Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Intriguing Observations: How Choreography Helps a Scene

The Intriguing Observations series was created to gather some of the greatest supporters and bloggers to provide their own insight on all things creative both in their ventures and their techniques. This week on the guest series is another all-star supporter and an outstanding wordsmith Jill Kemerer.


Each October I spend hours choreographing a dance routine for our school’s cheerleading squad. First, I select fast-paced, appropriate music—no suggestive lyrics or cursing—then I think of possible sequences, often searching YouTube for new-to-me dance moves.

The real choreography doesn't begin until I throw on my yoga pants and practice performing eight counts. It’s a fun but arduous process of repeating moves until they’re memorized and then deciding which order to put them in. Often, I have to throw out entire eight counts for being too difficult, too fast, or too confusing. When I have the routine finished, I rehearse it often to keep it fresh until practices begin in December.

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As a fiction writer, I incorporate choreography in every scene. If you’re a writer, you do too, but you might not have realized it. First, we select the location of the scene the same way I select music for a dance. It must be the appropriate locale for the season—we wouldn’t put our characters on a sunny beach during a Canadian winter—and it should be a venue where our characters would logically appear.

After we’ve determined the setting, we have to figure out how to start the scene, who is in the scene, and what the viewpoint character wants to accomplish. The real choreography doesn’t begin until we open up our manuscript and start writing. I don’t believe I’ve ever written a scene where the characters didn’t move. Even if the scene is mostly in one character’s head, movement should occur. Maybe she stomps to the kitchen in frustration as she tries to figure out who sabotaged her project? Or he tries to ignore his problems by flipping through the television stations at the speed of light?

When there are several characters in a scene, the choreography gets trickier. We have to clarify who speaks, responds, and walks away when the scene is crowded or we risk losing the reader.

If you, like me, overuse gestures from scene to scene, choreography can help. Visualize the interaction between characters and strive to find the unique actions they take. If nothing new comes to mind, picture them moving within the scene.

Try to provide tension and conflict even in their actions. Let’s say your characters have reluctantly paired to solve a crime. Maybe one shuffles slowly through life and takes the time to notice little details, while the other has a goal and won’t be distracted by anything. You could show their personality traits by setting the scene in a store and having one striding to the counter to question the clerk while the other picks up merchandise and examines walls, prices, even the other customers. The dialogue will remain the same, but the little actions tell a reader much more than their words ever could.

In many ways, our characters’ interaction is a dance. We simply choreograph their movement on each page and throughout the story.

How do you choreograph your characters’ actions in a scene?

Jill Kemerer writes inspirational romance novels. Coffee fuels her mornings; chocolate, her afternoons. A former electrical engineer, she now enjoys a healthy addiction to magazines, fluffy animals, and her hilarious family. She is a member of ACFW and RWA and also serves as vice-president of MVRWA. Jill is represented by Rachel Kent of Books & Such Literary Agency.

To learn more about Jill, head to her website,, stop by her blog,, be friends with her on Facebook (, and follow her on Twitter (!/jillkemerer).


PW Creighton said...

Brilliant post Jill, for some odd reason I have rhythm is a dancer stuck in my head now. ;-) Any narrative is a carefully orchestrated sequence and when there's a slip, the audience definitely knows.

Susan R. Mills said...

Great post! And congrats to P.W. on the book release!

Jill Kemerer said...

PW: Ha! Don't get that into my head. Don't you dare! I agree. Audiences are brilliant at catching our slips. And yet, when I'm revising, I am so NOT brilliant at catching my own. :)

Thanks so much for having me and HUGE congrats on the release of Nightfall!!

Anonymous said...

Terrific post, Jill. I always say that everything I need to know about writing I learned from belly dancing. I find I do my best writing when I am dancing on the page.

PW Creighton said...

Thanks Susan!

Jill, I completely hear you. Most of the time you want to kick yourself for missing them too.

Piper, great way to look at it.

Michele Shaw said...

So right, Jill! Every scene does need some form of movement, both emotional and physical. Great post. Huge congrats on NIGHTFALL, Phil! Way to go!

Jill Kemerer said...

Susan: Thanks!!
Piper: Ooh, belly-dancing. My girlfriends took a class last year, and they showed me moves (but they added odd sound effects) and I giggled and giggled. Still, it sounds fun. I'd like to try it!

Michelle: That's true about both emotional and physical movement--something to keep in mind in every scene. Thanks!

Thanks so much for popping over and chiming in!

Amber said...

Awesome post, Jill! I sat and thought about it, and you are so right - I don't know that I've ever written a scene without anyone moving. Very interesting. When I write, I basically have a movie running in my head. I watch, listen, observe, I can pause or even manipulate it if need be. I love that process. Being a visual person, the movement is very important. It's finding the right words to say exactly what I'm seeing that's the trick! :)

You've inspired me to try a short story set in someone's head. Not so much physical as emotional movement, like Michelle mentioned. I'm thinking Alfred Hitchcock style. Just for the challenge. I'm opening up a new document right... NOW!

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