Have you ever written a deep scene that happens between characters that just…falls flat? All the dialogue is corny, mushy, and incredibly cheesy.
Not the most appetizing combo for second breakfast
or for reading, for that matter.
So, today, I’m going to be sharing with you 4 solid steps + an example scene on how to build up a structure for the deep conversations your characters have in a way that won’t make it sound so cheesy!
*Also, a HUGE thank you to Joy from her blog, Joy Caroline, for requesting this post!!! I totally enjoyed writing this!
1. Setting the Foundation: What are they talking about?
Okay, be honest with yourself: Do you ever just dump out your heart and soul onto someone? Spill out your life problems for an hour and throughly expect them to sit through it all without interrupting for a single moment?
99% of you guys are going to answer: Uh, no.
Mostly because, well, it’s unfortunately quite rare to find a person who will actually listen to you in a conversation, much less sit with you forever to hear your life story.
But secondly, because humans, as humans, just don’t don’t come outright with their feelings.
unless they’re those random strangers at the bus stop who always pour out their life stories to you but we’re not gunna talk about them.
People – and characters – like to hide their feelings. Shelter them. Pretend everything’s okay. It’s really hard to bring yourself out and show you’re vulnerable.
Yet…sometimes, to allow your protagonist to progress further in his character arc and the plot to push onwards, he will end up needing to spill some of his worries and feelings onto another character, either to sort out his thoughts or even simply ask for help.
And when this happens, you want these talks to be big. To be so emotional that even the toughest readers will be crying.
Essentially? You most definitely do not want them to be cheesy.
So, let’s forgo that cheesy, mushy second-breakfast and set up a foundation instead. To start: Have your characters talk about important, plot related, deep rooted personal things.
I know that almost sounds pretty obviously, but trust me, it can be SO easy to just slip into the drama of the moment and write sappy scenes about…absolutely nothing.
Lemme just say, no one sobs over a conversation that’s absolutely pointless.
So! When constructing the foundation, ask yourself: Is this deep conversation that these character’s are having:
- important to moving the plot forwards?
- deeply personal to the protagonist?
- is happening because of the protagonist’s Lie?
- potentially moving the protagonist towards or away from their Truth?
Without the foundation you cannot build upwards, so we’re going to be adding two more factors to the base of our foundation!
2. Setting the Foundation: Does the talk happen to the protagonist and is it about the protagonist?
Your protagonist is what your story is about, so these deep talks should be happening TO the protagonist and they should be ABOUT the protagonist.
Like I said before, it can be SO easy to get so caught up in the drama of a scene that you just start whipping out random – yet totally epic! – side backstories of side characters.
Anddd while an epic side-story about how the death of a barely mentioned before side character’s father changed his entire life is cool…no one will actually care about it.
In some instances, yes, deep conversations can happen between minor characters, but for a quick rule of thumb: if the character does not matter to the plot or to the protagonist’s arc, do not have them discuss any deep conversation.
- Side note: there are those random innkeepers, or horse-tenders, or cashiers who just NEED to be there for the story. But these are not the people reader’s want to hear any deep conversations out of. Similar to what I explained more throughly in my death scenes post: if the person who is having this deep conversation does NOT matter to the plot, the conversation is useless.
So, when a deep scene happens, make sure it’s happening to the protagonist and is about the protagonist. Even in the rare instances where you need a side character confessing something to the protagonist, make sure it effects the protagonist in some way.
3. Setting the Foundation: What kind of conversation is it, and what point does it have?
Everything in a book must have a point to it-the dialogue, plot, character, theme, etc etc etc! Same rule applies to a deep conversation.
As your last thing to set down for your foundation, you need to figure out what the GOAL of the conversation between these two characters is.
What does the protagonist hope to gain from having this conversation? Why does this conversation need to happen to further move the plot along? What KIND of conversation is this?
You might be thinking: “Well, uh, it’s a deep conversation, obviously.”
First off: I’m so proud of you, such WISDOM. Butttt there are actually quite a number of ‘deep’ conversation that can happen in a book:
- A betrayal: one character betrays all the other characters, and usually they will all end up together, having to fight each other, and a deep conversation will arise.
- A self-sacrificing plan: perhaps the characters are trying to find a way to defeat the antagonist, but nothing seems to be working. The protagonist believes that the only way to save them is by giving himself up (due to certain circumstances. He might end up telling his love interest or mentor about his plan to run in there alone and give himself up. The love interest or mentor will try to talk him out of it, but because of something very meaningful and personal going on in the protagonist’s character arc, he will go on with the plan anyway.)
- A death: Usually after a character dies, either the characters will a) have a funeral or b) talk about that character. (Although I suppose both are possible). This can be the time for characters to cry, figure out why and how this character died, and maybe a few will be living in the denial and guilt of this character’s death, wondering what they could’ve done to save him in time if they could only go back.
These are just three examples, and there are a LOT more, but are you starting to pick up the different kinds of ‘deep’ conversations that could go on in a book?
The thing is, it’s important to figure out what kind of deep conversation you want to have before you even start writing it, because once you do you’ll be able to figure out what the POINT of the conversation is. Meaning: what is the goal of this conversation? What do you aim to gain from this conversation happening? What will change-for better or for worse-once it’s over or maybe even while it’s happening?
Readers and characters truly just do not have the time or the care to weep over a character’s death or betrayal, etc. and then move on like nothing happened. We need to set down the goal and keep it aimed towards it for the entire conversation. But not only that-we need to have some sort of new motivation, determination, doubts, or plan that comes out of writing this deep scene.
Not only does this give these betrayals or self-sacrifices or deaths a stronger purpose, but it also shoves the plot forward, even when the characters feel stock-still in grief or hurt.
For example, after having a deep talk with another character after another character’s death, their goal or the protagonist’s goal now might be:”I will avenge him,” or for a betrayal it might be: “How can I trust anyone again?”, or for a talk between the protagonist and his love interest where they confess their feelings would be: “What’s going to happen from here?”
If you don’t set up what type of conversation it’ll be, the point will be hard to find, and the talk might not end up having any real effect on the plot.
Once readers finish reading the scene of the deep conversation, they should be able to recognize a new plan or strategy or doubt or worry forming-or already formed-in the character’s minds.
Now this deep talk has a purpose. CONGRATS.
4. Building It: By building the suspense
Alright guys! Here’s the framework of how dialogue can go during a suspenseful deep conversation:
First up, you DO NOT want to have the protagonist dump out their entire bucket of feelings onto another character in longggggg paragraphs where they suddenly become really philosophical and weepy. People don’t talk like that. In conversations, people stutter or pause or sigh, etc. and conversations between characters are no different. At the same time, though, you do not want to have a whole whopping paragraph of stutters, pauses, and sighs.
You almost need to keep a balance between how much you have. Sometimes, when a quick, deep truth needs to be told, you’ve gotta just have the characters blurt it out. Readers can get annoyed very quickly if the character’s don’t just spit it out!
Yet other times, you want to build suspense.
The character withholds, withholds, and withholds some more! After all this time of keeping these deep, personally rooting things buried deep inside, don’t you think it’s going to be a pain to let it all out?
don’t worry I won’t start singing
Before he let’s everything out, though, we need to build up the suspense. Readers have been waiting for a hard-core scene like this…why not toy with them ever so slightly, right before the big reveal, now that it’s the last chance you have?
- Have the protagonist pause, run a hand through his hair (or brush a strand behind her ear if it’s a girl protagonist), bite his lip, clench his fists, have his eyes tear up, heave a shaky sigh…seriously, guys, the options are endless! (j
ust do NOT do all of them at once, ’cause that’s just…strange…).
- Next, have him question himself. Is this really a good idea? Will they understand me? What will they think of me? Am I really ready to do this?
5. Pulling it All Together: Example Scene
Alright! Let’s work through this, shall we?
Here’s an example I slapped down on the spot, and here’s what you need to know to understand it:
Damian is the protagonist.
In five seconds I’ve decided that was his name. He used to be a thief and master of crime. His one big job was to get the jewels off of an important train oh YAY, jewels, how very original of me *pats myself on the back* and leave no witnesses behind.
Exceptttt things don’t go they way he thought it would.
He blew up the rails at a good enough distance that the train would be able to stop and he would be able to use his skills to blindfold and handcuff everyone on board. He didn’t like to leave behind dead bodies like many other people in his line of work.
But his grenades were too much and the rocky landscape had been too old to withstand the hit, so it ended up exploding an entire gaping hole into the ground. The train had no time. It flew off the rails and crashed below, with everyone in it. The explosion of the impact rebounded, sending Damian flying through the air and crashing into a rock.
Skip a whole lot of obviously unplotted things, a girl named Jade finds him, helps him, and begins to help him see what he’s doing in life is wrong.
Due to a whole lot of obviously other un-plotted things, Damian tries to repay Jade by helping her find her mother who has been lost and not heard from for months, while also getting sucked up in some crime things and going through a whole EPIC character arc.
- What are they talking about? The train explosion. It scarred Damian like nothing else. He’s completely responsible for every life lost. His life of crime is not a happy one, yet he can’t seem to stay away.
- The Talk Happens to the Protagonist and is ABOUT the Protagonist? Yes
- What KIND of Deep Conversation is it, and What POINT Does it Have? It’s a confession conversation. It’s point is to reveal a truth to Jade that Damian has discovered.
- Stutters, Pauses, and Sighs: Damian trails off, pauses to steel his nerves, interrupts, can’t meet her eyes, his heart beats fast, silence, wild thinking, and then bursting out with the news.
- Build the suspense: A lot of the stutters, pauses, and sighs part really helped amp up the suspense. I essentially make him nervous, then really unsure and question this whole thing, and then, suddenly, before he can take it back, burst out with the confession.
Okay guys, HERE WE GO!
“Do you remember, back at the bridge, when I…” I trailed off for a moment, but Jade smiled reassuringly at me, so I steeled my nerves and tried again, “When I blew the rail up and the train went down?”
“Of course,” Jade smiled sadly, sitting down beside me on the log, “but that’s all in the past now, Damian, alright? You’ve changed, and I-“
“There was someone special on that train,” I broke in, my voice cracking slightly. I couldn’t meet her eyes, and my heart was beating as fast as it had been on that very day.
Silence rested heavy over the two of us, and it almost seemed to smother my lungs.
I couldn’t breathe, couldn’t think, couldn’t imagine how much Jade would hate me.
“Look, Damian, it’s in the past. Please leave it there.” Jade slowly stood up, “You’re always trying-“
I burst upright, grabbing Jane by the shoulders, “You’re mother, Jade,” my voice was ragged in my ears, like shards of glass splintered into a million different pieces, “I killed your mother.”
Man…RAISE YOUR HAND IF YOU THINK I NEED TO PLOT AND WRITE THIS BOOK NOW- ‘CAUSE I TOTALLY DO!
^me right now
^you guys right now
And while we’re waving, I shall end this crazy long post!
Please note, do not use this structure always. I find it’s a really solid structure for amping up tension, but sometimes, as mentioned before…characters just need to spit it out. If you were to repeatedly following a structure like this in every single deep conversation that happens, it’s not going to be suspenseful, it’s going to be incredibly annoying.
Balance it and spread it out through your book(s) properly, though, and it can really make your deep scenes actually…hardcore. Deep. And not cheesy.
Have you guys ever struggled with writing ‘deep’ scenes before?
*Make sure to throw a post request at me over here! Feel free to do it anytime, no matter how old the post is, or if you’ve already requested something. If you don’t feel comfortable putting the request in the comments, just send me an email over on my contact page!
I hoped this helped you, Joy! (let me know if it didn’t or if you have any further questions). I realize that this was more on a ‘structure’ for what a deep scene might look like, and not exactly on what’s making your dialogue cheesy. If I gather enough information I will try my best to do a second post on this sometime soon 😉
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I hope you enjoyed this post! If you have any questions or thoughts, leave a comment down below.
Thanks for reading!