Before I introduce the scene that consists of two characters: The ambience is nothing short of amiable, cordial if you will. In addition, character Y is the citizen of a vassal country to the country of character X. The death of Y's emperor is still recent (less than a month ago), even as X's Queen (widow of the emperor) is with child. Finally, the reason for Y's presence is due to his recall from a colony, after rumours of an incestuous affiliation with his Queen cousin.

Start scene

Character X emerged from the hallway and Character Y's gait was immediate at her heel.

"You were long held." Y knew his tone held warmth, and his mind’s reprimand was scalding.

"I seek your counsel on a certain matter." He waned the warmth from his voice.

“Oh to be desired." He shook his head, fighting against a smile. X had left a long braid to parallel her spine, the way she had done upon their first meeting.

"Rather you didn’t boast about such a fluttering thing." He angled a little aside to allow a maidservant walk past with a bow, bringing him closer to X. She looked at him, her grey eyes roving, but said nothing. Light notes of calendula and something (exotic location in my world) philandered in the air around them.

Then she snorted impassively. "Of course not." Y's breath caught when her eyes lowered to his lips. She took her time dragging them back to his. A tingling, impassable, began at the base of his spine.

“I will not stale your desire then, captain.”

Flustered, Y traced the bridge of his nose. “I am honoured.” X gave a small smile.

“Shall we?” He motioned for the open courtyard to their right.

“After you, captain.” The two soon began for the sunlit courtyard and Y appreciated the way slivers of sliver in her eyes lit up as she gazed up at the sky when he turned to look at her.

“Why do you stare, captain?”

“Forgive me, I was only gathering my thoughts.”

She looked at him, disbelieving. “To be so inept in the art of falsehood.”

At this he allowed himself to laugh. “You antagonize such a virtue?”

She chuckled softly. “But of course! Too much politics surround you.”

“You need not bother yourself to that extent.”

“Rumours about your less than familial relations with your Queen cousin still pricks at you?” He looked at her to find her studying him.

“I doubt it will ever cease."

“Is this the matter you seek my counsel on?”

“No. Questions about the authenticity of the western attacks that claimed out emperor circulates within the city. Disgruntlement grows in the eastern and southern cities at a refusal to retaliate.”


“The emperor was no fool. He had to have anticipated the Western attack.”


“Hardly. The lengthened period of inactivity is highly questionable. (Empire's name) is not known for such passivity.”

X nodded her head, patronizingly. “(Collective name of allied country's citizens) are not prepared to export dragonfire resistant steel, as this was their term of consolidating to the empire. Unless you wish to have your men burn to ashes.”

“You spoil the (aforementioned collective name).”

X threw her face heavenward. “They are close to our affections, captain.”

“Then it should be no problem bending them to your will.”

X’s eyes lowered slowly. “A pregnant empress sending her men to their deaths is nothing short of suicidal.”

“The generals will understand the pain of a brokenhearted widow.”

“Tell your people that the empress will attack when the westerners have let their guard down. After the 15th year, they will have given up hope of a retaliation. (Aforementioned collective name) will have come to our will before then. Do not hasten things, captain, or we will all burn.”

“And captain, you will do well to advice your people against the inclinations of a rebellion. You understand the empress seeks an outlet for her grief.”

Y watched her walk away, the braid at her back swaying at her movement.

End of scene.

I have been very dissatisfied with this scene, as I do not understand how else to describe the second interaction between two characters.

Should I be more descriptive of their surrounds, their reactions to their conversation?

Also, is it perhaps the dialogue that is lacking? Should there be a different level of familiarity than what I have written?

Finally, I aimed to subtly portray a seemingly one-sided affection from character Y to character X, but I feel I might have been otherwise blatant. I feel I should only allow the warmth in Y's voice at the onset to divulge an underlying affection and discard all other indications, but can it not mislead as platonic familiarity that arises from a second meeting?

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    Your writer's voice wastes time on sensory distractions "filter words", and telling us what is NOT happening, resulting in contorted, indirect sentences. Everyone speaks the same, characters and narrator, therefore everyone has the same motive, therefore there is really only 1 person in this scene (the author) and no tension or conflict because he agrees with himself. Exposition about war and death is immediately forgotten – it's just word salad, formality without emotion or stakes. It's a description of puppetry or pantomime, elbows bend, eyes blink. All surface action, no substance. – wetcircuit Dec 1 at 16:51
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    I'll make 3 comments because I think there are some common 'mistakes' that other writers have explained better than I... IMO, the character's feel "flat" because I don't know what their personal motives are, and they don't seem to experience any "change" within the scene. For "big" scene structure see McKee's concept of "Scene" mckeestory.com/do-your-scenes-turn. – wetcircuit Dec 2 at 13:32
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    For nuts-and-bolts language, search for "Janet Burroway filter words" – had to read a few articles before I grasped this one: certain words cause emotional distance between reader and character, we are not "in their heads" just watching them move and blink, dispassionately as if we observe them through a "filter" of stage directions. It can be a good technique when the emotions are overwhelming and the character is disassociating emotionally, but filter words rob your characters of empathy and life. This scene is very distant and emotions are unclear (if they exist at all). – wetcircuit Dec 2 at 13:39
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    last comment: Each character needs clear and unique goals. They begin the scene with a pre-formed assumption (what they want or expect to happen). BUT, other characters also have their own agendas which do not necessarily align. I suggest, imagine being each character as they approach the scene. Spell out their expectations and desires. They will try to maneuver the dialog to achieve their goal, and they will need to accept, sidestep, rethink, or deflect when confronted by other character's goals. This gives the scene some tension, as they change before our eyes. – wetcircuit Dec 2 at 13:49
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    One more: this 2nd meeting. Give each character a "prejudice" about the other based on their 1st meeting, just something they expected that turns out not to be true. Maybe in this case, the MC is not expecting the dowager to be so strong or smart, he thought he would need to explain some details to her, but she has better knowledge of the war, or a different strategy because of information she knows. Similarly, she might be expecting a confrontation from a minister, but is subtly surprised when he is not condescending… Save him noticing her figure for the very end, as a surprise to himself. – wetcircuit Dec 2 at 13:56