If you’re old enough to remember the TV series Charlie’s Angels, there was always a scene about halfway through where our feisty gals recapped everything they knew about the current case.
Crass though it sounds when described like that, viewers were probably grateful.
There are two reasons. First of all, it can provide a welcome breather from the hurly-burly – especially if the rest of the time has been spent in breathless danger. No matter how exciting your plot, readers can only take so much before they get numbed and will welcome a lull where everyone can relax.
Second – more obviously – it’s useful if you’ve got a complicated plot with lots of twists, turns, red herrings, thrills and spills. By having a ‘you are here’ moment, it lets the reader refocus on what’s been learned and what the stakes are.
But this can easily descend into exposition – explaining information for the sake of the audience in a way that seems unnatural. It can also be a yawn if it doesn’t move matters on in some way. Of course, your characters could spot a missing link or a deadline, which would galvanise everyone. But there are plenty of other ways to give this kind of scene more pizzazz.
I saw the ‘let’s get it straight’ scene deployed very nicely in a manuscript I recently critiqued. Two characters who had been thrown together in a dangerous investigation found themselves with time to breathe – and to discuss what they should do about the trouble they were in. Also, the trust this had built up was leading to an intriguing sizzle between them. By this time, we’d have happily watched them discuss their laundry lists, because we were really reading their reactions.
Cementing a friendship
In Dark Lord : The Teenage Years by Jamie Thomson, the mysterious main character Dirk explains for the first time where he’s really from and what he’s trying to do. This is the first time he’s taken his friends into his confidence – and we’re waiting to see their reaction.
Planting seeds obliquely
In Strong Poison by Dorothy L Sayers, Lord Peter Wimsey is trying to clear Harriet Vane of murder. Half-way through there’s a scene where he reluctantly visits his family for Christmas and they talk about the case and what they think about Harriet (deft use of a recap, as Peter Wimsey doesn’t want to be there). They also talk about another family member who is – perhaps daringly- marrying a Jewish girl, which draws our attention to love across boundaries. It also plants the seeds for (spoiler alert!) his ultimate proposal to Harriet.
Or you could be delightfully silly, like this scene from Carry On Screaming where the detectives list their clues and stand back to learn from the result.
Thanks for the top pic, wolfgangfoto
The ‘let’s get this straight’ scene is often necessary to keep an audience on track with a complex plot, but it can do so much more. Do you have any examples of it, good or clumsy? Share in the comments!