Crafting Great Scenes…

Reading Time: 5 minutes

Dear friends!

I’d love to hear about your methods, but quickly I’m going to share a few of my own thoughts. First big one is to make your characters the centrifuge. This is a personal thing but I think we lose readers when we give more preference to the surroundings than we do to the surroundings as they pertain to the character. The way we write books and scenes should be a reflection of the way we as humans perceive the world. How do we do that? Well, with our senses. Sight, taste, touch, smell, sound are the big five but there are other more metaphysical intuitions as well, sixth senses, which invariably work their way into our books via characters. I think it is normal for some of these senses to become our go-to landing zones for description. I know I don’t use smell or taste nearly as much as I ought to, and while I describe the setting visually (I probably don’t write the setting through the seeing eyes of the character often enough). Sometimes slowing down and cycling through each of the five helps me to consider my character’s surroundings more fully. 

     I think this is a great place to talk about writing what you know, and I think it’s a great example of why writing what you’re familiar with can make such a huge difference in the quality of your writing. Take the coast of Oregon. I know it by heart. From Coos Bay to Astoria I can name most of the towns, describe most of the coastal highway from memory and give seasonal descriptions of the weather. I know the salty smell of the air, the way the waves crash in Devil’s Punch Bowl, I know the sound of the seals and the seagulls. I know how the rain feels and the way the winds gust on the promontories. When I talk about the coast it’s clear that I know what I’m talking about. I know it well enough that I am equipped to provide the specificity that brings that scene to life. It isn’t to say that you should never write about a place you’ve never been. I think that would be a silly rule, and I don’t like establishing “rules” for writing. Guidelines is a better word. But no matter what place you are writing about you should be able to inject some of what you know into it. 

     This takes us right to detail. Not every book needs a Melville level of detail. I don’t think many people want to read that, by and large, in today’s market anyway. But the right detail will make a huge difference. The way to get to the most important details that are ultimately going to matter most to the reader is to ask yourself what you want the reader to take away from the scene. Asking that question should reveal the details that matter the most. If the scene is about a character feeling alone and sad you will want to zoom in on details of isolation and sobriety, and a sense of detachment within the environment. It could assist the scene even more to parallel the in-situ details of inanimate objects that exercise the mood, e.g., the dull and fading bulb of a lamp or a pier struggling against crashing waves. The character feels alone but the character’s emotions are amplified by the loneliness inherent in the pier and in the diminishing strength of the lightbulb.  

   You don’t have to write every sequence in the sequence of the story. Just because your character jumps a flight across the Atlantic doesn’t mean you have to expertly describe the entire experience on the airplane.

o. How important is the detail of the flight to the reader?
o. Is it relevant other than as a sequencing agent?

If not then maybe you skip it altogether. 

“John arrived the airport, sat at the gate fumbling with his iPad for twelve minutes until the ticket line formed. When he made it past the flight attendant with the smirk he found himself seated uncomfortably in seat C12 next to an overflowing woman with a salacious grin. He did his best to fold his shoulders inward and fall asleep immediately.”

In this example I really didn’t have to talk about the plane or the flight at all. Anyone could have constructed this, even if they had a limited working knowledge of airports and had never flown. Obviously you will have to write scenes in your story but you can strategically choose the scenes that bear writing. This is part of being a good writing tactician. Besides no one wants every last banal detail anyway. It’s tedious, inessential, and (in my opinion) demonstrates poor craftsmanship. 

     You are here to tell a story first and foremost. Along the way your reader might learn about a new kind of lark or starling or find that they have an interest in Benito Mussolini but those concerns are not yours. This is your concern:

If you can ascertain the answers to these questions you stand a strong chance of writing a pretty darn good story. 

I hope this helps!


Roman Newell

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by: Darlene Carroll

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