Thursday, January 26, 2012

Flat versus Full or How I Flesh Out a Scene by Thea Hutcheson, Guest Blogger

Please welcome Thea Hutcheson, also known as Thea Hudson, author of The Taming of Enkidu, a historical, paranormal, erotic romance. I'm not sure whether Thea is keeping her real identity a secret or whether she just likes keeping a low profile, but the photo below is her beloved kitty cat Ed Gumji.

Thanks for sharing this excellent writing tip with us, Thea.


Flat versus Full or How I Flesh Out a Scene by Thea Hutcheson, Guest Blogger

You've read it, I know you have. Bland descriptions that do nothing for the atmosphere, nothing to ground you in the story. Your character is in the forest. You sit at your computer and write, "She entered the forest."

So is it a pine forest, an old growth forest, a forest teeming with wolves or fairies or home to a Green Age Walmart?

It's a forest you say, you know, with trees.

I say, "Stop." Put yourself in that scene. Just stand for a moment and be there. Look, listen, taste, feel, and hear what is going on. Experience the forest around you for a few moments. Then put all that into the scene.

Dean Wesley Smith says you should have all five senses in every thousand words. That works out to roughly one and a quarter senses on every manuscript page. You can spread them out, and you should, so it doesn't overload the reader, but when setting a scene, nothing works better than a full house of sensory detail.

Think about it. Which would you rather read? "Carolis stepped into the forest and began her journey."


"Carolis nudged her chestnut war horse between the two massive oaks that signaled the entrance to the Dragon's Wood. The winter shorn tree limbs reached toward her like witches claws (sight). One scraped over her steel helmet and she shivered, her belly clenching tightly (feeling). Pearly light filtered down through fog that billowed in the light breeze (sight and feeling) and helped muffle (hearing) her horse's hooves as the gelding made his way over the thick mulch of centuries of fallen leaves. Those same hooves kicked up the smell of damp humus (hearing), reminding her the years she'd spent tending the mulch pile on the farm at her foster home. The water from the fog condensed on her hands, chilling them and turning gilded leather reins slick between her fingers (feeling). What a way to start a quest."

So you know where you are and what is going on (she's starting a quest). You get a hint of who she is (gilded reins and a steel helmet, grew up on a farm with a foster family), how she feels about it (clenched belly and shivering). Much richer than just "Carolis stepped into the forest and began her journey."

A lovely exercise to get you started on learning how to pull all that richness into the scene comes from Kristin Kathryn Rusch, an award winning author and editor across many genres.

It's very simple. Close your eyes and picture a place you know well. Do as before -- put yourself in it and experience the place with all senses wide open.

When you have it, write five paragraphs, concentrating on one sense in each one. Then take the best sentence or two out of each paragraph and combine them into one paragraph. The result is rich and full, giving the reader a complete suite of sensory details about the place. It is amazing what you can pull out of the scene if you will immerse yourself in it and how thoroughly you can ground a reader in the story.

Remember, all setting is Point of View -- what the character notices and how he or she describes it or experiences it. This goes a long way toward building character voice.

But that's a different essay!


Renaissance E-Books has graciously agreed to give away one e-book copy of The Taming of Enkidu to a reader who leaves a comment on today's post. We'll select the winner at noon Mountain time tomorrow (Friday, January 27th) and will announce the winner here.

"When the people of Uruk beg the gods to do something about their despot God King, they make Enkidu, a wild man. Enkidu is set down on the plains where he becomes the animals' champion, disrupting the hunters who prey on them. When the hunters complain about Enkidu to the king, he sends Shamat, one of Ishtar's temple harlots, to the wild plains to seduce the savage man and make him civilized. Over seven hot days and hotter nights, Shamat will teach Enkidu what it means to be a man and the scorching pleasure to be found in the experienced arms of a Goddess' harlot."

You can learn more about Thea and her books at her website. She is also on Facebook and Twitter.


Margot Kinberg said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Dean K Miller said...

But first, I'm still gonna write: "he walked into the forest", because if I don't get there first, I won't be able to describe it. But I won't be starting the quest, simply because I haven't absorbed the scene of the forest.

I like the five senses exercise...especially after I've entered the forest...

TheaH said...

Dean, whatever you have to do to get started. Everybody has their own way. I would suggest playing around with other ways to ground your character that are more expressive, flashier, memorable. Notice how I got Carolis into the forest. Same idea, but more vivid imagery. One of the rules above my desk is, "Go Play." You, too, go play! Writing is one of the few jobs you can have where you get paid to play and practice. Great job, I say!

RichardK said...

I agree with how you are establishing the detail. One of my weaknesses has been how to describe a setting without being too vague or detailed. The good thing is, once the exercise is established, describing the environment comes easier to the writer.

TheaH said...

Thanks for joining us, Richard. You are exactly right. Whenever I fall out of the vividness of the scene, I stop and take a breath and put myself back in, and take stock of what I see, feel, hear, taste, and smell (that's the hardest one to remember to add). And the more you do this, the more you find yourself checking out those senses as you write.

Patricia Stoltey said...

I'm getting ready to do a final read/edit on a manuscript and need to do exactly what Thea has described here...sentence by sentence.

Thea, your timing for this post was excellent...I think the universe is trying to tell me something. :)

TheaH said...

Thanks, the exercise is one of my very favorites. It also becomes a game to see how many senses I can work in paragraph or two without making is sound belabored.

Rini K said...

I like this! I've been trying to incorporate the senses, but the example showed how to move the story forward (starting quest). Thanks for the sample and exercise!

TheaH said...

Rini, you are welcome. I am so glad you are finding it helpful. I found lots of ways to incorporate it into my writing and I found that some of those tricky scene openers, or awkward transitions came much more smoothly if I did this "be there" exercise before I started writing.

Anonymous said...

As you say above, Pat: I have a slight variation on your situation. I was asked to read the first chapter of a book and critique it for a blogger friend. Thea's "advice" about fleshing out a scene, which has always applied to great writing through the ages, is going to be very useful to me as I do this. This is just what I need to have at my fingertips to tell my friend.

Great post!
Ann Best, Author of In the Mirror & Other Memoirs

Karen Duvall said...

Great post, Thea! The senses work so well at adding texture to a scene. You gotta be careful though because if you enjoy it too much *coughs and points to self* it's easy to overdo it. So says my editor. But it's so much fun it's hard to stop!

yeoda said...

I can see and feel the texture of your sentence Thea when you wrote "scorching pleasure to be found in the experienced arms of a Goddess' harlot." The descriptive bait has me hooked to demand more of The Taming of Enkidu.

Anonymous said...

Great post. Something every writer should strive for. I've also learned that to be 'specific' is better than to generalize. For example, they had steak for dinner. Was it filet mignon? T-bone? New York? Just that small detail can help the reader visualize the dinner better. :)

TheaH said...

Karen, you are right. The addition of the senses should "spice it up" not overwhelm it. Finding the right balance is going to be a matter of practice and taste and story demand. In the end, just do the best you can do. Then follow Heinlein's Rule Three: You must refrain from rewriting, except to editorial order. And dare I add Harlan Ellison's corollary? Oh, what the heck, "And then only if you agree with it."

TheaH said...

Tracy, my dahlink, you flatter me with your addictions. Thank you so much for your kind words. I will just have to stay glued to my seat and keep pumping out the stories. Thanks so much for your eyes on my books.

TheaH said...

Dear Chick Dick Mysteries. First let me just say that I went straight for the naughty in your name and it twirled around in a few dizzying circles as my imagination spewed out several very interesting takes on the meaning. ;~) You have got the most subtle use of this tool. Giving those kind of details will turn a bland scene into one that pops and, with the right finiesse, it will firmly establish character voice, such a necessity today. Thanks for joining us.

TheaH said...

Ann, how fortuitous that this comes right when you need it. I love the way these blogs work like that. We writers are always blessed when we have colleagues that are willing and able to lend a hand and move us on up the road in mastering our craft. Thanks for joining us!