Start The Scene With Action And Dialogue

Okay, this is a long post. Just warning you.

This good news is you can just read the highlights in bold to get the gist for each section. This post is for reference as you may want to experiment with the writing exercise I’ve fleshed out in the following paragraphs.

In the previous post, I hinted at the method I’ve playing around with for writing scenes. It’s called layering and I’ve come across several different versions of it. And yet, there is little out there about it.

Layering has many aspects to it and the particular part I am currently exploring in my writing is a adding fiction element upon fiction element until I have a working draft for a scene. I have also decided to start with action, then add dialogue. By starting with these two elements, I can kick off the scene by showing, and add in the telling later.

After action and dialogue, I recommend added other fiction elements in the order of your preference:

  • Reaction
  • Internal Thoughts
  • Emotions
  • Voice cues
  • Facial expressions
  • Body language
  • Visceral reactions
  • Senses
  • Details
  • Setting
  • Atmosphere
  • Backstory

By batching each of the previous fiction elements one at a time, I can spread them out. Create balance. Focus on one of them at a time. As a result, I hope to end up with a rough draft of a scene in which none of the elements have been neglected.

In her blog, Rebecca Zanetti does a more concise version of what I’ve done below. Study the example she created, then study mine. Decide if you want to experiment with this method of writing a scene.

Write a “scribble version” of the scene

The first step would be to write a scribble version of the scene. This could mean brainstorming a list of both major and minor events the writer wants to cover. The list doesn’t have to be complete sentences; in fact, a quick list of phrases and word groups may work best. This could include snippets of key dialogue, conflicts and subplots to introduce.

Just get it down.

The following is a scribble of a scene I made up for this post. It’s not a part of any current work-in-progress. And I don’t know how it would end. Maybe I’ll finish it as a short story. Whatever, this scene was fun to create with layering.

  • Brierra, a magic bookseller, attends the funeral of her uncle Etenard, the burg’s unicorn surgeon.
  • Egsaat, her cousin and Etenard’s son, is there.
  • They run into each other at the wake afterwards.
  • Bri and Eg haven’t seen each other in a few years.
  • When younger they were close, but now she feels he is a stranger.
  • She talks with him as he is dressed as a colorfully dressed wizard type. He is pulled away by a relative and they part ways among the crowd.
  • Five minutes later, at the same wake, Bri sees Eg again. He is dressed as a warrior with a spear. He is pulled away to make a speech to the entire crowd.
  • After the speech, Eg steps away. Bri turns and sees Eg again–as a centaur.

Start With Dialogue

Using the scribble version as a guide, I just write the dialogue for the scene. I may add more in further steps, but for now I include keep components of the conversations between characters. Of course, most of this step only makes sense to me, but the key is to have a balance of dialogue through out the scene–if needed. This is part of the attempt to practice “show dont’ tell.”

Note: This does not include inner monologues. Those come later.

“I have some of Gumi’s children’s books. She’s out-grown them, y’know how it is. Reading those dumb Unicorn Triplet mysteries.”

“At least she’s reading.”

“Got that right. Keeps her mind off boys. Anyway, about the kid’s books. They magic up simple snacks for kids.”

“Oh, we need more of those. Why don’t you stop by the shop later and I’ll take a look at them.”

“Eg!”

“Brierra! You look great!”

“You too!”

“Stop lying. I’ve gained so much weight since going away to school.”

“You look fine. You were too skinny anyway.”

“Mom won’t shut up about it. She’s trying to get me on a diet of pegasus soup and vossana greens while I’m here.”

“I’ve missed you so much. I still have all your letters.”

“Yeah, sorry I haven’t written as much lately …”

“But, you still write. It’s okay.”

“We need to catch up. I want to see this bookstore you’ve got.”

“Yes! Stop by tonight? Please! Please!”

“All right. All right. I promise. Geez. Stop begging. It’s like when we were six years old and you followed me everywhere.”

“How long are you in the town?”

“Mimigrand! Hey, Bri, I’ll catch up with you later.”

“Bye.”

“Oh, hey. You look …”

“Brierra.”

“Um. I’m confused. Were you wearing a costume a minute ago? How did you change so fast?”

“You speak strangely, cousin.”

“Okay, what’s going on? Wow, you are … ripped.”

“The Academy Gorus trains the best warriors in Nexreth. You know this.”

“Gorus? You’ve been at Brakany. Studying arcane minerals.”

“No. Nexreth.”

“Well, that explains the spear. And the abs. No, seriously, Eg. What’s with the barbarian dialogue? This is one of your pranks. Oh, my gosh! I’ve missed this so much! You got me.”

“Egsaat, it’s time for the honoring.”

“I must go. It is good to see you, cousin.”

“Well, well, it’s Brierra Witgleam’s, owner of the largest bookstore of enchanted tomes.”

“I … I.”

“How do you like my haunches? I’ve had them for a couple years now.”

“You’re a centaur?”

“Well, duh. What did you think would happen when I left for Pardarry?”

“The School of Transformation?”

“It suits me, don’t you think?”

Add Some Action

After I felt I had 95% of the dialogue for this scene, I added actions around the quotes. The story starts to come together on a surface level. When I thought of more dialogue I needed to add, I did so. The steps will overlap at some points. But mainly, I developed actions of the characters. This is also a part of the practice of “show don’t tell.”

The action elements are in bold.

Brierra Witgleam meandered through the crowd of the life celebration for Etenard. She looked around, speaking to no one. Occasionally, she smiled at a distant relative she barely knew.

Arelaan placed a hand on her arm. “I have some of Gumi’s children’s books. She’s out-grown them, y’know how it is. Reading those dumb Unicorn Triplet mysteries.”

 “At least she’s reading.” Bri gave her aunt a tight-lipped smile.

“Got that right. Keeps her mind off boys.” Arelaan looks around and focused on Gumi who huddled with some of her girl cousins over by the storefront of the sweeties store.  “Anyway, about the kid’s books. They magic up simple snacks for kids.”

“Oh, we need more of those. Why don’t you stop by the shop later and I’ll take a look at them.”

“Perfect! Later this week?” She turned and disappeared into the crowd.

Bri turned around, observing the burgfolk and the relatives. She squinted her eyes. Her hand shot to her open mouth.

Without thinking, she ran through the crowd, busting between conversations and weaving through gossip. “Excuse me. Excuse me.” She was smirking like an idiot, but she couldn’t help herself. When she got within a few yards of him, she couldn’t contain her excitement. “Eg!”

A young man about her age jerked his head in the direction of her voice. His eyes wandered for a moment, then he saw her. His mouth beamed into a gigantic, toothy grin. “Brierra!”

They laughed and ran into each other’s arms. The burgfolk around them smiled at their bearhug.

Eg released her, but kept his arm around her shoulder. “I’ve been looking for you.” He stepped away. “You look great!”

“You too!”

“Stop lying. I’ve gained so much weight since going away to school.” He patted his round stomach. “All I do is read books on rocks and dirt.”

Bri flapped a hand at him. “You look fine. You were too skinny anyway.”

“Mom won’t shut up about it. She’s trying to get me on a diet of pegasus soup and vossana greens while I’m here.”

She placed a hand inside his arm and gave him a gentle tug. They began a slow stroll through the flock of burgfolk.

She smiled up at him. “I’ve missed you so much. I still have all your letters.”

“Yeah, sorry I haven’t written as much lately …”

“But, you still write. Even with all your studies. It’s okay.”

Eg stopped and turned to face her. “We need to catch up. I want to see this bookstore you’ve got.”

“Yes! Stop by tonight? Please! Please!” She bounced on her toes in exaggerated glee.

He chuckled. “All right. All right. I promise. Geez. Stop begging. It’s like when we were six years old and you followed me everywhere.”

She gave him a loving tap with her fist on his arm. “How long are you in the town?”

“Eg, is that you? Come here! Give your mimigrand a hug and kiss.”

“Mimigrand!” Eg whirled and reached down to hug Mimigrand. He turned back toward her. “Hey, Bri, I’ll catch up with you later.” Mimigrand, belaying her tiny stature, practically dragged him away and they disappeared into the crowd.

Bri slowly raised her hand to wave at her already vanished cousin. “Bye.”

She gave a double look and stared, her mouth hanging open. “Oh, hey. You look …”

Spear in hand, Eg stood at attention before her, his face without emotion.  “Brierra.”

She tilted her head and scrunched her eyebrows together. “Um. I’m confused. Were you wearing a costume a minute ago? How did you change so fast?”

Eg continued to stare down at her. “You speak strangely, cousin.”

Bri laughed and rested her fist on her hips. “Okay, what’s going on? Wow, you are … ripped.”

He raised an eyebrow. “The Academy Gorus trains the best warriors in Nexreth. You know this.”

“Gorus? You’ve been at Brakany. Studying arcane minerals.”

“No. Nexreth.”

“Well, that explains the spear. And the abs.” She shook her head. “No, seriously, Eg. What’s with the barbarian dialogue? This is one of your pranks. Oh, my gosh! I’ve missed this so much! You got me.”

One of the burg’s counsel members strode up to Eg and spoke quietly in his ear. “Egsaat, it’s time for the honoring.”

Eg nodded at the man and turned to Bri. “I must go. It is good to see you, cousin.” He turned and walked away toward the dais on one side of the courtyard. He marched up the steps, walked to the center of the dais and looked out among the crowd.

The people quieted down and turned toward the dais.

Eg raised his spear and began speaking.

After Eg finished, he descended the stairs of the dais and disappeared into the crowd. Bri stood on her toes to see over the crowd. She pushed her way past some dryads and then two wizards. “Excuse me,” she said, over and over. Craning her neck, she surveyed the courtyard. Bri could not pick out Eg—neither Eg the scholar nor Eg the warrior—from among the flock of folk celebrating the life of her uncle.

“Well, well, it’s Brierra Witgleam’s, owner of the largest bookstore of enchanted tomes.”

Bri whirled around and gasped. “I … I.” She shook her head, confused. “Eg?”

“Is that how you greet your cousin you haven’t see in four years?”

“What … happened?”

He flapped his tail and strutted a few steps more toward her. “How do you like my haunches? I’ve had them for a couple years now.”

“How did this happen? A minute ago you were …” She pointed toward the dais.

 “Well, duh. What did you think would happen when I left for Pardarry?”

Eyes narrowed, she mouthed the word Pardarry and then said out loud, “The School of Transformation?”

He wiggled his equine butt at her. “It suits me, don’t you think?”

She just stared at him for a few seconds.

“You’re a centaur?”

Reactions

Now it’s time to weave in some reactions. This includes the following: internal thoughts; emotions; voice cues, facial expressions, body language and visceral reacations.

Up to this point, the elements of dialogue and action show external activity. Now is an opportunity to show the reader inner elements of the story. I tried to build some subplots and subtext–to show what is happening below the surface.

Reactions are showed in bold as well as new dialogue and actions.

He’s got to be here somewhere.

Brierra Witgleam meandered through the crowd of the life celebration for Etenard. She looked around, speaking to no one. Occasionally, she smiled at a distant relative she barely knew. Mostly, she skirted along the edge of the mass of humans and fey who had earlier attended Etenard’s funeral, then his wake and now his life celebration.

The party irritated her because laughing and merriment just didn’t seem right. She had always hated this burg’s custom of “celebrating the life” of the deceased.

Then, unfortunately, she saw an aunt she did know all too well: her father’s sister, Arelaan. They locked eyes and Arelaan waved at her. Bri sighed. She looks like she has an agenda. Brace yourself.

With a skip, Arelaan made her way through the burgfolk to Bri and placed a hand on her arm. “I have some of Gumi’s children’s books. She’s out-grown them, y’know how it is. Reading those dumb Unicorn Triplet mysteries.”

Bri felt sorry for her cousin Gumi for having been born to such an overbearing woman.

 “At least she’s reading.” Bri gave her aunt a tight-lipped smile.

“Got that right. Keeps her mind off boys.” Arelaan looks around and focused on Gumi who huddled with some of her girl cousins over by the storefront of the sweeties store.  “Anyway, about the kid’s books. They magic up simple snacks for kids.”

“Oh, we need more of those. Why don’t you stop by the shop later and I’ll take a look at them.” Bri’s store did not actually need more magical snack books for kids. For some reason an overabundance of that genre filled the inventory. She accepted Arelaan’s offering just to keep the peace.

“Perfect! Later this week?” She turned and disappeared into the crowd.

I don’t want your books.

To distract herself, Bri turned around, observing the burgfolk and the relatives. She squinted her eyes. Her hand shot to her open mouth.

It was him.

Without thinking, she ran through the crowd, busting between conversations and weaving through gossip. “Excuse me. Excuse me.” She was smirking like an idiot, but she couldn’t help herself. When she got within a few yards of him, she couldn’t contain her excitement. “Eg!”

A young man about her age jerked his head in the direction of her voice. His eyes wandered for a moment, then he saw her. His mouth beamed into a gigantic, toothy grin. “Brierra!”

They laughed and ran into each other’s arms. The burgfolk around them smiled at their bearhug.

Eg released her, but kept his arm around her shoulder. “I’ve been looking for you.” He stepped away. “You look great!”

“You too!”

“Stop lying. I’ve gained so much weight since going away to school.” He patted his round stomach. “All I do is read books on rocks and dirt.”

Bri flapped a hand at him. “You look fine. You were too skinny anyway.” She had to admit to herself, she had been surprised at his newfound spare tire.

“Mom won’t shut up about it. She’s trying to get me on a diet of pegasus soup and vossana greens while I’m here.”

Brianna laughed. She placed a hand inside his arm and gave him a gentle tug. They began a slow stroll through the flock of burgfolk.

She smiled up at him. “I’ve missed you so much. I still have all your letters.”

“Yeah, sorry I haven’t written as much lately …”

“But, you still write. Even with all your studies. It’s okay.” Yes, she had noticed his letters had been few and far between the last year or so. She would feel guilty, but she had been so busy herself building up her bookstore she hadn’t had time to write him either.

Eg stopped and turned to face her. “We need to catch up. I want to see this bookstore you’ve got.”

Bri felt her spirits lift for the first time in days—especially since her uncle had died. “Yes! Stop by tonight? Please! Please!” She bounced on her toes in exaggerated glee.

He chuckled. “All right. All right. I promise. Geez. Stop begging. It’s like when we were six years old and you followed me everywhere.”

She gave him a loving tap with her fist on his arm. “How long are you in the town?”

“Eg, is that you? Come here! Give your mimigrand a hug and kiss.”

“Mimigrand!” Eg whirled and reached down to hug Mimigrand. He turned back toward her. “Hey, Bri, I’ll catch up with you later.” Mimigrand, belaying her tiny stature, practically dragged him away and they disappeared into the crowd.

Bri slowly raised her hand to wave at her already vanished cousin. “Bye.” She resented her mimigrand from dragging Eg away, but she understood. The elderly woman had lost her son and, like Bri, hadn’t seen Eg since he left for Brakany Academy. And Eg was, afterall, mimigrand’s favorite grandchild.

She clenched and unclenched her jaw.

Once again, Bri strolled along the edge of the courtyard, trying not to draw attention to herself. But now she had something to look forward to: getting together with Eg. Of course, mimigrand missed him terribly. And so did everyone else. Everyone loved him.

But when he left to study the energy leylines of rocks and minerals at Liparts, he broke her heart. Where was her confidant? Her partner in crime?

It took months before she could smile—and mean it. While she was happy for Eg, the weight of loneliness crept upon her. Afterall, no other relative or friend really understood her awkwardness. Her love for books. Her love for deep discussions about the world. About magic.

About life.

When Bri spotted him, she stopped in her tracks. She blinked her eyes as if to wash away an illusion. A boy. A young man. Standing by himself over by the fountain.

He looked exactly like Eg.

But it couldn’t be him. An unknown cousin, perhaps? Or maybe … her uncle had an illegitimate son from another woman? Bri shuddered at the thought. Has this unknown offspring crashed this day of honoring her uncle to claim some kind of inheiritance? To meet his father’s family? To disrupt this day out of anger?

The scenarios spun through her mind but crashed to a half when the doppelganger looked her straight in the eyes from across the courtyard.

No. It’s not him. Can’t be. Bri convinced herself that he was just too far way.

Stony-faced, he marched in her direction.

Bri’s heart sped up more and more when she realized he intended to meet her. She expected small details in his face would change from the Eg she had talked with just moments ago. However, as he walked closer and closer, his resemblance to Eg only grew stronger, and she thought her heart would explode.

She gave a double look and stared, her mouth hanging open. “Oh, hey. You look …”

Spear in hand, Eg stood at attention before her, his face without emotion.  “Brierra.” He tapped his spear against the ground as if to emphasis the bizarreness of his sudden appearance.

Bri gave an almost imperceptible shake of her head.  Who is this? How can he look so much like Eg?

She tilted her head and scrunched her eyebrows together. “Um. I’m confused. Were you wearing a costume a minute ago? How did you change so fast?” She quickly looked around to see if she could spot her slightly pudgy cousin.

Eg continued to stare down at her. “You speak strangely, cousin.”

A realization washed upon her mind. Bri laughed and rested her fist on her hips. “Okay, what’s going on?” For the first time, she noticed his muscled stomach. “Wow, you are … ripped.”

He raised an eyebrow. “The Academy Gorus trains the best warriors in Nexreth. You know this.”

“Gorus? You’ve been at Brakany. Studying arcane minerals.”

“No. Nexreth.”

“Well, that explains the spear. And the abs.” She shook her head. “No, seriously, Eg. What’s with the barbarian dialogue? This is one of your pranks. Oh, my gosh! I’ve missed this so much! You got me.”

One of the burg’s counsel members strode up to Eg and spoke quietly in his ear. “Egsaat, it’s time for the honoring.”

Eg nodded at the man and turned to Bri. “I must go. It is good to see you, cousin.” He turned and walked away toward the dais on one side of the courtyard. He marched up the steps, walked to the center of the dais and looked out among the crowd.

Did he just call him Eg by name? How can that be him? Once again, she scanned the crowd, but couldn’t find the scholarly version of her dear cousin.

The people quieted down and turned toward the dais.

Eg raised his spear and began speaking.

After Eg finished, he descended the stairs of the dais and disappeared into the crowd. Bri stood on her toes to see over the crowd. She wanted to reach Eg. Ask him what was going on. And why no one seemed surprised at his sudden change in appearance. She pushed her way past some dryads and then two wizards. “Excuse me,” she said, over and over. Craning her neck, she surveyed the courtyard. Bri could not pick out Eg—neither Eg the scholar nor Eg the warrior—from among the flock of folk celebrating the life of her uncle.

Where did he go?

“Well, well, it’s Brierra Witgleam’s, owner of the largest bookstore of enchanted tomes.”

Bri whirled around and gasped. “I … I.” She shook her head, confused. “Eg?”

Oh, no. Not again.

“Is that how you greet your cousin you haven’t see in four years?”

Eg? What … happened to you?”

He flapped his tail and strutted a few steps more toward her. “How do you like my haunches? I’ve had them for a couple years now.”

“How did this happen? A minute ago you were …” She pointed toward the dais.

“Well, duh. What did you think would happen when I left for Pardarry?”

Eyes narrowed, she mouthed the word ‘Pardarry’ and then said out loud, “The School of Transformation? What happened to Brakany? Or, for that matter, Gorus?”

Bri’s head swam and her vision clouded. She gave a quick shake of her head to clear her thoughts.

He wiggled his equine butt at her. “It suits me, don’t you think?”

She just stared at him for a few seconds, irritated he ignored her questions.

“You’re a centaur?”

Senses/Description

Distributing the five senses throughout the scene helps with the show of “show don’t tell.” Be sure to use more than just the visual. Look for opportunities to include sounds and smells. Opportunities to include tastes and textures are more difficult to find, but definitely use them when possible. Using a variety of the five senses helps create a realistic experience for the readers.

Adding the descriptions for characters and locations can be fun. I believe readers get bored with too much of it, however. Layering in a few choice adjectives can help the reader visually, but more than that may turn off the 21st Century audiences. This exercise helps me spread a little bit of description throughout the scene without creating infodumps.

So, while the five senses helps with “show”, description falls on more of the “tell” side. Telling in fiction writing is needed to balance with the action, dialogue and sensory details, but it may slow down the story if overdone.

Description and sensory details are included in bold. And as usual, any addition action and dialogue have also been added.

He’s got to be here somewhere.

Brierra Witgleam meandered through the crowd of the life celebration for Etenard. Streamers of blue, red, green and purple flitted in the wind. From the temporary booths, the sizzle and aroma of meats, vegetables and fruits wafted through the courtyard. Hundreds of folks, both human and fey, gathered in groups discussing, laughing and gossiping.   She looked around, speaking to no one. Occasionally, she smiled at a distant relative she barely knew. Mostly, she skirted along the edge of the mass of humans and fey who had earlier attended Etenard’s funeral, then his wake and now his life celebration.

Because she ambled on the edge of the crowds, the unobstructed breeze found opportunity to flit her auburn hair and verdant green summer skirt. For a moment, she closed her eyes and let the sun warm her face. The beautiful day mocked the sorrow inside of her.

The party irritated her because laughing and merriment just didn’t seem right. She had always hated this burg’s custom of “celebrating the life” of the deceased.

Then, unfortunately, she saw an aunt she did know all too well: her father’s sister, Arelaan. They locked eyes and Arelaan waved at her. Bri sighed. She looks like she has an agenda. Brace yourself.

With a skip, Arelaan made her way through the burgfolk to Bri and placed a hand on her arm. “I have some of Gumi’s children’s books. She’s out-grown them, y’know how it is. Reading those dumb Unicorn Triplet mysteries.”

Bri felt sorry for her cousin Gumi for having been born to such an overbearing woman.

 “At least she’s reading.” Bri gave her aunt a tight-lipped smile.

“Got that right. Keeps her mind off boys.” Arelaan looks around and focused on Gumi who huddled with some of her girl cousins over by the storefront of the sweeties store.  “Anyway, about the kid’s books. They magic up simple snacks for kids.”

“Oh, we need more of those. Why don’t you stop by the shop later and I’ll take a look at them.” Bri’s store did not actually need more magical snack books for kids. For some reason an overabundance of that genre filled the inventory. She accepted Arelaan’s offering just to keep the peace.

“Perfect! Later this week?” With a swish of her skirt, she turned and disappeared into the crowd.

I don’t want your books.

To distract herself, Bri turned around, observing the burgfolk and the relatives. She squinted her eyes. Her hand shot to her open mouth.

It was him.

Without thinking, she ran through the crowd, busting between conversations and weaving through gossip. “Excuse me. Excuse me.” She was smirking like an idiot, but she couldn’t help herself. When she got within a few yards of him, she couldn’t contain her excitement. “Eg!”

A young man about her age jerked his head in the direction of her voice. His eyes wandered for a moment, then he saw her. His mouth beamed into a gigantic, toothy grin. “Brierra!” The spectacles on his clean cut face bounced on his nose as he raced toward her, his dark red academic robes drifting away from him.

They laughed and ran into each other’s arms. The burgfolk around them smiled at their bearhug.

Eg released her, but kept his arm around her shoulder. “I’ve been looking for you.” He stepped away. “You look great!”

“You too!”

School had been healthy for Eg. He appeared older: his dark hair had just a sliver of premature grey here and there. And he had filled out somewhat.

“Stop lying. I’ve gained so much weight since going away to school.” He patted his round stomach. “All I do is read books on rocks and dirt.”

Bri flapped a hand at him. “You look fine. You were too skinny anyway.” She had to admit to herself, she had been surprised at his newfound spare tire.

“Mom won’t shut up about it. She’s trying to get me on a diet of pegasus soup and vossana greens while I’m here.”

Brianna laughed. She placed a hand inside his arm and gave him a gentle tug. They began a slow stroll through the flock of burgfolk. Walking by a cotton candy booth, the sweet odor surrounded them and enhanced her glee.

She smiled up at him. “I’ve missed you so much. I still have all your letters.”

“Yeah, sorry I haven’t written as much lately …”

“But, you still write. Even with all your studies. It’s okay.” Yes, she had noticed his letters had been few and far between the last year or so. She would feel guilty, but she had been so busy herself building up her bookstore she hadn’t had time to write him either.

Eg stopped and turned to face her. “We need to catch up. I want to see this bookstore you’ve got.”

Bri felt her spirits lift for the first time in days—especially since her uncle had died. “Yes! Stop by tonight? Please! Please!” She bounced on her toes in exaggerated glee.

He chuckled. “All right. All right. I promise. Geez. Stop begging. It’s like when we were six years old and you followed me everywhere.”

She gave him a loving tap with her fist on his arm. “How long are you in the town?”

“Eg, is that you? Come here! Give your mimigrand a hug and kiss.” Petite Mimigrand, with her short, spikey grey hair and gigantic purple earrings, grabbed Eg’s arm.

“Mimigrand!” Eg whirled and reached down to hug Mimigrand. He turned back toward Bri. “Hey, I’ll catch up with you later.” Mimigrand, belaying her tiny stature, practically dragged him away and they disappeared into the crowd.

Bri slowly raised her hand to wave at her already vanished cousin. “Bye.” She resented her mimigrand from dragging Eg away, but she understood. The elderly woman had lost her son and, like Bri, hadn’t seen Eg since he left for Brakany Academy. And Eg was, afterall, mimigrand’s favorite grandchild.

She clenched and unclenched her jaw.

Once again, Bri strolled along the edge of the courtyard, trying not to draw attention to herself. But now she had something to look forward to: getting together with Eg. Of course, mimigrand missed him terribly. And so did everyone else. Everyone loved him.

But when he left to study the energy leylines of rocks and minerals at Liparts, he broke her heart. Where was her confidant? Her partner in crime?

It took months before she could smile—and mean it. While she was happy for Eg, the weight of loneliness crept upon her. Afterall, no other relative or friend really understood her awkwardness. Her love for books. Her love for deep discussions about the world. About magic.

About life.

When Bri spotted him, she stopped in her tracks. She blinked her eyes as if to wash away an illusion. A boy. A young man. Standing by himself over by the fountain.

He looked exactly like Eg.

Except this young man wore his hair long and somewhat unkempt, so unlike the required short hair the men wore at Brakany Academy. Instead of the scholarly robes Eg wore, this man wore khaki pants and dark leather boots—and was shirtless with the exception of a few leather straps with a few knives sheathed in them. Instead of Eg’s clean cut face, rounder face and glasses, this guy’s visage bore a dark tan and stubble, highlighted with sharp cheekbones and a solid jawline. And instead of Eg’s doughy physique earned by late nights of cramming for exams and snacking on sweet breads, this man displayed his muscular body with pride.

But most of all, the dangerous looking spear he held made her gulp.

But it couldn’t be him. An unknown cousin, perhaps? Or maybe … her uncle had an illegitimate son from another woman? Bri shuddered at the thought. Has this unknown offspring crashed this day of honoring her uncle to claim some kind of inheritance? To meet his father’s family? To disrupt this day out of anger?

The scenarios spun through her mind but crashed to a half when the doppelganger looked her straight in the eyes from across the courtyard. He stood talking with no one, yet no one seemed to notice him.

No. It’s not him. Can’t be. Bri convinced herself that he was just too far way.

Stony-faced, he marched in her direction.

Bri’s heart sped up more and more when she realized he intended to meet her. She expected small details in his face would change from the Eg she had talked with just moments ago. However, as he walked closer and closer, his resemblance to Eg only grew stronger, and she thought her heart would explode.

He stopped directly in front of her, and his musk assaulted her nose.

She took a step back, gave a double look and stared, her mouth hanging open. “Oh, hey. You look …”

Spear in hand, Eg stood at attention before her, his face without emotion.  “Brierra.” He tapped his spear against the ground as if to emphasis the bizarreness of his sudden appearance.

Bri gave an almost imperceptible shake of her head.  Who is this? How can he look so much like Eg?

She tilted her head and scrunched her eyebrows together. “Um. I’m confused. Were you wearing a costume a minute ago? How did you change so fast?” She quickly looked around to see if she could spot her slightly pudgy cousin.

 “Warrior” Eg continued to stare down at her. “You speak strangely, cousin.”

A realization washed upon her mind. Bri laughed and rested her fist on her hips. “Okay, what’s going on?” For the first time, she noticed his muscled stomach. “Wow, you are … ripped.”

He raised an eyebrow. “The Academy Gorus trains the best warriors in Nexreth. You know this.”

“Gorus? You’ve been at Brakany. Studying arcane minerals.”

“No. Nexreth.”

“Well, that explains the spear. And the abs.” She shook her head. “No, seriously, Eg. What’s with the barbarian dialogue? This is one of your pranks. Oh, my gosh! I’ve missed this so much! You got me.”

One of the burg’s council members strode up to Eg and spoke quietly in his ear. “Egsaat, it’s time for the honoring.”

Eg nodded at the man and turned to Bri. “I must go. It is good to see you, cousin.” He turned and walked away toward the dais on one side of the courtyard. He marched up the steps, walked to the center of the dais and looked out among the crowd.

Did he just call him Eg by name? How can that be him? Once again, she scanned the crowd, but couldn’t find the scholarly version of her dear cousin.

The people quieted down and turned toward the dais.

Eg raised his spear and began speaking. “Uncle Etenard conquered the craft of caring for griffins …”

Warrior Eg spoke in much deeper tone than scholar Eg, but it was still his voice. This Eg spoke for several minutes about their late uncle, stamping his spear for emphasis at certain points. Bri looked around. The silent crowd listened, enraptured.

She shook her head in disbelief. Why doesn’t anyone say anything about his appearance?

After Eg finished his eulogy, he raised his spear over his head and the crowd cheered. Then he descended the stairs of the dais and disappeared into the crowd. Once again, conversation began, murmuring rising to chattering.  Bri stood on her toes to see over the crowd. She wanted to reach Eg. Ask him what was going on. And why no one seemed surprised at his sudden change in appearance. She pushed her way past some dryads and then two wizards. “Excuse me,” she said, over and over. Craning her neck, she surveyed the courtyard. Bri could not pick out Eg—neither Eg the scholar nor Eg the warrior—from among the flock of folk celebrating the life of her uncle.

Where did he go?

“Well, well, it’s Brierra Witgleam’s, owner of the largest bookstore of enchanted tomes.”

Bri whirled around and gasped. “I … I.” She shook her head, confused. “Eg?”

Oh, no. Not again.

“Is that how you greet your cousin you haven’t see in four years?”

“Eg? What … happened to you?”

This Eg didn’t have Eg the warrior’s long hair, but it was still longer than Eg the scholar’s. And instead of Eg the warrior’s stubble, this Eg had a full grown goatee. And most disturbing of all …

He flapped his tail and strutted a few steps more toward her. “How do you like my haunches? I’ve had them for a couple years now.”

“How did this happen? A minute ago you were …” She pointed toward the dais.

“Well, duh. What did you think would happen when I left for Pardarry?”

Eyes narrowed, she mouthed the word ‘Pardarry’ and then said out loud, “The School of Transformation? What happened to Brakany? Or, for that matter, Gorus?”

Bri’s head swam and her vision clouded. The chattering of the crowd seemed to fade and come back. She gave a quick shake of her head to clear her thoughts. He wiggled his equine butt at her. “It suits me, don’t you think?”

She just stared at him for a few seconds, irritated he ignored her questions.

“You’re a centaur?”

Setting/Atmosphere

Setting and atmosphere can be part of the description and sensory details. I like to include the setting for the scene as close to the beginning of the scene as possible. To me, the setting is a one time deal. For brevity’s sake, I’ve included it in bold in just the first paragraph of my sample scene.

He’s got to be here somewhere.

Brierra Witgleam meandered through the crowd of the life celebration for Etenard. Normally, politians, lawyers and magical diplomats walked the burg square of Sudbury; today everyone from Sudbury, from children to the elderly, gathered among the fountains and gardens for the celebration of life.  Streamers of blue, red, green and purple flitted in the wind. From the temporary booths, the sizzle and aroma of meats, vegetables and fruits wafted through the courtyard. Hundreds of folks, both human and fey, gathered in groups discussing, laughing and gossiping.   She looked around, speaking to no one. Occasionally, she smiled at a distant relative she barely knew. Mostly, she skirted along the edge of the mass of humans and fey who had earlier attended Etenard’s funeral, then his wake and now his life celebration …

Backstory

Backstory bits of the character and situation can add texture to the scene. It’s what it sounds like: information to give the reader some history and background of the protagonist. It’s also an opportunity to do so world building. A good technique is to let a current reaction lead to a memory of something from the character’s past. This is a great way to stir in some characterization and subtext. An example of this below would be, “His mannerisms brought back memories of when she and Eg played wargames as children; she had always been a wizard and he had been a soldier.” Be sure to avoid infodumps, although I have some blocks of background I may need to edit later.

Background has been added in bold.

He’s got to be here somewhere.

Brierra Witgleam meandered through the crowd of the life celebration for Etenard, her uncle, the burg’s griffin doctor. Normally, politians, lawyers and magical diplomats walked the burg square of Sudbury; today everyone from Sudbury, from children to the elderly, gathered among the fountains and gardens for the celebration of life.  Streamers of blue, red, green and purple flitted in the wind. From the temporary booths, the sizzle and aroma of meats, vegetables and fruits wafted through the courtyard. Hundreds of folks, both human and fey, gathered in groups discussing, laughing and gossiping.   She looked around, speaking to no one. Occasionally, she smiled at a distant relative she barely knew. Mostly, she skirted along the edge of the mass of humans and fey who had earlier attended Etenard’s funeral, then his wake and now his life celebration.

Because she ambled on the edge of the crowds, the unobstructed breeze found opportunity to flit her auburn hair and verdant green summer skirt. For a moment, she closed her eyes and let the sun warm her face. The beautiful day mocked the sorrow inside of her.

She desperately wanted to be walking among the shelves in Pages for Ages, the bookstore of enchanted tomes. She was the proud owner. She missed the quiet days of dusting shelves, quiet reading behind the counter while the occasional customer browsed, and opening boxes of new books to see what new worlds she could discover.

But today, she walked among the noisy burgfolk.

The party irritated her because laughing and merriment just didn’t seem right. She had always hated this burg’s custom of “celebrating the life” of the deceased.

Then, unfortunately, she saw an aunt she did know all too well: her father’s sister, Arelaan. They locked eyes and Arelaan waved at her. Bri sighed. She looks like she has an agenda. Brace yourself.

With a skip, Arelaan made her way through the burgfolk to Bri and placed a hand on her arm. “I have some of Gumi’s children’s books. She’s out-grown them, y’know how it is. Reading those dumb Unicorn Triplet mysteries.”

Bri felt sorry for her cousin Gumi for having been born to such an overbearing woman.

 “At least she’s reading.” Bri gave her aunt a tight-lipped smile.

“Got that right. Keeps her mind off boys.” Arelaan looks around and focused on Gumi who huddled with some of her girl cousins over by the storefront of the sweeties store.  “Anyway, about the kid’s books. They magic up simple snacks for kids.”

“Oh, we need more of those. Why don’t you stop by the shop later and I’ll take a look at them.” Bri’s store did not actually need more magical snack books for kids. For some reason an overabundance of that genre filled the inventory. She accepted Arelaan’s offering just to keep the peace.

“Perfect! Later this week?” With a swish of her skirt, she turned and disappeared into the crowd.

I don’t want your books.

To distract herself, Bri turned around, observing the burgfolk and the relatives. Her parents still wrapped up affairs back at the temple where her uncle’s funeral had been held hours earlier. Her mother had whispered to her during the service that he had arrived late and was sitting in the back. She had casually turned around to see if she could spot him. She couldn’t. She hoped he had made it to the life celebration. He had to be here somewhere.

She squinted her eyes. Her hand shot to her open mouth.

It was him.

Without thinking, she ran through the crowd, busting between conversations and weaving through gossip. “Excuse me. Excuse me.” She was smirking like an idiot, but she couldn’t help herself. When she got within a few yards of him, she couldn’t contain her excitement. “Eg!”

A young man about her age jerked his head in the direction of her voice. His eyes wandered for a moment, then he saw her. His mouth beamed into a gigantic, toothy grin. “Brierra!” The spectacles on his clean cut face bounced on his nose as he raced toward her, his dark red academic robes drifting away from him.

They laughed and ran into each other’s arms. The burgfolk around them smiled at their bearhug. They were cousins, but both being only children, had bonded more like brother and sister.

Eg released her, but kept his arm around her shoulder. “I’ve been looking for you.” He stepped away. “You look great!”

“You too!”

School had been healthy for Eg. He appeared older: his dark hair had just a sliver of premature grey here and there. And he had filled out somewhat.

“Stop lying. I’ve gained so much weight since going away to school.” He patted his round stomach. “All I do is read books on rocks and dirt.”

Bri flapped a hand at him. “You look fine. You were too skinny anyway.” She had to admit to herself, she had been surprised at his newfound spare tire.

“Mom won’t shut up about it. She’s trying to get me on a diet of pegasus soup and vossana greens while I’m here.”

Brianna laughed. She placed a hand inside his arm and gave him a gentle tug. They began a slow stroll through the flock of burgfolk. Walking by a cotton candy booth, the sweet odor surrounded them and enhanced her glee.

She smiled up at him. “I’ve missed you so much. I still have all your letters.”

“Yeah, sorry I haven’t written as much lately …”

“But, you still write. Even with all your studies. It’s okay.” Yes, she had noticed his letters had been few and far between the last year or so. She would feel guilty, but she had been so busy herself building up her bookstore she hadn’t had time to write him either.

Eg stopped and turned to face her. “We need to catch up. I want to see this bookstore you’ve got.”

Bri felt her spirits lift for the first time in days—especially since her uncle had died. “Yes! Stop by tonight? Please! Please!” She bounced on her toes in exaggerated glee.

He chuckled. “All right. All right. I promise. Geez. Stop begging. It’s like when we were six years old and you followed me everywhere.”

She gave him a loving tap with her fist on his arm. “How long are you in the town?”

“Eg, is that you? Come here! Give your mimigrand a hug and kiss.” Petite Mimigrand, with her short, spikey grey hair and gigantic purple earrings, grabbed Eg’s arm.

“Mimigrand!” Eg whirled and reached down to hug Mimigrand. He turned back toward Bri. “Hey, I’ll catch up with you later.” Mimigrand, belaying her tiny stature, practically dragged him away and they disappeared into the crowd.

Bri slowly raised her hand to wave at her already vanished cousin. “Bye.” She resented her mimigrand from dragging Eg away, but she understood. The elderly woman had lost her son and, like Bri, hadn’t seen Eg since he left for Brakany Academy. And Eg was, afterall, mimigrand’s favorite grandchild.

She clenched and unclenched her jaw.

Once again, Bri strolled along the edge of the courtyard, trying not to draw attention to herself. But now she had something to look forward to: getting together with Eg. Of course, mimigrand missed him terribly. And so did everyone else. Everyone loved him.

But when he left to study the energy leylines of rocks and minerals at Liparts, he broke her heart. Where was her confidant? Her partner in crime?

For years, she and Eg had even talked about opening a bookstore of magic books. That is until he decided to go away to school. She went ahead with it anyway. By herself.

After he left, it took months before she could smile—and mean it. While she was happy for Eg, the weight of loneliness crept upon her. Afterall, no other relative or friend really understood her awkwardness. Her love for books. Her love for deep discussions about the world. About magic.

About life.

When Bri spotted him, she stopped in her tracks. She blinked her eyes as if to wash away an illusion. A boy. A young man. Standing by himself over by the fountain.

He looked exactly like Eg.

Except this young man wore his hair long and somewhat unkempt, so unlike the required short hair the men wore at Brakany Academy. Instead of the scholarly robes Eg wore, this man wore khaki pants and dark leather boots—and was shirtless with the exception of a few leather straps with a few knives sheathed in them. Instead of Eg’s clean cut face, rounder face and glasses, this guy’s visage bore a dark tan and stubble, highlighted with sharp cheekbones and a solid jawline. And instead of Eg’s doughy physique earned by late nights of cramming for exams and snacking on sweet breads, this man displayed his muscular body with pride.

But most of all, the dangerous looking spear he held made her gulp.

But it couldn’t be him. The Eg she grew up with had been skinny, bookish and shy. An unknown cousin, perhaps? Or maybe … her uncle had an illegitimate son from another woman? Bri shuddered at the thought. Has this unknown offspring crashed this day of honoring her uncle to claim some kind of inheritance? To meet his father’s family? To disrupt this day out of anger?

The scenarios spun through her mind but crashed to a half when the doppelganger looked her straight in the eyes from across the courtyard. He stood talking with no one, yet no one seemed to notice him.

No. It’s not him. Can’t be. Bri convinced herself that he was just too far way.

Stony-faced, he marched in her direction.

Bri’s heart sped up more and more when she realized he intended to meet her. She expected small details in his face would change from the Eg she had talked with just moments ago. However, as he walked closer and closer, his resemblance to Eg only grew stronger, and she thought her heart would explode.

He stopped directly in front of her, and his musk assaulted her nose.

She took a step back, gave a double look and stared, her mouth hanging open. “Oh, hey. You look …”

Spear in hand, Eg stood at attention before her, his face without emotion.  “Brierra.” He tapped his spear against the ground as if to emphasis the bizarreness of his sudden appearance.

Bri gave an almost imperceptible shake of her head.  Who is this? How can he look so much like Eg?

She tilted her head and scrunched her eyebrows together. “Um. I’m confused. Were you wearing a costume a minute ago? How did you change so fast?” She quickly looked around to see if she could spot her slightly pudgy cousin.

 “Warrior” Eg continued to stare down at her. “You speak strangely, cousin.”

His mannerisms brought back memories of when she and Eg played wargames as children; she had always been a wizard and he had been a soldier.

A realization washed upon her mind. Bri laughed and rested her fist on her hips. “Okay, what’s going on?” For the first time, she noticed his muscled stomach. “Wow, you are … ripped.”

He raised an eyebrow. “The Academy Gorus trains the best warriors in Nexreth. You know this.”

“Gorus? You’ve been at Brakany. Studying arcane minerals.”

“No. Nexreth.”

“Well, that explains the spear. And the abs.” She shook her head. “No, seriously, Eg. What’s with the barbarian dialogue? This is one of your pranks. Oh, my gosh! I’ve missed this so much! You got me.”

One of the burg’s council members strode up to Eg and spoke quietly in his ear. “Egsaat, it’s time for the honoring.”

Eg nodded at the man and turned to Bri. “I must go. It is good to see you, cousin.” He turned and walked away toward the dais on one side of the courtyard. He marched up the steps, walked to the center of the dais and looked out among the crowd.

Did he just call him Eg by name? How can that be him? Once again, she scanned the crowd, but couldn’t find the scholarly version of her dear cousin.

The people quieted down and turned toward the dais.

Eg raised his spear and began speaking. “Uncle Etenard conquered the craft of caring for griffins …”

Warrior Eg spoke in much deeper tone than scholar Eg, but it was still his voice. This Eg spoke for several minutes about their late uncle, stamping his spear for emphasis at certain points. Bri looked around. The silent crowd listened, enraptured.

She shook her head in disbelief. Why doesn’t anyone say anything about his appearance?

After Eg finished his eulogy, he raised his spear over his head and the crowd cheered. Then he descended the stairs of the dais and disappeared into the crowd. Once again, conversation began, murmuring rising to chattering.  Bri stood on her toes to see over the crowd. She wanted to reach Eg. Ask him what was going on. And why no one seemed surprised at his sudden change in appearance. She pushed her way past some dryads and then two wizards. “Excuse me,” she said, over and over. Craning her neck, she surveyed the courtyard. Bri could not pick out Eg—neither Eg the scholar nor Eg the warrior—from among the flock of folk celebrating the life of her uncle.

Where did he go?

“Well, well, it’s Brierra Witgleam’s, owner of the largest bookstore of enchanted tomes in Sudbury.”

Bri whirled around and gasped. “I … I.” She shook her head, confused. “Eg?”

Oh, no. Not again.

“Is that how you greet your cousin you haven’t see in four years?”

“Eg? What … happened to you?”

This Eg didn’t have Eg the warrior’s long hair, but it was still longer than Eg the scholar’s. And instead of Eg the warrior’s stubble, this Eg had a full grown goatee. And most disturbing of all …

He flapped his tail and strutted a few steps more toward her. “How do you like my haunches? I’ve had them for a couple years now.”

“How did this happen? A minute ago you were …” She pointed toward the dais.

“Well, duh. What did you think would happen when I left for Pardarry?”

Eyes narrowed, she mouthed the word ‘Pardarry’ and then said out loud, “The School of Transformation? What happened to Brakany? Or, for that matter, Gorus?”

Bri’s head swam and her vision clouded. The chattering of the crowd seemed to fade and come back. She gave a quick shake of her head to clear her thoughts. He wiggled his equine butt at her. “It suits me, don’t you think?”

She just stared at him for a few seconds, irritated he ignored her questions.

“You’re a centaur?”

So that was my writing exercise using layering. Keep in mind the goal to so create a rough draft of a scene. After you have a rough draft of your entire story or novel, you would come back later and edit. But for now you have a piece of fictional clay to mold.

More than one way exists to use layering in fiction writing. If you chose to experiment with this method, feel free to “layer” in the fiction elements in any order you wish. Although it may seem logical to start with setting, I chose to begin with dialogue and action to form a more dynamic framework for the narrative.

And, once again, no, this is not a WIP for me. The scene in this writing exercise is something I created just for this blog posting. If you wish to try layering, I would suggest practicing with an original story. I had a lot of fun doing this and, who knows, I may find a way to finish it.

Photo by Martin Lopez from Pexels

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