Scene

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Mark.W.Carson
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Scene

Post by Mark.W.Carson » March 8th, 2012, 10:22 am

So... After having my wife look over the ~11 chapters of my MS in its current form, (she's not done yet), she has commented that while the story itself is good, there are elements missing relating to how to set the scene so that she can see it in her head.

I am probably going to do a rewrite, mostly because I am getting better with each chapter I write, and I expect there to be about a dozen rewrites (and for me, that means I use my current chapters as templates and reuse pieces, but try to make it better in as many ways as I can. I tighten dialogue, I remove cruft and try to be clear about the points that I am trying to emphasize).

However, for those of you that know how to do the following: Describe how a character looks without seeming like you are forcing information at the reader, as well as describing where things take place, especially if there is movement from scene to scene.

How do you do it? Do you have any examples?

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MattLarkin
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Re: Scene

Post by MattLarkin » March 8th, 2012, 11:07 am

mark54g wrote:However, for those of you that know how to do the following: Describe how a character looks without seeming like you are forcing information at the reader, as well as describing where things take place, especially if there is movement from scene to scene.

How do you do it? Do you have any examples?
On the first question, one thing to keep in mind is that it's not really necessary to many details of how characters look. Writers, especially newer ones, can sometimes get caught up on this. A single detail, or maybe two, is usually enough about most characters, including main characters. Readers will only notice this if they stop and think about it, and you don't want them to do that anyway. You want the story to flow quickly, and the reader will supply the character's appearance in their own imagination, based on personality and those one or two details.

Providing too much detail not only slows the story down, it doesn't really help the reader's imagination anyway.
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polymath
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Re: Scene

Post by polymath » March 8th, 2012, 11:39 am

A tall order asking about needed or unneeded descriptions, how to do them, how to write scene transitions.

Details are important when they're important to a viewpoint character, not before, not after, not for someone else.

Keep in mind that a viewpoint character can only describe her or himself from memory or in front of a reflection. A viewpoint character looking at a reflection merely to describe him or herself is a cheap cheat for creative writing and largely discouraged. As an effect caused by a highly dramatic action, say injury from a fight, looking in a mirror to see how bad the damamge is, maybe it would go unnoticed. A third-person narrator can describe a viewpoint character, though. Although, again, when important to the viewpoint character. That means the appearances should be dramatic, meaning causal, tensional, and antagonistical: causing empathy-worthy complications.

Writing scene transitions involves creating windows for exiting and then entering the persons, settings (times, places, and situations), and events of scenes. A smell of baked bread coming through the window from the bakery down the street illustrates an actual window that might evoke a scent memory of Mom baking bread during a viewpoint character's childhood. That's a recollection that becomes another window into the past, for transitioning into a flashback, for example. Causal window, transition setup, step, step, step into the now time of the past. By steps are keys to seamless scene transitions, whether the transition be between persons, times, places, or situations.

Another key is to complete a scene's dramatic meaning: cause and effect and action and reaction, empathy-evoking and curiosity-provoking tension, and viewpoint character want and complication opposing that want for antagonism's clashes. And progress and setback to keep outcome in doubt, which means discovery and reversal, major discovery and reversal for major dramatic turns, minor for minor turns.

Examples of how description and scene transition writing are done abound in most any published work. Learning how to do them is as much a matter of learning how to spot them when reading as it is about practice and developing one's own artistic flair for descriptions and transitions.
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Re: Scene

Post by CharleeVale » March 8th, 2012, 11:47 am

MattLarkin wrote: On the first question, one thing to keep in mind is that it's not really necessary to many details of how characters look. Writers, especially newer ones, can sometimes get caught up on this. A single detail, or maybe two, is usually enough about most characters, including main characters. Readers will only notice this if they stop and think about it, and you don't want them to do that anyway. You want the story to flow quickly, and the reader will supply the character's appearance in their own imagination, based on personality and those one or two details.

Providing too much detail not only slows the story down, it doesn't really help the reader's imagination anyway.
THIS. So much this. It's what I try to do. In my experience I have a richer experience when the author allows me to envision the character for myself. Especially since we have more of a tendency to put ourselves in. At least a little bit.

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Re: Scene

Post by Mark.W.Carson » March 8th, 2012, 12:14 pm

For the character, that is one thing, but what about the scenery, the place and setting? I was told by my wife she was imagining everything as bare and empty around everything because no scene had been painted.

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Re: Scene

Post by MattLarkin » March 8th, 2012, 1:28 pm

mark54g wrote:For the character, that is one thing, but what about the scenery, the place and setting? I was told by my wife she was imagining everything as bare and empty around everything because no scene had been painted.
What genre do you write?

Try to imagine books you loved in that genre. Books where you had a clear picture of what was going on. Maybe even go re-read some passages.

I suspect you'll find the same general rule applies. Use a few telling details, and the reader's mind will do the rest of the work.
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Re: Scene

Post by Watcher55 » March 8th, 2012, 1:53 pm

mark54g wrote:So... After having my wife look over the ~11 chapters of my MS in its current form, (she's not done yet), she has commented that while the story itself is good, there are elements missing relating to how to set the scene so that she can see it in her head.

I am probably going to do a rewrite, mostly because I am getting better with each chapter I write, and I expect there to be about a dozen rewrites (and for me, that means I use my current chapters as templates and reuse pieces, but try to make it better in as many ways as I can. I tighten dialogue, I remove cruft and try to be clear about the points that I am trying to emphasize).

However, for those of you that know how to do the following: Describe how a character looks without seeming like you are forcing information at the reader, as well as describing where things take place, especially if there is movement from scene to scene.

How do you do it? Do you have any examples?
The Universe, the Milky Way, Sol System, Earth, your chair, your butt, your head, the Universe..., your story, your MS. Now, maintain BIC and stay with your MS, but step back and read your original post. Listen to your "message board subconscious".
I am probably going to do a rewrite
Oh -- you're going to rewrite ('cause you're not going to abandon).
I am getting better with each chapter I write
Well hell ya, it's one of those gratifyiing experiences that motivate us. >:}
reuse pieces... make it better in as many ways as I can. I tighten dialogue, I remove cruft and try to be clear about the points that I am trying to emphasize).
Stop. Those are good things, but I wonder if you're trying to get too close to the problem. Words like reuse, tighten, remove, clear, points are all quite mechanical. It looks to me like you're trying to fix something that's not all there yet.

Stay in the story and step back from the MS. Now, pluck Saving Private Ryan from your memory. Remember the part when Ryan told Captain Miller he couldn't remember his brothers' faces? Captain Miller's advice was to, and I'm paraphrasing, tell a story. Ryan told the story about busting his oldest brother with an ugly girl in the barn. He saw the barn, and the loft and the ugly girl and -- his brothers' faces.

Setting has story and you have a whole book to tell it. Your setting is a character in your story; introduce it and treat it as such. Setting is about mood as much as it is about Earth and Sky, concrete and color. Setting ineracts with your characters because your characters interact with it.

Rather than think in terms of "how do I make this fit?" think in terms of "how it belongs." Give yourself permission to add words.

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polymath
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Re: Scene

Post by polymath » March 8th, 2012, 1:57 pm

Concrete sensory details paint vivid pictures by providing sufficient physical context for readers to overlay their personal experiences. Problems arise for readers when they project different than intended setting contexts that confuse dramatic action. A few details is all it takes to fill out a scene's essence. A big part of which is details that influence the action causally, tensionally, and antagonistically.

Though imagery generally is visual sensations, it is also use of concrete contexts to express intangible contexts, like symbolism does. A viewpoint character who's angry might relate that anger by how she perceives a sunset, for example, an emotion which is an intangible abstract though a primal emotion. That's adjectives and adverbs' role, expressing commentary.

See the Turkey City Lexicon at SFWA for White Room Syndrome, which is the height of bare settings. White room, white light, white clothing, no one to interact with, a disembodied viewpoint character with nothing to interact with except thoughts. Navel contemplation. White Room Syndrome is actually a Dischism, where a writer's setting intrudes into a narrative, the dreaded blank white page reflecting a lack of writer imagination grasping for straws.
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Re: Scene

Post by Doug Pardee » March 8th, 2012, 5:44 pm

You can't win. Aunt Martha has no imagination and demands that you supply every tiny detail, while your friend Bobby objects that you're overloading him with tons of pointless description that just slows your story down.

In the end, it's your manuscript, and you have to make the choices. If the criticism points to specific parts of your writing, revisit those parts and see if there's a problem. Maybe there is, maybe there isn't. It's your call. Committees don't produce writing any better than they produce anything else. The manuscript needs to be your vision.

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Re: Scene

Post by hooktonfonnix » March 8th, 2012, 8:16 pm

Doug Pardee wrote:You can't win. Aunt Martha has no imagination and demands that you supply every tiny detail, while your friend Bobby objects that you're overloading him with tons of pointless description that just slows your story down.

In the end, it's your manuscript, and you have to make the choices. If the criticism points to specific parts of your writing, revisit those parts and see if there's a problem. Maybe there is, maybe there isn't. It's your call. Committees don't produce writing any better than they produce anything else. The manuscript needs to be your vision.
Amen. That is all.

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Re: Scene

Post by MAP » March 9th, 2012, 12:29 am

I've had a hard time with setting the scene too, and I've worked really hard on it. My last beta reader complimented me on it, so I think I'm getting better.

I did a blog posting on it; here is a link.

I go in a bit more detail, but realy I think it is about seeing the surroundings from the POV character, describing the scene the way he/she would see it. I do believe in less is more, but what you do give make it really specific and vivid. Giving the right details is key, especially anything that is used later in the scene. I hate having to rearrange how I picture the room mid-scene because some key details were missing. If there is a desk in the room, let me know at the beginning so that the desk doesn't magically appear in the middle. Also, have your characters interact with their surroundings. Shoo flies a way or feel the grass tickling their legs, or brush away a layer of dust.

Anyway, it is all explained better in my blog. :)

Hope this helps.

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Re: Scene

Post by dios4vida » March 12th, 2012, 1:43 pm

As polymath said, describing the setting as it relates to your character is the most powerful form of description. (Yeah, I sound totally smart there, but this is really just me repeating polymath and regurgitating Margo's amazing advice - I so haven't even begun to master this concept in my own writing yet.)

Every bit of description should be used to reveal something about your character - how they feel, see the world, are changing, etc. All description should be filtered through your character's perspective. So if you know what your character is thinking/feeling/doing, or how they're changing, then you can take your descriptions and craft them to reflect that. Symbolism works well here, like polymath's example of the sunset. The reds of a sunset could feel passionate, angry, bloody, or any number of other things, depending on how the character feels. It's the same color, but their perception of it has changed. That's powerful description that will do a lot for your characters and your readers.

So how are your characters feeling right now? Are they starting to change? Make your setting reflect that, describe it, and it'll stand out.

Now I'm off to start doing that in my own WIPs.
Brenda :)

Inspiration isn't about the muse. Inspiration is working until something clicks. ~Brandon Sanderson

Mark.W.Carson
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Re: Scene

Post by Mark.W.Carson » March 12th, 2012, 3:16 pm

Thanks. I didn't so much have a question about how to relate it to the character, but more of "how much detail to give."

Reading some Dan Brown, I figure I'll do what he does, then take about 20% away. The man could go on 2 pages describing a snickers bar.

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Re: Scene

Post by dios4vida » March 12th, 2012, 4:39 pm

My point, which I realize I never actually got around to stating (sheesh), is that if you make your descriptions pull double duty like that, you can get away with very little. It's a way to make each description mean something, to the character and to the reader, which means you won't have to slow down your pacing to add in description.

Sorry about that! That'll teach me to try to write forum posts when I have a gazillion other things on my mind.
Brenda :)

Inspiration isn't about the muse. Inspiration is working until something clicks. ~Brandon Sanderson

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