1. HOW TO WRITE A PARTY SCENE
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* A "party scene" needs to capture the feeling of a party
* Encourage a social mix
* Don't frown on pairings
* Beware the uninvited guest
* VIPs add a certain something
* Anyone can overdo it
* Impending doom might be an option
Parties are essential dramatic tools in fiction: They’re supercharged with action, intrigue, and uncertainty. There’s a chaos agent quality to them: You just don’t know who’s going to be there, or why. You could run into an old enemy, an old friend, an old friend who’s become an enemy. You could run into an ex-lover, or your next lover. The stakes are all there, and that’s why they’re so fascinating. With a bit of initiative, any party thread can get action, psychological twists, anything you like more than cliches. The difference and change is in your initiative, communication and making it happen. Anyone can discuss with anyone – and from a discussion to a side adventure or other action, it is up to your individual initiative. A character has to be actively part of the story if you want exciting things to happen to him, to grow, to develop, to make friends.
Fictional parties can not only be entertaining but also instructive, blending the best elements of reality and fantasy, coming both from the real-life experience of the society of the period and also from the author’s imagination. When you’re writing historical fiction you have to think a little farther into the situation: what the average social interactions were, what was acceptable behavior. What did people think was fun, what did they find unhappy, and why?
How people socialized in other ages, in other cultures, can tell us a lot about how human society has changed or, in many cases, how it hasn’t. It was typical, at these parties, to have a tableau vivant or charade, play, or operetta, as part of the game of the evening. The play doubles as a kind of metaphor for the way a party brings out certain elements of a character’s personality. In Trimalchio’s dinner party from the “Satyricon” (written around 65 AD) the guests discuss sport and the weather and grumble about food prices and how young people have no respect for their elders.
In fiction you’re always working with who your characters are and who they believe they are. You’re telling a story that’s about both of those people. At a party you see, most of all, who they aspire to be, a kind of theatrical role they hope to assume. And so the costume we are in, as it were, matters hugely.
Among all the parties in literature, perhaps only in Pickwick Papers - with the mistletoe up, the ladies being chased for kisses, and the fat boy "summarily devouring" a fine mince pie "carefully put by, for somebody else" - is partying innocent. Most writers use parties for some concealed purpose. For some it is simply the perfect way of bringing together characters who could never otherwise meet.
We might think of the pairings that happen at parties as comically lustful. A surprising number of writers, however, have soulmates encounter each other at parties.
A masquerade is also good plot fodder: He moves in for the next dance. He thinks himself safe because he is masked, a convention of many a party in literature (see Defoe and Poe below). Nothing like masks to excite interest. The hero of Henry Fielding's Tom Jones is powerless to resist a masked "queen of the fairies" at a party (the lascivious Lady Bellaston). Byron in "Beppo" confessed his addiction to Venetian parties where he could "borrow / Some spirits, guessing at what kind of face / May lurk beneath each mask".
In literature as in life, many a party is memorable for the presence of the wrong person – sometimes a long-lost husband turns up at a party where the wife is frolicking with her lover. Other times, it’s a wanted criminal in disguise, hiding in the crowd, or someone who is bringing unexpected news. (Therefore the possible impending doom): a war has started, somebody important had died, there is a crime or an epidemic and quarantine was just declared… There is nothing like impending doom to add pep to one's festivities and there is a kind of party whose carousers seem on the brink of disaster.
Parties in literature can be an opportunity for a spot of satire, often poking fun at the social aspirations of nouveau riche hosts (Trimalchio’s dinner party again or Mrs. Leo Hunter’s costume breakfast from Dickens’s “The Pickwick Papers”) or the gaucheness of the guests (Mr. Pooter in the brothers George and Weedon Grossmith’s “Diary of a Nobody”). Parties can also be pivotal points in the dramatic structure of a literary work, providing a suitable setting for a meeting, an affair, a fight or even a murder. The characters in Proust’s “A La Recherche du Temps Perdu” traipse round a succession of parties over the seven volumes of the novel. Quite a few books have been written about a single party: Virginia Woolf’s “Mrs. Dalloway,” Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Masque of the Red Death” or James Joyces’s “Finnegans Wake.”