding bilingual in the JSA. The JSA, or Japanese Student Association, had a vague enough name that both students from Japan and students of the Japanese language were welcome therein. During our heyday, we had all kinds of great activities: the Spring Festival, Iron Chef night, and, of course, the dances.

In this video, we are performing a yosakoi dance, a subset of dances performed at Japanese street festivals and characterized by lots of dynamic arm movements and yelling. This is also not a perfect run, because SOMEBODY ignored our instructions to wait for us to get into the opening pose before starting the music - okay, sorry, I will never get over that.

(And yes, I am right there toward the front, powering through the sore throat from hell and coming in a liiiiittle too early on some of those wave movements.)

Anyway! The point is, to our fearless leader - the gentleman front and center - the worst thing you could do was halfass the moves. The temptation was certainly there, if only because some of them were a little silly, and if you were self-conscious, the temptation to make the moves as little as possible was strong. The problem with that was, if you make the moves tiny and halfhearted, they will look ridiculous. We had to come in there bellowing and punching and swinging for the fences, because unless we did, it just wouldn't look that impressive to the audience.

While I was idly plotting the denouement of my WIP last night, Fearless Leader's advice popped into my head again. I have always had some trouble with the big dramatic scenes, because that self-consciousness is still there. I worry about making it too big, too melodramatic, and having the scene come off silly because of it. My initial instinct is to shrink back, to make the details vague, to use as little exclamation points as humanly possible.

But when I started revisions on THE HUNGRY GROUND and read through Secret Agent Man's notes, I realized how problematic that was. Even if you like your dramatic scenes on the subtler side - and I do - there's a difference between halfassing the scene and very deliberately dialing back the volume, while still keeping that powerhouse of emotion in play. And sometimes, it's okay if that scene is loud. Sometimes you have to come in swinging for the fences just to match the high intensity of the conflict.

It's still not something that comes naturally to me, for sure. But it's definitely better for me, on my first draft, to try as hard as I can to pour everything on the page. Then after that, I always have my CPs and my betas to help me refine it!

Do high emotion scenes come naturally to you? What's your approach to writing them?

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