Keg Stands for Character
I spent the last couple days reviewing proofs for a book of beer games. The publisher didn’t provide sample brew for testing (I don’t really recommend chai hockey).
Best to be sober to follow this segue: Frequently in reviewing drafts of stories, I tag writers for having characters chatter on and on while doing either absolutely nothing at all or performing a series of unconnected body gestures, such as rubbing their nose, scratching their head, nodding or frowning a lot. If you can find something for your character to do alongside the dialogue that arises organically from who they are and the plot, and then fully describe the action, it will lend depth and interest to the scene. If your characters were playing Moose or Fire in the Hole because they are the types of characters that would play Moose, imagine the fun for the reader to follow the events of the game described—and the dialogue you need to surround your underlying plot reason for the scene will arise readily from the action of the game being played.
I grew up in a beer tavern and the regulars didn’t play drinking games but they nightly shot pool. Anytime I work on a scene set in a bar, among other things in my mind is always the sound of the cue ball striking and the relevant betting talking and arguing, and how the pacing of a pool game provides nice support for scene action. No real surprise the first short story I wrote (“The Last Great Band Night”) and the one that got me into grad school was set in a bar.
Make a list of all the activities your character would naturally do and also some they might do if desperate, and work with weaving realistic action and dialogue into a scene (and character) that needs more life. Better yet, get into character and go do the activity so you can take notes. If you sprain your wrist trying a keg stand, you will earn my admiration as well as awesome story material. Bottoms up!
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xo Laurel Leigh