The Aesthetic Tragedy

“Behind every exquisite thing that ever existed, there was something tragic.” ~ Oscar Wilde

I am a visual person.  When it comes to structure, I like paragraphs that look good on a page.  I don’t want them to be too long, or too short.  I despise too little dialogue, or too much.  I want a delicate balance between action and dialogue, between setting and character.  I want my writing to be aesthetically pleasing upon the page.

I find that big blocky paragraphs are unpleasant to read, and that page upon page of dialogue seems lazy outside of a screenplay.  Mixing dialogue with description keeps me showing rather than telling, which is, of course, important in writing.

If I feel that a page seems too dialogue or description heavy, I will try to fix it during the re-write.  Ultimately, though, what works is always more important than how it looks, and if the paragraph works the way I wrote it, then I leave it alone.  As with everything in writing, the visual aesthetic is more a guideline than a rule.

Most of my scenes themselves are set up like a screenplay, which is the first medium of writing I really took seriously.  Many times, I join a scene in mid-action, or as close to the conflict of the scene as I possibly can.  The rest is written based on feel and instinct.

When I re-write, I am a little more picky.  I ask myself, is it a proactive scene, or a reactive scene?  What is the goal of this scene?  What about this scene makes things worse for my character?

I believe writing is about torturing your characters until they do something beautiful.  If the character isn’t failing, then he is trying to recover from his previous failure.

Each scene will have a beginning, middle, and end.  While they don’t stand alone each chapter of a novel reads almost like a short story.  A goal is pursued, the protagonist fails, but he progresses as a person.

I try to show my setting using action.  Little by little, I will shade in the world around the characters.  I am not great at writing setting during the first draft, so a lot of that has to be woven in during editing.  I hate paragraphs or sentences that do nothing but describe something, so I heavily re-structure sentences to make description flow with action.

Ultimately, though, all of that is just the finish.  When you are pouring the foundation of a scene, creating concrete on which to build the thing, you are doing it on instinct.  You don’t have time to think about all of that stuff.  You build as quickly as you can, and hope that when you come back later, the thing is still standing.

There you find it, beautiful even in its ugliness.  The hard work of writing is showing others the beauty you see.  That is what scene structure is really about.

Jack Campbell, Jr. is a dark fiction writer in Lawrence, KS. His writing has appeared in various venues including Twenty 3 Magazine, Danse Macabre, and Insomnia Press. He writes about reading, writing, and life on his blog at


  • Ted Boone says:

    It’s interesting that everyone’s post about setting so far has been strongly tied to pacing. Using action to describe scenes, avoiding too many details in favor of more dialogue and forward momentum, skipping unneccessary scenes entirely to keep the reader on the edge of their seat.

    Good stuff. Thanks for getting my brain percolating!

  • Action and dialogue, for better or worse, is the language of this artistic generation. I blame Hollywood. Readers just aren’t as patient as they used to be for lengthy description or interior monologues, unless they somehow move the plot forward.

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