Monday, June 16, 2014

NO TEA SCENES ALLOWED


Janet here. I’m a coffee drinker. Let me start my day with a jolt of caffeine and I’m raring to go. But more than that, I love the aroma. Love the sound of brewing coffee. Love the taste. So thanks, Helen, and all the Villagers who put the pot on here in Seekerville.

Though on a chilly afternoon or during an illness, I crave a cup of tea. Earl Gray is my favorite. Upon occasion I've had the privilege of attending high tea. I've even hosted my version. My delicate china teacups make me feel romantic, feminine, and slightly royal. Ruthy, I heard that snort. 


Yes, tea parties are such fun!
But tea scenes...
Deadly.
Tea scenes kill the pace. Stop the plot’s forward movement in its tracks.
By tea scenes I’m not referring to scenes where characters sit at the table drinking tea. Not the best action for story people to do, but it can work if the point of view character (i.e. the character whose head we’re in) works toward a goal that ups the conflict and moves the story forward, and whether he gets his goal or not, things get worse by the end of the scene.
So what is meant by tea scenes with or without tea in sight?
Tea scenes are when characters talk or think but nothing of importance happens. Often they’re rehashing things the reader already knows. The point of view character has no goal, at least not one pertaining to the book-length goal. The conflict doesn't escalate and things don’t get worse. In other words, if we deleted the scene, we’d lose nothing of value.
Before we go further, I'd like to share the romantic fable that my blue willow teapot depicts shown here on a platter, with it's flat surface far easier to see.


A wealthy Mandarin’s daughter fell in love with her father's accounting assistant, angering her father who planned to marry his daughter to a Duke. To keep the lovers apart, her father fired the young man and trapped his daughter behind a high fence. The Duke arrived by boat to claim his bride, bearing his gift of jewels. The ceremony would take place when the blossom fell from the willow tree.
On the eve of the wedding, the accountant disguised himself as a servant and slipped into the palace. The lovers escape with the jewels. Chased by the Mandarin, whip in hand, they ran over a bridge and escaped on the Duke's ship to a remote island where they lived happily every after. That is until the Duke learns of their location and sent soldiers to kill them. The gods, moved by their plight, transformed the lovers into a pair of doves.   
The lovers’ story is touching, filled with action and plain on my teapot, but when I cover the story with my white eyelet cozy, I lose the action and all I'm left with is a tea scene. 

The first time my critique partner said I’d written a tea scene, I defended the scene, arguing that it showed characterization. But I've learned since that the best way to show characterization is when characters actively pursue their goals that lead to conflict between the hero and heroine, making things worse. Conflict puts characters under pressure, under fire, a far better way to reveal character than in a tea scene with nothing happening but chit-chat. 

Now let me say that chit-chat or banter is fun to read and can be an effective tool to up the attraction, but if the character has no goal, he may appear witty but if nothing of importance takes place, we've stalled the plot. Chit-chat may be our goal in real life, but more is expected of our characters.  
I suspect we writers fall into writing a tea scene when we forget that the purpose of the scene we write isn't ours. Yes, we should have goals for the scene but the story is about our characters. It’s their goals that drive the plot and keep readers turning pages. While they strive to reach their goals, their actions, reactions and dialogue can be used to also fulfill our purposes. Purposes like showing characterization or attraction or snippets of back story in the midst of characters working for their goals.
I’m using an excerpt from my Love Inspired Historical Courting the Doctor’s Daughter that hopefully underscores the main points of this post.
The book opens with Mary Lawrence and Luke Jacobs going head to head—actually toe to toe—over the remedy he shows up in town peddling. To make things worse, this peddler then exhibits an odd interest in Ben, the orphan boy Mary is raising. Conflict, animosity and suspicion are front and center as Luke reacts to her attempts to thwart his goal of selling his remedy. He needs that money to fund the search for his long-lost son. His goal is to make sure the boy is okay, and then return to New York and his lab.
The following snippet is from a scene that opens with Luke leaving the town café, mauling over how to find a way to spend time with the boy Luke believes is his son. He hears the screams of a child who’s been kicked in the head by a horse. The local doc is summoned. Luke accompanies Doc, the boy and his mother to Doc’s office for stitches. Luke is surprised to see Mary is working there. This is the end of the scene after the boy and his mother have been sent home:
Doctor Lawrence tossed aside the towel and patted Mary’s hand. “Thanks for your help, daughter.”
Luke’s head jerked up. “This is your daughter?”
“Yes,” he said, his tone laced with pride. “I don’t know what I’d do without her.” He eyed Luke. 

“So, out with it, Doctor. Why aren't you practicing medicine?”
Miss Graves whirled to Luke. “You are a doctor?”
She didn't look happy about the news.
Then in the opening of the next scene in Mary’s point of view:
Mary sagged against the table. This scoundrel, the man whose remedy she’d fought, was a physician? She’d supposed her father’s reason for allowing Luke Jacobs to remain in the surgery had been to remove her burden of holding Homer. Never dreaming Luke Jacobs had earned the right. 
Her stomach clenched. Worse, this meant his remedy probably had value. If so, he possessed skills of a pharmacist and he’d attended medical school. Achievements she admired.   
But why had he kept his identity a secret? What more did he hide?
The point for sharing this passage is that I divulged information while Mary and Luke were working toward the goal of helping an injured child. Luke’s actions enabled Mary’s father to see that Luke is a doctor. You could argue that the scene didn't open with Luke wanting to help this child nor does it fit his book-length goal of finding his son. But we writers are permitted to throw our characters a curve—the twists and turns readers love—with circumstances that interrupt or even change their goals. But I hope you'll see how all this moves the story forward.
Let’s drop down a few paragraphs, still in Mary’s point of view.

Doctor Lawrence put his mug on the table. “I liked what I saw today. The gentle way you talked to the boy and his mother, the way you soothed Homer’s fear. All signs of a good doctor.” He glanced at Mary. “My daughter’s nagging me to get help with my practice so I’m sure she’ll have no objections. If you’re willing, the job is yours.”
This scene makes things worse. The man whose interest in Ben puts Mary on edge will now be underfoot daily.
Moving on to the end of the scene, Mary’s reaction shows another conflict that makes things far worse.

Luke Jacobs had been thrust into her world. The prospect flooded through her, filling her with foreboding and … worse, oh, far worse, with anticipation. Her gaze darted to Luke. She found him looking at her, his eyes dark, penetrating as if he’d read her mind. He shot her a grin. Inside her chest, her heart tripped then tumbled. Mary sped out of the surgery, barely able to take it in.
Luke Jacobs would be working with her father.
With her. 
In this office.
Every day.
She wanted to scream no, yet how could she protest when she’d badgered her father to slow down?
Mary’s stomach lurched. Luke Jacobs couldn't be God’s answer to her prayer.
He was exactly the wrong man.
One of Mary’s reactions is attraction. The romance is not the plot, but the romance should complicate the plot. This attraction to a rogue complicates the plot for Mary. She is attracted to the man who could destroy her. Not that she comprehends that yet but she senses Luke will bring terrible trouble into her life. And she's right.
But what about Luke? The snippets from these two scenes appear to bring good fortune for him. He needs money so the job is a blessing. Better yet, the job means he’ll be working with the woman he suspects is raising his son. What could be better? But then the job means he’ll have to attend church, get involved with patients, and stay in town longer than he’d planned. Luke is a pro at detachment and prefers a laboratory.

Worse, Luke is carrying a secret and staying will put that secret at risk.

Worse yet, Luke will care about Mary, which makes things so much worse. 
I hope these excerpts show that actions create reactions. These actions/reactions are the building blocks of story. Actions that relate to a character’s goals will feel logical. Exciting. The reader will feel the adrenalin rush of moving forward, of finding out more, of getting to the inevitable Black Moment, then plowing through victorious with the characters in the Resolution.
One thing I love about Courting the Doctor’s Daughter is the conflict between the hero and heroine is built in. The hero is the father of the heroine’s foster child. It’s inevitable that these two are on a collision course. Stories with two dogs and one bone—in this case Ben is the bone, poor kid--offer rich possibilities for emotional conflict.  
So do I still write tea scenes? You bet. I find tea scenes easier to slip into than rundown slippers. The reason “Do as I say, not as I do” is a popular adage. LOL 
Before I write a scene, I write the point of view character’s goal at the top of the page so I won't forget that no tea scenes are allowed.  
So what can I do if I read over a scene and realized it had no point?
Sometimes we should just delete them.
Here’s a scene I wrote for Courting the Doctor’s Daughter. Mary’s book-length goal is to attend medical school as she takes care of her sons. His book-length goal is to find his son and make sure he receives good care. Now that Luke knows Mary desires to attend medical school, he believes her goal will diminish her ability to nurture his son.
 
Standing out in the hall, Luke overheard that Mary’s application had been accepted. She would let someone else take care of her sons and for what? To pursue a career? Didn't she realize how much they needed her right now? 
Nor did she have any idea of how high the price would be to become a doctor, how mentally and physically exhausting. “Your father is just being realistic.”
Mary whirled to where Luke stood in the doorway. “How dare you listen in on our private conversation?”
“If you didn't want me to hear, you should have closed the door.” He stepped into the room. 
“Doc is right. Medical school will drain you, leave nothing for your sons.”
“My sons are fine and my business.”
Leveling his gaze on her, he said, “Philip’s stomachaches are manageable but hardly resolved. Michael will feel all the more responsible if you’re away so much. I can’t believe you’d put anything before your sons’ welfare.”
Doc shoved his plate aside and rose to his feet. “My daughter is putting nothing in front of her boys. I know her better than you do, Luke. If she begins medical school, she’ll handle it and still be a wonderful parent.”
“I have no intention of standing here listening to you two discuss my worthiness as a mother,” Mary said, pushing past Luke.
The outside door slammed.
Morris and Luke’s gazes met and Morris’ gaze reflected the dismay knotting in Luke’s stomach. “I’m sorry, Morris. I shouldn't have said anything.”
“Well, bring in the first patient. I need to see to my little girl.”  
“You go on. I’ll take care of the afternoon appointments.”
Doc plucked his hat from the hall tree. “See you tomorrow.”

As Luke called in Mr. Kelly, complaining about pain in his back from lifting a laundry basket, he regretted implying Mary couldn't be a good mother and attend medical school. Perhaps if her sons weren't suffering from the loss of their father—
No, something told him there was more to the story than how Mary’s husband had died. 
Could the problems Philip and Michael had, have more to do with their life with their father than with his death? Luke saw in Mary, the very thing he struggled with—an inability to get close. And in her sons, an anxiety he didn't understand.
What kind of man was Sam Graves? Luke intended to find out.
When my critique partner saw this short scene, she said: I don’t see the point of this scene at all. It just reiterates the argument she and Luke had before, doesn't move anything forward and does not up the stakes at all.
Ouch. But, then no pain, no gain.
In this example, I just deleted the scene. Mainly because Luke not only didn't have a scene goal for himself, but the conflict was redundant. He and Mary had discussed her dream in other scenes that were stronger. Another point I want to make. Not all tea scenes are conflict free. There's conflict in this one, but it doesn't move the plot forward. Not all tea scenes are cozy chit-chat. Some are arguments. But that doesn't work unless there's forward movement with the plot.

Sometimes scenes are salvageable. 
We write them. We can fix them.   
Take a look at a tea scene you've written with fresh eyes. Rip off that tea cozy and look at the pot. Think about the young accounting assistant, the Mandarin, his daughter and the Duke. They all had goals. 
What goal could you give your hero and heroine that you can play out in this scene that you've already written that will make the scene active and forward the plot? 

Make that goal fit the book-length goal. Make that goal add conflict and make things worse. You can do it! 
If you have an argument in the scene you've already written and it isn't redundant, then it's worth saving. Just make sure the dialogue fits the goal of the point of view character. 

I brought eggs and bacon, sweet rolls and tomato juice. Our breakfast's clear-cut goal is to fill our stomachs and feed our brains. Just in case they might confuse the issue, no scrambled eggs allowed. LOL I’m behind the grill. Order them any way you like them.

For a chance to win a copy of Courting the Doctor’s Daughter, leave a comment. If you have questions about my post, ask. If you’re not sure if a scene is of the tea variety, ask. Let’s chat. Even chit-chat is welcome! 

105 comments :

  1. The coffee's brewing.

    Excellent points, Janet. Thanks for making it so clear.

    Off to bed now.

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  2. Great post Janet and very useful info. I think I've had trouble identifying tea scenes in the past. Please include me in the drawing.

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  3. Oh Janet, you've been peeking at my manuscript! I have a real problem with tea scenes.

    My sister has to remind me that if the scene doesn't move the story forward then I don't need it.

    Wonderful post and very timely for me. I'm beginning edits.

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  4. Janet .. Your posts are almost as interesting as your novels, to me, a reader, anyways. Would love to have my name I. The drawing! Thanks

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  5. I've never heard it called a tea scene before. This is amazing insight.

    Really.

    Janet, you nailed it.

    These tea scenes also lead to episodic writing. WELL DONE!!!

    I am particularly fond that gold gilded tea cup you have in your post, btw. Better hide it when I come to visit.

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  6. Love the Mandarin's daughter story too!!!!!

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  7. Hi Janet,
    What about a tea-book? JK. But wouldn't' that be a nightmare to edit? Or maybe it would be really fun to edit!

    Sorry, I'm a bit punchy tonight. This has been a week of twists and turns and conflict that has not moved the story forward!

    I appreciate your post. Great examples! Can't wait to read your new book!

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  8. I love that first tea cup too. I'd be afraid to use it though!

    This post is just what I need right now. I see some tea scene editing in my near future. Great for reducing word count!

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  9. Hello, Helen. Thanks for the coffee on this day we're talking about tea scenes. :-)

    Janet

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  10. Oh, Janet, this one hit the spot. I love Earl Grey in a china cup, and my own china pattern is Blue Willow. Did you know it's been produced since 1780? And it was Aunt Bee's china in "The Andy Griffith Show"? And it was the title of a children's book in the 1950s about a child of migrant workers, for whom the only treasure she possessed was one Blue Willow plate. MUCH more than a china pattern. It's a talisman, a sacred object, a way of life.
    Yeah.
    Please put me in the drawing.
    Kathy Bailey

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  11. Hi Loves to Read. Tea scenes are tricky to idenify because there's always something of value happening, but without a goal, the plot is stalled. When I'm revising, I try to look at every scene with that in mind.

    Thanks for your interest in Courting the Doctor's Daughter!

    Janet

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  12. Okay, I'm in. In my current WIP, I have a scene that doesn't involve drinking tea or china cups. A paroled convict, who is going to be my main villain, is camping out on the Oregon Trail with his partner in crime. He can't sleep and he sits up watching the moon on the snow and brooding about the revenge he is going to have on my hero, and how he got there. There's a few paragraphs of dialogue with the other thug, but a lot of the chapter is Deep POV reflection. And it ends with him even more determined to exact his pound of flesh from Our Hero. Is THIS a tea scene? There's conflict, but most of it takes place in his own head. Does it move the story forward because we see where he is coming from? Or not?
    Thanks
    Kathy Bailey
    Creating Villains in New Hampshire

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  13. Hi Terri, wishing you all the best with ferreting out the tea scenes in your manuscript. It's hard to delete words we wrote. But thankfully, with thought, we can sometimes find a way to give every scene purpose.

    How fun that you have a sister who writes!! Are you critique partners?

    Janet

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  14. Marianne, thank you! You are so encouraging. We appreciate your faithfulness here in Seekerville and your interest in our books. Your name is in the teapot.

    Janet

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  15. Tina, If you come, I'll gladly bring out the cup and saucer and risk it! :-)

    I'm not sure where the term tea scene came from. I'll ask my cp.

    I should've mentioned that POV characters with goals pertaining to their story goal is the way to avoid episodic writing and please an editor. Thanks for doing it for me!!

    Janet

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  16. Enjoyed the post, Janet.

    My mom loves tea parties and has had several w/the daughters and granddaughters, complete w/big hats and fancy clothes.

    Now I more things to look for in ms. I can't think of any tea scenes, but I will definitely look for them now.

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  17. Lyndee, you've got me chuckling with the idea of a tea book! That would be a huge job to revise, but hey, we writers have the muscle to get it done.

    I've had weeks like yours. Hope your path this week is smoother and the twists and turns are only in your story.

    Courting the Doctor's Daughter is not new, in fact its one of my earliest books. They never go away in my mind. I guess when you spend so much time with story people, they're like family. Family you like. LOL

    Janet

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  18. Good morning, Kav. Sounds like you write more words than you need. Can I borrow some? LOL

    Tea scenes can often be fixed. But, it takes figuring out a goal. Not hard. We just need to ask what the character needs to do along the way if he hoped to attain his goal.

    Kav, I say risk using the tea cup. If it breaks, it died happy. LOL

    This makes me think of my grandmother. We gave her a small throw rug for her bathroom. She hung it on the back of a rocker, saying it was too pretty to walk on. When she died, the rug was 20 years old and had never been used for the purpose it was created for.

    Janet

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  19. Hi Kathy! Thanks for sharing the history of the Blue Willow pattern. I knew it was ancient. Didn't remember seeing the dishes on the Andy Griffith show. I loved Aunt Bea. That show was chock full of interesting secondary characters.

    I wrote a book--not yet published--with an Irish immigrant heroine. The one possession she treasured was a shamrock adorned teacup, the symbol of happier days, of family now gone. I love symbols.
    Thanks for sharing. Your name is in the teapot.

    Janet

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  20. I've never heard of tea scenes before. Thanks for enlightening me, Janet. Great concept - now to find how many of those I have in my WIP. And Janet, you write great stories! I can't recall even one tea scene in anything I've read by Janet Dean. But - I have not read Courting the Doctor's Daughter. So looking forward to it.

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  21. Hi Kathy, the villain's brooding and dialogue sound interesting and lets the reader know why he's intent on seeing the hero dead, but can you make this scene more active? Perhaps to exact revenge he needs to practice his draw, or his accuracy with his gun. Maybe you could open the scene with him shooting at bottles or practicing his draw with his partner in crime. Then as dark falls, he could be cleaning his gun and could make a concrete decision on what to do next. What step he needs to take to find the hero perhaps.

    Adding these small elements show him working for his goal, active in the scene. Not just thinking. I wouldn't make the scene long, but if you put his brooding in short snippets as he's shooting, drawing, visualizing the hero with a bullet in his chest, you make the scene more active. Scarier too.

    Now other scenes with the villain should be way more active than this one. He could be riding into town, finding a place to hole up, studying the hero's routine and relationships. Stuff like that.

    Sounds like a great story! What publisher are you targeting?

    Janet

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  22. Good morning, Connie. Love that your mom puts on fancy dress up teas for her daughters and granddaughters. What fun memories she's creating for them!

    Looking for tea scenes is how you find them. They're deceptive sometimes, because the writing is strong and the characterization zings, but alas the plot is sipping tea. :-)

    Janet

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  23. Good morning, Cindy. Bless your heart for your sweet words about my stories. I refuse to look for tea scenes in pubbed books. LOL What's the point? Actually it would be a great writing exercise if I could take the humiliation.

    Since you haven't read Courting the Doctor's Daughter, your name is in the teapot.

    Janet

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  24. Morning Janet, Wow you nailed me to the wall. Tea scenes. Hmmmm I was wondering what was the matter with them. Now I know. I will go back and get the chit chat out of the way or at least make it more meaningful. Thanks for this timely and helpful post.

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  25. Love this, Janet.

    And this quote, "The romance is not the plot, but the romance should complicate the plot."

    Priceless!!!

    I'll take fried or scrambled eggs (doesn't matter as long as they are cooked through :), toast, jam, and coffee with French vanilla coffee. Yum!

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  26. French Vanilla creamer. Obviously, I need that coffee really bad this am...

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  27. What a great post, Janet! And as you well know, this is a problem of mine. :)

    I'll be sure to keep this in mind today as I write!

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  28. Good morning, Sandra! I've read your books and know your dialogue is not chitchat. Sometimes we have to kick our characters in the butt to get them active. LOL

    Janet

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  29. Good morning, Sandra! I've read your books and know your dialogue is not chitchat. Sometimes we have to kick our characters in the butt to get them active. LOL

    Janet

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  30. Hi Pam! I wrote the line you quoted to remind myself. One of the things I love about writing posts for Seekerville is the reminder of what it takes to write a book. I can get so caught up in the characters, the angst that I forget to get them moving.

    Janet

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  31. Knew you'd get your coffee the way you like it, Pam. We all have our preferences. Mine is black and hot and strong.

    Janet

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  32. Hey, Missy, most of us write a tea scene upon occasion. Well, maybe not Mary. Her characters would rather shoot someone than sip tea. LOL

    Janet

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  33. "Tea scenes" drive me crazy! I actually read a book this year that felt as if it consisted entirely of tea scenes -- and worse, the characters were literally drinking, well, not tea, but coffee in all these scenes. :) Good post.

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  34. I had so many tea scenes when I was new and stupider that Bigelow wanted me for a spokesperson.

    They didn't offer quite enough up front so I stuck with the writin' gig.

    :)

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  35. I love that Janet is using a teapot for the drawing!!!!!

    Oh my stars, it's three steps up from a cat dish, but charmingly colloquial!!!! :)

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  36. Hi Jennifer! Mercy, that had to be frustrating. Too much coffee or tea drinking should be a clue. :-)

    The POV character could have a story goal that involves ferreting out the truth in a conversation so it's not impossible to work toward a goal in dialogue, but far better if the dialogue happens in a more active setting. But, if nothing changes plot wise, then it's just chitchat.

    Janet

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  37. LOL, Ruthy!!! That's hilarious!! Do you have a smidgeon of English in you?

    I suspect all beginners write tea scenes. I believe we writers don't change until we must. Just like our characters, we're pushed to learn craft when we want publication badly.

    Janet

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  38. Ah, Ruthy, just three steps?? For one thing the teapot is clean.

    Janet

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  39. Hi Janet

    Great post today. I have a complete Blue Willow china set. Hardly ever use them because I can't put them in the dishwasher.

    I had to cut a couple of "eating" scenes from a wip. Stuff was being said that had to get in, but I thought they were doing too much eating, so I put them in another scene. If I could cut my eating back as easily...

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  40. Love your Blue Willow...I have some as well, but didn't know the story.

    Such a pretty tea cozy. Which I don't have.

    Great tips for enhancing a story, Janet! No tea scenes allowed. Remember Donald Maass suggests ridding our coffee scenes as well. :) I, on the other hand, often have my characters sip their joe as they pour over clues. Hmmm...perhaps I need to revisit some of those scenes and ensure they move the story forward.

    I'm adding grits to the breakfast buffet for the Southern girls and guys! :)

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  42. Hi Janet:

    Chicken, Egg, or Omelet?

    Does the plot complicate
    the romance?
    Does the romance complicate
    the plot?
    Or…
    do the characters complicate
    everything
    to please
    the pantsers?

    You Wrote:

    “…most of us write a tea scene upon occasion. Well, maybe not Mary. Her characters would rather shoot someone than sip tea.”

    Actually some of the worse ‘tea scenes’ are shootings. It’s call gratuitous violence. They don’t move the story but they can sure move the reader. (Shoot ‘em up Westerns.)

    Do you have to move the story if you’re moving the reader?

    Did you know “TEA” stands for ‘told enough already’?

    What you can tell, you can show and what you can show, you show ‘on the go’.

    BTW: Mary does not write gratuitous shootings…even if she has shot some bad guys I’d have rather seen redeemed. : )

    Thanks for a very insightful post. It really got me thinking, writing. Now if I could just have some more of your books to learn from. I love learning from your writing.

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  43. Janet, your excellent post has me thinking of the ms I just finished. Eek! I need to reread to see if the dialogue in a couple of scenes moves the story forward. I'll be saving this post and referring back to it as I write. Thanks so much!

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  44. Thank you for your insights, Janet!

    I had never heard the term "tea scenes", but between your explanation and Vince's "told enough already" clue, I understand what they are.

    But the next step is identifying them in my own writing. I'll be sure to look for them as I start revisions next week :)

    Thanks for the breakfast! I'll have my eggs over medium.

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  45. Janet, I've definitely written Tea Scenes. Yikes! I'm learning to make sure I'm clear on the scene goal and the character's goal before I begin writing. This helps me to up tension between characters.

    I loved this! And yes, I'll be looking at scenes in my ms to see if they are the dreaded "Tea Scene" and work on them. :)

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  46. Great post, Janet! I tend more toward "dinner table scenes," I think. Sometimes it just seems so natural to bring my characters together over a meal so they can discuss things.

    I do try to throw in a twist, though--some bit of conflict to stir the pot (no pun intended). Our stories need reflective scenes as well as action scenes, but to keep the story moving forward, it's all a delicate balancing act.

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  47. great post today Janet. I understand much better and now shudder at the thought of looking through my WIPs. I've a hard enough time with brevity, I might reduce my WIPs to novella length if I find any TEA scenes. *sigh*

    i'm apparently unsophisticated because while I do have china, I think it's just plain white. I say I think because I've obviously never really brought it out of hiding. *heh* i do like looking at fine china but I was never a tea party girl... too busy trying to capture the flag from/with the rest of the boys in the neighborhood.

    would love to have my name dipped into the teapot for an opportunity to read Courting the Doctor's Daughter

    *off to look at WIPs, seeking possible TEA scenes*

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  48. Hi Elaine! I put my Blue Willow dishes in the dishwasher. I put all my dishes in there, even china with a silver band on the edge. I use a gentle, non chlorine detergent.

    Laughing, nodding and agreeing! It is easier to cut back on characters' eating than our own.

    Janet

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  49. Hi Debby! I'm guessing you don't have room for tea/coffee scenes. I'm amazed at the fast pace, life or death action suspense authors must maintain. A scene trying to decipher clues may give your readers a breather. And your h/h more energy to keep going.

    I always welcome anything that makes a gritty post. ;-)

    Thanks!

    Janet

    Janet

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  50. Hi Vince. I'd say yes to all three as adding complications but we romance writers dare not equate the romance as the plot. The characters' external goal should not be to find love. Often love is the last thing they want. Either because they're focused on achieving their goal or they're wounded by their pasts and afraid to love again. So this person they're attracted to or falling for is making life more difficult, complicating the plot, complicating their lives.

    Do gratitious killings that don't forward the plot move the reader? I'm not sure. When I was a kid watching bad guys falling from rooftops, I wasn't moved--except to fear for the hero's life. Now if the hero was shot, I was moved. Hopefully he was shot because of his actions, not just randomly.

    TEA=told enough already. LOL Love it! We've got to get our story people moving! As you say, what you can show, you can show on the go. A great line. I'm writing all these great one liners down.

    Your words are sweet to an author's ears. I'm close to finishing my wip. Hoping you'll love it, Vince.

    Janet

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  51. JANET!!! Gosh, I never knew those chit-chat scenes were called "tea scenes," but YIKES ... I include lot of them in my O'Connor books because I work hard at both characterization and family setting. I'm going to have be extra careful now to make sure SOMETHING is happening other than chit-chat and characterization!!

    Thank you for the kick in the butt, girlfriend! :)

    Hugs,
    Julie

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  52. Excellent post, Janet!
    Writing tea scenes isn't a bad thing if you as a writer learn about your characters and then edit or delete the scene :)
    And I loved the story about our teapot!

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  53. Janet, my sister doesn't write. I keep trying to talk her into it, I think she is a natural. She does critique for me and has learned way more about writing then she ever wanted to know. LOL

    I blessed to have such a great sis.

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  54. Hi Meghan. Dialogue can forward the plot when characters seek answers or try to cover up something.

    Sometimes its used to add humor, to up attraction, and show characterization and back story. If these latter elements then it's what the characters are doing as they're talking that helps forward the plot.

    For example In Courting the Doctor's Daughter, Mary has terrible headaches and is so sick at the office one morning that she can't work. Luke insists she try his remedy. She's miserable so finally agrees. Her new goal is to stay far away from Luke, a man she sees as too interested in Ben. The remedy relieves her headache. Which makes things worse for her because this man she doesn't trust was considerate and thoughtful and his remedy works, which brings them closer, a huge conflict for her.

    The romance complicates the plot.

    Janet

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  55. Oh, my mom had the same Blue Willow. I loved learning the story behind it.

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  56. Hi Jan! Just look at each scene's POV character and see what his or her goal is. If they're working toward that goal, then the scene will forward the plot.

    I brought lunch. Fresh fruit, chicken salad in avocados, iced tea--yep there's that tea--and chocolate chip cookies.

    Janet

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  57. Good afternoon, Jeanne T. It helps to write the goal at the top of the scene until it becomes second nature. Have fun on your search and destroy. Or search and revamp. Save what you can.

    Janet

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  58. Hi Myra, I love dinner scenes with a huge unspoken conflict that has the hero or heroine tense and everyone else is clueless. :-) Not all table scenes are pointless. Some are riveting.

    Janet

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  59. In my first attempt at writing a romantic suspense I had so much coffee drinking going on that I incorporated it into the plot. Needless to say that book didn't sell!

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  60. Hi DebH! Tomboy girls competing with the boys. Teaparty girls hosting their dolls. Most of us could line up on one side or the other. Both perfect.

    Have fun searching for Tea scenes while I add your name to the pot.

    Janet

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  61. Hi Julie. I just finished Dare to Love Again. Your characters have loads of undercurrant going on as Logan works for Cait's hand and Nick stuffs down animal crackers to soothe his ulcer from the strong-willed Allison's risky behavior. I think you're good.

    Janet

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  62. Good afternoon, Eva Maria! Aren't we glad that most scenes can be saved? I've done it plenty of times. Just takes some thinking and reworking, but many elements can be saved.

    I love the Blue Willow story but it's a bit dark for my tastes.

    One time I told friends about this fable. My dishes were displayed in my china cabinet and I had a few antique ones, too. One of the husbands asked how many dishes I needed to get that story told. LOL Men.

    Janet

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  63. Terri, love that your sister critiques for you! She ought to try her hand with a story so you can return the favor.

    Janet

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  64. Terri, you made me giggle. You might go to the extreme and center a suspense around coffee production. Would take a lot of research. Helen should be a good source. ;-)

    Janet

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  65. This is great, Janet. I had a scene that just wasn't working and spent a whole day reworking it. Now I see it has a name. I've never heard it called a Tea Scene. You're always so helpful. I learned so much a few years ago when I won a critique with you. Thanks!

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  66. Terri, I'm the same way about coffee in my western-set historicals. I mean, every western I've ever seen, if the men are not drinking whiskey, they're drinking coffee or water.

    So, my characters are constantly making coffee, drinking coffee. Especially in the books set in the winter. Coffee, coffee, coffee, three meals a day, plus in between.

    My goal is to some day write a coffee-free western! lol

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  67. Hi Janet:

    You wrote:

    “…but we romance writers dare not equate the romance as the plot. The characters' external goal should not be to find love. Often love is the last thing they want.”

    Oh, how far romance writers have gone astray over the years. : (

    Romance used to be about the romance. Men had to be more romantic and women more inspiring of that romance. (Why the heroine’s very being would often inspire an alpha hero to write love poems!)

    A common genre in that golden age of romance involved the hero/heroine looking for love and asking their ‘best friend’ (hero/heroine) to help them find or win that love. (The plot/theme was looking for love in all the wrong places when there were acres of diamonds in their own back yard. That’s an old, old, old but inspiring story, too. : ))

    Of course, romance fans in that day rooted for the ‘best friend’ to finally be seen as the truest love of them all.

    Did it happen?

    Can you spell, HEA?

    That was a time when giants walked the earth and heroes believed that candy was dandy. : )

    BTW: My heroine in “Stranded in a Cabin with a Romance Writer” left the convent to find a husband and have children before it was too late! (No wonder so many judges hated it!!!) And in “The Last Romantic” my hero spends the whole book trying to get the heroine (it was love at first sight, for him) to fall in love and become his wife.

    Moreover, in “Characters in a Romance” the romance characters often lament how their authors have lost their way. They write suspense romances, vampire romances, all kinds of paranormal romances, time travel romances, steampunk romances, anything to avoid a simple straight forward romantic love story.

    Not too worry. I’ve entered a new decade and I’m feeling nostalgic.

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  68. Hi Jamie! Glad the post helped and the critique did too. I'm always terrified someone will give up writing after one of my critiques. Proud of you!!

    Janet

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  69. Aw, no reason to reinvent the wheel, Pam. Coffee and action. Coffee and dialogue. Coffee and a quick sequel. LOL So what coffee brands existed in the 1800s that exist today? Any???

    Janet

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  70. Vince, I agree, times are a changing. I stand by our characters' need for a goal other than love, but they can have a goal for marriage. Look at all the marriages of convenience stories, but the reason they need a spouse relates to another more important goal like saving the ranch, survival, the widower giving his kids a mother, etc.

    I'm fascinated by your heroine leaving the convent to find love and children. Sound of Music without the music oh, and the war.

    I believe candy is dandy. If it's choc-o-late. :-)

    Janet

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  71. Great post, Janet - - and I'm guilty of tea scenes *sigh* - - so your post is VERY helpful for me. I think what helps me is letting my work set a little while, then re-read with fresh eyes. That's usually when I notice those tea scenes better in my own work (sometimes, LOL---not all the time!).
    LOVE Blue Willow china, and that first tea cup you showed--GORGEOUS!
    Thanks so much for sharing today.
    Hugs from very warm Georgia,
    Patti Jo :)

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  72. Next go round we must give away a tea cozy. I don't have one either.

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  73. Hi Patti Jo! It's hot here too, at 86. You're right. Time away is a big help for fresh eyes.

    Blue Willow is blue--my favorite color for my house--and romancey. What's not to like? :-)

    If I ever post on tea scenes again, I'll think I'll offer a teacup.

    Janet

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  74. Great idea, Tina. I got my in Chinatown in San Fran. But I'm sure Amazon has them. :-)

    Janet

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  75. Janet, I've never heard it called a tea scene but I sure recognize the syndrome.

    I've become aware that I tend to write this kind of scene before something really big happens in the next scene. It's as if I'm reviewing everything that's happened before I launch into more -- sort of like "in last week's episode..." :-)

    Gotta keep my eye out for these tea scenes. Thanks for making them so easy to identify!

    Nancy C

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  76. Janet,
    I recently removed a hybrid tea scene. Unlike your examples, it was an action scene. However, the action had nothing to do with the plot so... maybe this was a Hi-test tea scene.

    Does that mean I've coined a new term? Cool!
    b

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  77. I remember when I sold some earlier books and they were too long for the line....the ones I sold to Heartsong Presents come to mind....and i'd need to cut like....15,000 words.

    And I'd start cutting and oh for heaven's sakes I could cut and cut and cut and it damaged the story NOT AT ALL!!!!

    A lesson to be learned. If you cut a whole scene and it has no effect on your story that is a BAAD THING!!!

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  78. I remember when I sold some earlier books and they were too long for the line....the ones I sold to Heartsong Presents come to mind....and i'd need to cut like....15,000 words.

    And I'd start cutting and oh for heaven's sakes I could cut and cut and cut and it damaged the story NOT AT ALL!!!!

    A lesson to be learned. If you cut a whole scene and it has no effect on your story that is a BAAD THING!!!

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  79. VINCE...Heroes believed that Candy was Dandy.

    I know the rest of that saying. LOL

    Excellent.

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  80. Thank you for this post. Please enter me in the drawing for a copy of your book.

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  81. Hi Nancy C! Have fun checking for tea scenes. That's different than a sequel segment where the POV character thinks about what happened earlier and makes plans for his next action. The sequel can come at the end of the same scene or at the beginning of his next scene. Whatever works best. The sequel is a review of sorts and a new plan of action. A tea scene is just talking without a goal.

    Janet

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  82. Hi Janet:

    It’s not that I disagree with you (and I love all the wonderful romance writers who go beyond the simple love story), it’s just not what I like best. However, now that I think about it, some of the romances I most enjoyed were, more or less, the hero having a main plot goal of getting the heroine to marry him.

    I think, (and the authors might want to differ), that “The Price of Victory” was about the hero trying to get the heroine to marry him. “The Lawman’s Second Chance” was also about the hero’s efforts, very ‘horse whisper-like’, to get the heroine to marry him. (Yes, he was reluctant at first but it did not take long for him to put on a full court press in order to convince the reluctant heroine to marry him.)

    Then Helen Gray’s book, “Ozark Sweetheart” which seemed to me to be about the rich hero’s many attempts to get the heroine to feel she was good enough to marry into his family. That is, that he was being serious about her and not just playing with her emotions. This is a golden romance IMHO. “Exactly to taste.”

    But then, I think a lot of the emotional pleasure in reading a romance (for a woman) is having the hero doing his all out best to win the hand the heroine’s hand. Slaying a dragon is a nice start.

    Then again, Charity seemed to have, as a major plot element, marrying the man her sister was interested it! : ) It probably wasn’t that bad and Julie always has more plot lines than edgy kisses. (That's a lot by the way.)

    MARY: I know you would have known the rest of that quote. Things have become less and less romantic ever since women got their own brand of cigarettes. Like romance novels, women have come a long way!

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  83. Hi Becke, I vote we adopt your term hi-test tea scene. Love it! Reminds me of Vince's gratuitous violence. We are rocking!

    Janet

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  84. Mary, thanks for the excellent example that if scenes are cut without damaging the story they don't matter.

    I had to cut like 20k words for the LIH line. I think all of those words were sequel and introspection.

    Janet

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  85. Mary, share the rest of Vince's poem. LOL Hate to think I'll stupid I'll look.

    Janet

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  86. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  87. Hi Vince, I love a hero who goes all out to win over the heroine before the HEA. Though upon occasion I've had heroes ready to throw in the towel after dealing with my hardnosed heroines. Lots of different stories. They can't all be alike, can they? Or am I just kidding myself?

    I don't smoke. LOL

    Janet

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  88. Janet, I've never heard of tea scenes. I love learning new things and you just taught this old horse, LOL!!

    I loved the story of the daughter and her accountant running off on the Duke's ship. What a hoot. Nothing like truly bamboozling the situation.

    And, like your point out in the post, once you covered up the teapot, so too, you removed the story.

    Made a definite impression on me. I love learning my example. Thanks for the lesson, Janet!!

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  89. Dear Janet,
    Thank you for your post. I like the term tea scenes. Yesterday as I was editing, I found a repetitive scene. While not quite the same as a tea scene, I excised the section from the book as the scene didn't need to be told twice in different parts of the book.
    Thanks so much for the tea imagery and the great Chinese folk tale.

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  90. Ah, Janet! I needed this! I just read through a "tea scene" of mine that I'm not sure is a tea scene at all. It does have conflict, but the characters are playing checkers. I'm not sure if it moves the plot forward or not. All that happens is the POV character realizes he's got a bigger fight on his hands than he realized. I guess I could end the scene with him figuring out the first steps toward the climax. Hmm. You've given me much to think about!!!

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  91. I have an actual coffee scene in a WIP I jus entered into a contest. After reading this, I wonder if that's the way my coffee scene will be viewed. However, I'm hopeful.

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  92. I just learned something new thank you. Most interesting.

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  93. I was SO busy yesterday that I missed your wonderful post, Janet! Early phone calls and unexpected company!

    I read it this morning and loved it!

    Thank you for a lovely post and for pointing out one of my writing flaws. :-)

    Please drop my name in the pot. :-)

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  94. Ok Janet, no more looking at my WIP as well. But, my story is set in Ireland and as a veteran Anglophile with English teas under my belt, I couldn't resist. The most interesting tea I had was in the Bow Street police station, London. I went there after my purse had been
    "dipped" at the Laura Ashley summer sale and the culprit caught. Since it was teatime, I was served tea as I gave my statement. All ended well since I never carry anything of value or importance in my purse. So while I understand the importance of action rather than musing, I am having some trouble....thanks for giving me a fond memory. By the way, in the ultimate irony, I was almost late for the play "Oliver" that evening!

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  95. Janet, thanks for the good advice. The examples you gave helped me to understand the difference between knowing what to save what to delete. That delete button can be hard to hit, can't it?

    Drop my name in the bucket! Courting the Doctor's Daughter sounds like a great read!
    Blessings,
    Kelly

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  96. Janet,
    Thanks for such a helpful article. You've clarified for me what tea scenes are, and what to do with them! Got my red pen out!

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  97. Hi Audra, I love learning lessons too. Every day I learn something new in Seekerville or I'm inspired. Isn't it great to be part of that?

    Janet

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  98. Hi Tanya! Redundancy is easy to fall into. Congrats on plucking it out of your story!

    Janet

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  99. Hi Natalie. I have a checker scene in The Inconvenient Match, one of my favorite scenes in the book. You can always have action when the characters are involved, interacting, revealing. The trick is ensuring a goal that the character gets or doesn't but either way things get worse. From that he makes a new plan. Sounds like you're on the right track with your checker game.

    Janet

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  100. Hi Walt, characters can drink coffee and still be active if the underlying motives and conflict are revealed through dialogue and reactions. Wishing you all the best in the contest!

    Janet

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  101. Thanks, Mary P! Hope you find the new information helpful.

    Janet

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  102. Hi Mary H. We all have those days you describe, but I commend you for checking posts you missed. Your name is in the teapot.

    Janet

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  103. Hi Olivia, I'm delighted that the "bobbies" served you tea while you made your statement. Wow, how cool. Glad you didn't miss Oliver.

    Don't want to turn you away from your love of tea and all things Anglican. If you want more specific help with a scene, send me an email through my website janet@janetdean.net.

    Janet

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  104. Hi Kelly. I struggle hitting the delete button too. Remember most scenes can be revised, but if not, I cut and paste anything that's hard to get rid of into a file I call Deleted passages from--then name my manuscript.

    Your name is in the pot.

    Janet

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  105. Hi Edwina. I love the red pen, especially when it's used by my cps. Fresh eyes are so helpful. I'm able to have fresh eyes myself when I go through the manuscript looking for a specific thing, which helps me not to get bogged down in the story.

    Janet

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