There is nothing more boring to read than a scene with no oomph. As both author and reader, can you feel the surroundings, does your heartbeat skip right along with that of the victim or the woman in love? Or is it merely a set of paper dolls in a cardboard house?
What tricks can the author use to make the book or story “come alive?”
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. Still, the cover is what communicates the wonders that are sandwiched between the front and back.
If the author can’t feel the scene, it’s a sure bet the readers can’t. So, what to do?
Because the cover is a big help in setting the scene, when the writer provides a concise synopsis and some physical descriptions it can help the artist know what to communicate to the reader. The synopsis plays double duty because it also is part of the marketing package for the book.
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. Also, in today’s world of internet marketing, will the details still be readable in thumbnail size?
Taking a closer look at the “mental picture.”
The process of bringing the story to life certainly doesn’t stop at the cover. When creating scenes, the author must frame a mental picture that includes surroundings, how the person sees it from their own point of view, mental reactions, weather, clothing and anything else that helps flesh out the scene as though the author is the production designer for a movie.
That doesn’t mean to describe everything in minute detail like a laundry list. It means the author has to be in their character’s head. If they picture being in the surroundings before writing, they will create the scene as though they are actually there. Here is a small test. If the scene is meant to evoke true emotion, does it? Cardboard scenes almost read like technical manuals – flat information. In other words often scenes written in that style are incapable of touching the reader’s emotions. On the other hand, scenes that spring to life trigger laughter, tears, excitement…whatever the scene was designed to do.
When I was writing some scenes in my forthcoming book “Devil’s Dance,” under the pen name Arliss Adams, even though I knew the story backwards and forwards, I found tears trickling down my cheeks as I wrote some of the intense scenes. I could feel my surroundings and emotions as surely as if I actually was the protagonist in Chicago in 1956. My publisher also referred to tearfully reading parts of the manuscript when it was submitted.
How to populate the fictional world.
Beyond surroundings that can be felt, the author must also make sure dimensional people populate their 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 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 memorbilia. The house was my palette for painting their lives.The same is true in writing fiction.
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. That is what the author must do for the reader to feel it. Become part of the picture.
As an author, 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 readers won’t be able to resist turning the page.
For more information about Morgan St. James visit her website www.morganstjames-author.com or the website for the Silver Sisters Mysteries series that she writes with her sister Phyllice Bradner www.silversistersmysteries.com. For a free subscription, simply click the button at the top of the page. Comments are welcomed in the box below.
Morgan presents interactive workshops to writers groups, conferences, fraternal organization meetings and more. Click here to contact Morgan.
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