By Ann Minnett
Imagine six people and a barking dog in a cabin. Two people threaten the bad guy to tell his secrets, but three others fight to prevent the secrets from coming out. The characters struggle—verbally and physically. A gun goes off, and chaos ensues.
My critique partners recently reviewed this climactic scene of my third novel. Yes, it’s emotionally charged, and the dialogue works well, but they had trouble knowing where each person stood, fell, or lunged at any given point. I envisioned the scene clearly, but it confused my readers. The group suggested I choreograph the scene, that is, draw a floor plan of the cabin with furniture, props and people moving around. Each blue dot represents a character below.
I learned a lot from constructing this floor plan and moving my characters with the action.
- I couldn’t draw the room I originally envisioned! The physical space wasn’t clearly defined in my head.
- No wonder the original scene confused my critique group. Those characters hopped all over and often teleported from the front door to the stairs without explanation.
- I rewrote the scene, moving each character with the action. Important details became clear—details I had overlooked in the first draft. For example, one woman smashed her knee into the coffee table when she jumped from the couch, and another backed away from the bad guy and felt the heat of the wood stove burn his jeans.
I’ll incorporate floor plans of important locations in my research from now on.