8

I have a scene I struggle with: it has potential for inherent drama, but it reads as an info dump.

In a high-fantasy setting (more or less), character Alpha, a 14-year old daughter of a nobleman comes out as a lesbian to character Brava, a fertility priestess. The scene occurs relatively early in the story, and serves to convey the following information:

  • The fertility priestesses are the ones who do sex ed, family counselling and similar duties. (Also some other information about their magical powers etc.)
  • Society is moderately accepting of homosexuality - it's treated as unfortunate (because the society prizes fertility), but not "sinful" or "unnatural".
  • Adopted children cannot inherit land.

The scene is told from Brava's POV. She is a significantly more major character than Alpha. I guess the scene's major problem is that the drama is all on the non-POV character's side: she receives confirmation that no, she's not going to "outgrow" homosexuality, there's nothing "wrong" with her, but the way she thought her life is going to be - marry a nobleman, raise children, be the lady of a noble household - ain't going to happen. It makes sense for a 14-year old to ask all the questions I need her to ask - that's the right age for sex-ed, but on an emotional level nothing much is happening.

How can I make the scene more interesting? What tools can I use to tweak it, so there's more going on than an info-dump?

One way would be to switch the POV - let us view the story from the side that's experiencing the internal conflict, the drama. However, it feels rather awkward to me to give the POV to a minor character with a more major character in the scene. (I do have multiple POVs. Brava is going to be holding the POV-camera multiple times more. Alpha - not so much.)

What other solutions are there?

  • Just in case you’re not aware, the word lesbian is most commonly a noun and so the article is used, “[Alpha] comes out as a lesbian.” The adjective form is not incorrect, but I would consider it more old-fashioned. Also, there’s no need for capitalisation. – sudowoodo Aug 27 '18 at 11:38
  • @sudowoodo Thanks. Made the correction. – Galastel supports GoFundMonica Aug 27 '18 at 11:43
  • Is your question essentially - "How do I develop drama for a secondary character without upstaging the main one?" – Alexander Aug 27 '18 at 17:16
  • @Alexander not necessarily. I need to convey the information (and I need the particular character to be a lesbian). I think I need drama so the scene isn't dry and boring. – Galastel supports GoFundMonica Aug 27 '18 at 18:07
  • @Galastel - generally, you would do what authors normally do for character development - give Alpha's story more "screen time" and make the reader immersed in it. But this would divert reader's attention and create an expectation that Alpha is an important secondary character. – Alexander Aug 27 '18 at 18:22
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I think you should keep Brava as the PoV character. I think it's possible to make her conflicted in some way, knowing that she is imparting this information to Alpha.

(Before I get to my answer, it sounds possibly like Brava serves a mentor role through the story, and one of the pitfalls to avoid with the mentor trope is that they can come off as knowing 'too much.' Mentors that know less can be more engaging and interesting. Imagine if Obi Wan did not know how to disable the tractor beam on the death star. It would have been possible to add more conflict to the scenes around Leia's rescue had that been the case.)

My suggestion is two fold.

First, build in (more?) blind spots to Brava.

Identify some crucial information that Brava does not have. Either to do with Alpha's orientation or something else. (Make a list of things she does not know.) Brava knows she is the teacher, and perhaps to admit ignorance to this 14 year old heir that she's not a perfect mentor can provide drama. Play with different sources of ignorance.

Second, identify/build independent reasons why this scene would be hard for Brava.

An obvious possibility is that she too is lesbian but is thwarted because of her societal role to live the life she wants, and it rankles her to teach Alpha about what she herself can't have.

A more interesting conflict for Brava would pull on something else in her relationship with Alpha or Alpha's family. Let's say (for example) that Brava is receiving free sword fighting lessons from some young man that is matched to Alpha. Brava can't afford the lessons and so this is a great deal. If she does anything to jeopardize the plans for Alpha and this man to marry, she may lose that perk. So the drama for her revolves around whether she should she tell Alpha the truth about Alpha's sexuality/etc or try to steer Alpha wrong, so that she can keep getting the free lessons. That's not a developed idea, but you get what I'm driving at here.

--> I think if the scene feels like it is built around Brava's conflict or ignorance, the information that you are 'dumping' on us will not feel like a dump at all.

6

Sometimes the drama doesn't have to lie with the POV character, and in addition, it presents an opportunity to deftly show, and not tell. All of the upheaval and anger and confusion that one can easily see via a POV character's internal thoughts on the page are now absent.

Telling is no longer an option, so you have to instead show the drama through the action alone. Personally, I like to see this, not as one-sided or a shame, but as an opportunity. You can show that the world your POV character is in is bigger than her and that she's not the only one with drama and conflict in her life, and you can give the reader a clear indication that she's not self-absorbed; she has others in her life that she's deeply invested in instead of viewing herself as a 'main character' that only cares about herself.

This is not an obstacle; this is a challenge.

3

Use Brava's viewpoint to show her inner conflicts with society's norms

I wouldn't underestimate how much the reaction to someone else's drama can tell you about a character. Brava being confronted with Alpha's sexuality and her responsibility to inform Alpha of its consequences can lead to inner conflicts for her and shows the reader not just what the social norms of the society are but also how Brava reacts to them.

Maybe Brava pities Alpha because she'll be excluded from the greatest divine gift of having children. Maybe she herself is prejudiced against homosexuals despite the society on the whole having a tolerant attitude. Maybe she is friends with Alpha's parents and wonders how to tell them. Maybe Brava thinks that adopted children should be allowed to inherit - possibly because she is or knows someone who was adopted - and if she does, can she openly speak about this or would she be criticising her own church in a problematic way?

The point is that if the important character is Brava, you can characterise Brava through her reactions and opinions both to a minority character like Alpha and to the related social norms and her place in society. Brava's emotions and opinions - and obviously she'll experience Alpha's reactions and emotions and react to those as well - are all the drama this scene needs.

3

It sounds like this is a fairly progressive society, one where it's assumed that marriages are about love and/or attraction. I don't know that noble marriages have historically fit that description. My understanding is that they were very often arranged marriages.

If not everyone in this society holds to the view that a marriage is about love/attraction, that could add the drama that you seek. Maybe Alpha assumes that she needs to marry a man anyway, and produce an heir? Maybe Brava tries to persuade her otherwise? Maybe both Alpha and Brava are opposed to the idea of a marriage to a man, but Alpha's parents want one?

2

Make it about how Brava handles the situation. Is she jaded with having done this a lot of times, and isn't sympathetic enough, and has to correct? Does she wonder what approach to take and is proved right/wrong? Is this personal for her in some way, whether she says it aloud or not?

There is value in showing your main character from the outside, but it's an exception, you usually want the focus on your more main character, if Brava is important throughout the book and Alpha isn't. Alpha's drama is, what will Brava say, will she be able to admit it to her parents, what will she do with her life if it isn't what she expects. But Brava's drama is, can she handle this conversation well, what risks does this conversation mean for her, etc.

Alpha's drama is bigger, but Brava's drama matters more to the book, so focus on Brava's drama. Alpha's drama is still there bringing interest to the scene.

The explanation of magic etc will probably be interesting to the reader even if it's boring but necessary recap for the characters.

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