by Morgan St. James
There is nothing more boring to read than a scene with no oomph. Can you feel the surroundings, does your heartbeat skip right along with that of the victim or the woman in love? Or have you created a set of paper dolls in a cardboard house?
If you can’t feel the scene, it’s a sure bet that your readers can’t. So, what to do?
Start with thinking about the cover. Authors don’t have a lot of control over this aspect of a published book, because it’s in the hands of the publisher and/or art director unless they are self-published. Still, the cover is what communicates the wonders that are sandwiched between the front and back. Providing a concise synopsis and some physical descriptions help the artist to communicate with the reader.
The cover is a big help in setting the scene. For example, if it’s a funny book, does the cover say funny, or does it portray something entirely different? Although big name authors’ books will sell on the strength of their name alone, a compelling cover is invaluable for mid and small list authors.
Think of it as “framing” a mental picture
It certainly doesn’t stop at the cover. When creating scenes, frame a mental picture that includes surroundings, how the person sees it from their own point of view, mental reactions, weather, clothing…anything that helps flesh out the scene as though you are the production designer for a movie. That doesn’t mean to describe everything in minute detail, but put yourself in that person’s head. Picture being in those surroundings before writing.
If the scene is meant to evoke true emotion, does it?
Cardboard scenes almost read like technical manuals in a way. In other words they are generally incapable of touching the reader’s emotions. On the other hand, scenes that spring to life can trigger laughter, tears, excitement—whatever the scene was designed to do.
When I was writing some for my highly emotional book “Betrayed.” even though I knew the story, I found tears trickling down my cheeks as I wrote some of the intense scenes. I could feel my surroundings as surely as if I actually was the protagonist in Chicago in 1956. Others who read the book referred to tearfully reading parts of the manuscript.
Beyond surroundings that can be felt, make sure dimensional people populate your world of fiction.
When I was an interior designer working with model homes, I created fictional families to live in these homes, so I could design to their demographics. They had the attributes of the profile buyer the developer described and targeted, but they had also had their own quirks, desires, preferences and style. Maybe the husband was an avid golfer and the wife participated in charity work. The son was a car enthusiast and the daughter was a cheerleader. All of that was reflected in the surroundings I created with artifacts and memorabilia. The house was my palette for painting their lives.
How to create a realistic scene.
Imagine this: Tires screech as the driver desperately applies the brakes. The car skids on the rain slick street. Branches brush the windshield when the out-of-control vehicle jumps the curb. Can you feel it? If you were in that car, would you have time to notice things? Smell the burning of the brakes or feel the panic of loss of control. You better be able to if you want the reader to feel it.
Put yourself in the picture.
Play with being there. Write some sample scenes and share them with friends or fellow authors. Do they sing? Maybe they are over-descriptive to the point of being an information dump. Analyze, fine tune and learn. Pretty soon your readers won’t be able to resist turning the page.
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