In my recent Update Thursday, I write about struggling with certain scenes. When I come up with a story idea, several scenes pop into my mind. These scenes cry out in my mind until I type them all out as the emotional and visual powerhouses they are. Of course, these are just a handful of scenes, as in they total maybe 1/4 of the novel. This means I have a lot of spots to fill with everything in between.
Which is easier said than done.
I'll get to work on connecting one scene to the next. I have an idea in mind. I start typing it. And it comes out looking like crap. And by looking like crap I mean there's no feeling, no depth, no detail. It's a building without the walls filled in, just a frame. You can't live in a frame of a house, and my character can't live in a world without emotion and scenery.
Take, for example, my latest scene. My MC, Adrienne, is going to a nursing home to volunteer. My original scene was lifeless. Take a look:
"As I park in the lot in front of the nursing home, I take a look at the place. The outside is light blue with white shutters. Attached to each window are flower boxes with marigolds and pansies. Underneath are evergreen bushes trimmed into squares. The whole place is well-maintained and neat. It gives off a bright beacon of hope for those who stay and those who visit."
See what I mean? It's so plain and generic. Like something in a book you would read in the third grade. It's not YA. It's just blah. Blah, blah, blah blah blah. This is, sadly, what happens to some of my scenes. I just throw out some descriptions and move on. If the scene is lucky anyway. Sometimes I skip right by describing what's going on around my character. Focus on the dialogue, or inner dialogue.
It's one of the harder aspects of writing for me--descriptions. Not that I can't describe things. I just forget to when it's an 'in between' scene. I'm so involved in the characters and the story progressing, I forget to stop and smell the roses. My character is focused on the people, focused on the conversation, focused on the thoughts running through her head... she doesn't look around her. Why doesn't she?
Probably because I have no idea what is around her.
I spend more time on plotting out what happens next that I don't take the time to write out descriptions of places and things. Until recently, I had no idea what Adrienne's house looks like. It was a two-story with stairs. I forced myself to sit down and figure out what rooms were where and what colors were in them. I never bothered with it before, but the more I read, the more I realize my story needs description. It's not just a frame, a basic telling of what happened, like you do when telling your friends what happened to you at work earlier.
It's a bigger picture.
It's a fictional world that needs maple trees and psychotic squirrels* and posters on the walls and vases sitting precariously on end tables.
Here's what happened when I rewrote the nursing home scene:
"River’s Bend Nursing Home is on the outskirts of town. It’s set slightly off the road, about fifty yards. Ornamental pear trees line down the drive until you reach the parking lot. The building itself has the appearance of a house, only much larger. The evergreen bushes that surround the perimeter are trimmed weekly. Each window has a flower box with different types marigolds, pansies, and geraniums. It has a quaint appeal to it, making it feel more like a home than a nursing home. It is a beacon of hope for those who stay and a comfort to those who visit."
Notice the difference? It's not as lifeless as before. It has the right kind of details that help you visualize Adrienne's surroundings.
If you take a look at the two scenes, you'll see something else. When I usually write out a scene, I'm constantly talking from my MC's perspective. "I drove into this parking lot and then looked at the place," "I walked over to my best friend's house and noticed her mom cut down a tree," or "I went to bed and fell asleep." Everything seems so monotonous when I do that. My epiphany with the nursing home scene was this:
Don't start this scene with your character. Start with the surroundings. End at the character.
I started the scene with that new paragraph and led into what the character did next. I'm constantly falling into this trap of telling my readers the progression of the scene. "I woke up that morning, ate breakfast, brushed my teeth, got dressed, and drove to the nursing home." I'm slowly starting to adapt my thinking--nobody wants to read the routine (unless it's relevant). When the reader sees my character at the nursing home, they know she woke up, ate breakfast, brushed her teeth, got dressed, and drove there. They don't need me to list irrelevant information.
Of course, sometimes you do have to say more on how your character got somewhere. It's just not always necessary. I don't want to start every paragraph with "I did this," "I went there," or "I made that." I need to learn how to diversify. To make the story real to the reader. Make it so that when somebody tries talks to them, they're so engrossed in my fictional world they don't even notice.
Does anyone else struggle with writing certain scenes?
Do you have a picture in your mind ahead of time of places?
How do you handle descriptions?
I would love to hear your thoughts!
* Psychotic squirrels: We have one that squawks at us through the window.