The Page a Day Writers Group

Writing High Temperature Scenes

Posted on: July 14, 2010

Lorin Oberwerger, writer, independent editor

Recently returned from the Writers’ Retreat Workshop in Kentucky, I came home with lots of new writing tools and polished some old ones. My favorite shiny new wrench came from Lorin Oberwerger, a successful writer and  fabulous freelance editor. She clarified the difference between high temperature and low temperature scenes. Then she asked writers to choose a low temperature scene from our novels or short stories and turn up the heat. We returned to our rooms to revise and turn in “before” and “after” versions for Lorin to critique. Wow. Lorin’s list of elements made such a difference in the scenes I chose!

Some of the items may seem obvious, but they have so much power printed in one spot.  I keep this list next to my computer. For me, it saves time by aligning and tightening the screws when writing a new scene or revising an old one. 

According to Lorin, High Temperature Scenes Include:

  • CONFLICT between two or more characters–physical, emotional, or psychological
  • OBSERVABLE, INTERESTING behavior on the part of characters/protagonist–characters ACTING so that we can see/experience it in our minds/guts/heart
  • TENSION in the form of unanswered questions
  • POWER taken away from the protagonist
  • POWER absent from the protagonist
  • ELEMENTS acting against characters
  • SURPRISING revelations, reversals of fortune, the unanticipated moment or response
  • EMOTIONAL challenge of the protagonist–heightened feeling, loss of control, self-revelation, reckoning with things previouswly kept hidden in the emotional realm

Lorin says that Low Temperature Scenes include:

  • AGREEMENT between two or more characters
  • Characters in ISOLATION, REFLECTING on their actions, their lives, the decisions they face
  • IMPARTING of information, answering of questions
  • EXPOSITION–summarizing of events, telling instead of showing 
  • POWER GIVEN to the protagonist
  • Protagonist ENTERING  the scene in the POWER position
  • ELEMENTS acting in the protagonist’s favor (coincidences, luck, etc.)
  • Events unfolding as EXPECTED–by both readers and characters
  • Protagonist feeling CALM/COLLECTED/UNFLAPPABLE

I challenge you to go through your short story or novel and use the checklists to determine the temperature of each scene. You will be amazed at the clarity and direction you will experience in the revision process.

Here’s to sizzling scenes!

Thanks, Lorin! You rock! 

Happy writing!

Trish Wilkinson

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4 Responses to "Writing High Temperature Scenes"

This is gold. Thank you for sharing.

Some great things to think about. I’m sure we could all stand to turn up the temperature a bit at times…

This is an excellent one-spot summary, Trish. I, too, will post next to my computer. Thank you for sharing this!

Oooh, can’t wait to test the temperature of some of my scenes!

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The Page a Day Writers Group is a diverse collection of wonderful writers based in San Diego, CA. We've been meeting monthly since 2004. Our primary function is in-depth writing critique, marketing and brainstorming, but there's usually some wine, chocolate and ribaldry involved too. We write fantasy, humor, literary fiction, nonfiction, romance, thrillers and YA. Join us on our journeys to publication and the wonderland beyond!

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