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."
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