One of my students struggled with some proposed changes to her novel. We meet weekly, and I asked her to reimagine and write a pivotal scene. When we next met, her work was outstanding—and she’d used roleplaying to make it believable and exciting.
Writing Tip for Today: Let’s look at some ideas for using roleplay to craft more effective scenes.
Spruce Up Action
My student explained that as she roleplayed this important scene with a friend, she first concentrated on what her own actions and reactions might be if she faced the same situation. “I asked myself what I’d do,” she said. Acting out a commonsense action/reaction sequence helps you see the scene as it unfolds.
In theater actors find their “marks,” xes taped directly on the stage to help everyone enact their parts. This exercise in logistics keeps characters in the right place at the right time. In writing, a roleplay could also aid in placing characters in readers’ minds.
Roleplay may also help you loosen your grip on micro-managing your reader. If you are too precise with right, left; measurements or distance, readers will be confused. Is it the readers’ left or the character’s left? Instead, use comparisons easily pictured, such as “The package reminded him of a loaf of bread.” Roleplaying forces you to think in these broader terms.
Shine Up Dialogue
Another way roleplaying can polish your scene is by aiding your dialogue. In some writer’s minds, that old English teacher scolds about sentence fragments or contractions. Roleplaying, especially a high-action scene, forces you to speak over one another, use contractions and otherwise make dialogue come alive.
You may want to record your roleplay session to make it easier to transfer the real dialogue to the scene. Note how as the scene tension heats up, the quality of the voice (louder, more high-pitched or sterner) changes. The more the characters speak, the shorter the sentences. Higher action must also have more tense dialogue.
As you roleplay your scene, also be aware of how much you omit information that you both already know. Many a scene loses tension and impact due to the writer’s worry that readers won’t “get it” without author intrusions into dialogue. Good scenes allow readers to assume or remember info. Roleplaying might be a way to break the habit of these unnecessary reminders.
As tension heats up, the voice changes in pitch and quality.
Dial Up Emotion
No roleplay discussion would be complete without adding emotion to the mix. If you act out your scene with genuine emotion, it will most probably benefit. But what about the ham in some of us? The person who’s uncomfortable in any kind of acting?
If your roleplay goes a little melodramatic, go ahead and write your scene but be prepared to dial it back later. I like to go over the top at first but then pull back to find the right balance of emotion to action to dialogue during revision. I find it easier to tone it down rather than punch it up.
But maybe you have stage fright even in front of a mirror. You’ll need to dig deep to find the raw emotion that readers crave. Keep roleplaying until you are satisfied with the result. My student’s roleplay helped her rewrite a pivotal scene. The scenes just before and including the story’s climax are good places to roleplay. Your readers demand rising action and increasing tension that results in more and more emotional payoff. Roleplay just might help your scenes get there.