Tuesday, February 11, 2020

Delete Your Dining Scenes

Hot take: Dining scenes are overdone.

No pun intended.

In all seriousness, it’s time we examine the utility of dining scenes. You know the type: a bunch of characters have been assembled so you can Share the Important Information to everyone all in one go. Whether it’s breakfast, lunch, or dinner, these moments are everywhere, and oftentimes, they’re a hallmark of lazy writing. Dining scenes are like putting your characters on an elevator to get from floor one to floor fifty: they’re in close proximity, which provides tension; leaving early causes a problem; and there are likely spectators, people whose presence complicates conversation.

The thing is, these types of scenes are a crutch. They’re an easy way to get a group of characters together in a setting that’s dramatic to leave. How many scenes have you read where someone angrily storms away from a dining table? Or take another example, the family dinner where The Announcement is made (“we’re moving,” “I’m pregnant,” “we’re getting married”). And let’s not forget the proposal dinner. Dining scenes signal to the reader what’s about to happen, which makes that reveal so much less meaningful.

I always encourage fellow writers to make their work unique, whether it’s setting, characters, phrasing, etc. But like beginning a scene with a character waking up, there’s nothing unique about a dinner. Everybody has to eat. So ask yourself, is there another setting I can use that is specific to my story? Maybe your characters are musicians and you can stick them into a practice room. Maybe they’re feuding royals and they end up on a hunting trip together. Maybe they’re space explorers and they get stuck cleaning the escape pod. Whatever it is, pick something that will set your setting apart and make it meaningful. Just please, get away from the dinner table.

4 comments:

  1. I have to confess, I love to read dining scenes and see what people are eating. I really Do!

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    Replies
    1. I like writing them too - and choosing the right menu for the event. But there has to be a reason for the meal; I've just mentioned a meal but written round it in my recent short.

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  2. Alternative viewpoint-
    I have them in my book. The reason is because WHAT the main characters eat is a clue about what they really are.
    So I feel that it's more about making the scene unusual and special, not just an easy place to info dump. I think that's more the point.

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  3. I often use dining scenes because when writing about families, it's often the only time in the day or week an entire family sits down together so it's a useful way to show the relationships and dynamics between family members. It's also a way to explore character through the way different people respond to food. In fact, thinking about it, almost all the most meaningful moments in one of my recent books takes place around the kitchen table, whether there is food involved or not...

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