Thursday 13 August 2015

How I Write #7: Descriptions - Scenes/Places/Action

Last month we looked at describing people in your prose. This week I would like to talk about more general description of scenes and places. I will be looking in more detail at fight scenes and sex scenes in the next two instalments; today will be more of an overview.

One of the most important things to remember in setting the scene is that humans have five senses. Try to avoid the tendency only to comment on what a character sees, and think about what else they may be experiencing. Let's take a look at an example to illustrate what I mean:

Version One
She collected her bag and walked through the busy airport terminal. There were people everywhere. Many flights had been cancelled due to the weather and passengers had been left stranded. She reached the exit and stepped outside. The snow was still falling and the ground was a blanket of white. She followed the crowd and joined the queue by the taxi stand.

Well? What do you think? This tells us what's happening, where the heroine is, but it feels dull and boring. Let's try to shake things up a little, shall we?

Version Two
She squeezed through the throng of people and managed to snatch up her suitcase as it passed by on its circuitous route around the carousel. She lugged it a few metres, and then she extended the handle and pulled it behind her as she made her way through the terminal. It was slow going. Many flights had been cancelled due to the weather, and the airport was akin to a disaster zone; there were bodies everywhere, teeming over every available seat, and the air rang with the jingle of mobile phones, the chatter of voices, and the screams of tired, bored children and their equally weary parents. The scent of stale sweat made her screw up her nose.

She reached the exit and stepped outside. The blast of cold air came as a shock after the warmth of the terminal, and she shivered, tugging her jacket tighter across her chest. The ground was a blanket of white and the snowflakes were like icy kisses as they tumbled against her face and hands. Her foot slipped on the ice, and she wobbled for a long second before regaining her balance. Taking small, careful steps, she made her way to join the queue at the taxi stand.

Now, this is much longer than the first version, but do you not think it is also a great deal more interesting to read? Here we are not only told what is going on, but we get a real sense of the scene in the noise, the crush of bodies, the cold of the falling snow.

You do not always have to include all five senses in every description - sometimes not all will apply - but it is good to always be thinking about them and looking to see where each will work best. Next time I will take a more detailed look at writing fight scenes.

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