How to Write a Damn Good Dance Scene

Writersdontcry

Do you have a question about your fantasy novel, short story, or spot of flash fiction that’s burning for an answer (or even just a question about writing or the column in general)? If so, please email in your questions to  me "at" susanjmorris "dot" com.

 

Dear Susan,

I attended the panel you were part of at PAX on how to write a damn good fight scene and your advice (and your panel mates?) was very helpful. I managed to write myself into a corner where I was forced to describe my (immortal) characters at a Ball without any knowledge of how Ballroom dancing works. I've looked into videos and the like but it hasn't really helped, any advice on how to write a damn good dance scene?

Many Thanks,

Alexander

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Hi Alexander,

I’m glad you found the panel at PAX useful (other panelists: Erik Scott de Bie and Erin M. Evans)! And thanks so much for the question.

So, it sounds like you’ve started your research into writing a dance scene by looking at videos, which is great! That will be really helpful for learning how the dances you’re using work and look, as well as understanding the community and history that surrounds them. It might also be useful to read some interviews or chat with some dancers about dancing, both so you can harness some of their passion for your book, and so you can figure out how your characters might think about it. And, of course, taking a dance class could also help, so that you can make a proper sensory experience of it.

That being said, when it comes down to it, executing a dance scene—like a fight scene, or any action scene, really—isn’t really about the dancing at all. It’s far more about the conversation the characters are having through the medium of the action. After all, the physical actions of your characters are really just another form of expression! Almost like a secondary conversation, underlying the primary verbal conversation—albeit one usually more emotional than intellectual in content. Which means that the most important thing to figure out about your dance scene isn’t how the dance works, but rather, what the characters’ intentions are—and how your characters can express them through their dance-oriented interaction.

To help you get started, I’ve outlined below the three basic steps in writing character-intense action scenes, from brainstorming, to sketching it out, to execution. I hope it helps!

Part 1: Identify Character Intentions

So, one of the first things you likely think about when sketching out a new scene of any variety, is who the characters are and what they want. Which is awesome! Because really, once you get that down, the rest is cake. Or, if not precisely cake, at least more cakelike. See, all things flow from the characters’ intentions. If Character A wants to eat a magic cupcake, and Character B wants the magic cupcake for herself? That’s great tension right there! And fodder for some awesome dramalicious conflict. All you need to figure out then is:

  1. What each character knows about the magic cupcake (and, of course, what there is to know about the magic cupcake).
  2. What each character knows about the other character’s intentions regarding said magic cupcake.
  3. What each character would do to get said magic cupcake.
  4. How each character would react to the other character’s actions regarding said magic cupcake.
  5. What each character wants to do with the magic cupcake should they win it in the end.

Or, basically, just make sure to nail down the flow of information, intention, and interaction between your characters on a high level.

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