Effective Scenes Start in the Middle

7 April 2019

Effective scenes start in the middle. Get your audience guessing, trying to keep up. This sounds to me like I am rehearsing. He is looking at me. Waiting at the table. He wears expensive glasses that look new.

What is it you wanted to talk to me about?” His unmoving gaze catches me off guard.

I blurt something about getting out of his interiority.

My what?”

His eyes are blue and they seem bigger than usual in the new glasses. That’s not how I intended to start, with an opaque word like interiority. I regroup, return his stare. Too much of your work is in your head. It’s thinking.”

I find that interesting.”

Not everybody does.” I lean closer because the cafe is getting loud and, really, I want to pierce his stubbornness. Readers ride into the flow of dialogue.”

Isn’t it just ping-ponging? Back and forth? Forth and back?”

You fix that by building scenes. Like talking about where we are. Who we are.”

You’re my editor. I’m the writer. We’re in a cafe. I usually pay. There, we’re done.”

I’d drop him if he didn’t have so much talent. But he has plateaued, and he needs to be pushed. I didn’t want to say this. Your work is getting static.”

He clicks his spoon against his espresso up. I thought that you liked me.”

I do like you.” Really, I don’t like him. He has always behaved like he was better than me. But he is my client. I’m trying to help him write because he pays me. I’m his editor. Also, I am a hero, so I try again. This is not hard. Listen to people talk. Listen to the people around us now. Fragments. Speech rhythms tell you a lot. Like are people distracted?”

What?” He has his phone under the table.

Stop looking at your phone.”

I wasn’t.” His voice tangles on the lie.

You are. I can see it.”

The blue glow is painting his face from below. I was checking something, it’s true. Just a minute. I have to take this,” he says.

I’m certain he is faking a call. He walks away from the table. He pretends to talk on his phone for a few minutes, gesturing too broadly for it to be a real call. He sees me watching him and comes back to the table. What were we talking about?” He’s surely said it just to annoy me.

Improving your work!” Too loud, too sharp. People from nearby tables look at me. I want you to use more dialogue to build scenes, scenes that help you build a beginning, middle, and an end. They have a climax.”

He smiles at some secret thought. So you’re saying this has to go somewhere? Even this scene?”

Exactly. We are here to prove a point about narrative.”

Which is?”

Dialogue in stories pulls your audience out of your inner tape loop. Your story expands.”

So people speak to each other. Big deal. You want more dialogue in my work?”

Maybe he’s getting it. Yes, because your characters are speaking there has to be a shape to the conversation. Beginning, middle, end. Dramatic structure. Climax.”

You say a climax?”


So you want a climax?”

Yes,” I say.

You’re fired. That call I took was from my new editor. I don’t need you any more.” He gets up from the table. He taps the check. How about you get it this time?”


This week, something different. A 575-word story about dialog. I hope it didn’t throw you! But effective scenes start in the middle. That’s why this explanation is here, at the end.

This past week I recorded episode one of Privacy Pod, a scripted podcast drama that I am producing. The actors made my script come alive, boosting it to another level. Before they had the script in their hands, it had been read by beta readers, read aloud by me a million times, worked, and reworked. Strangely, that didn’t get old. Something happens in writing. It becomes like carpentry. You just want the table to stand without wobbling. It has to be right, so you put in the work to make it right, even if it means reading the same words over and again like you are sanding a table to make it smooth.

Thanks for reading,


(c) Lee Schneider 2023. Take care of each other. Subscribe.