BREATHING LIFE INTO SCENES
© Winnie Griggs, Jan. 2003
Have you ever had this wonderful scene pictured in your mind, a scene filled with vibrancy and character insight and high drama? A scene with purpose and drive, one that is integral to moving your story forward? Yet when you get it down on paper, it somehow seems flat and lacking in the sparkle and subtle nuances you wanted to convey. Or worse yet, it’s only when your critique partner reads it over and fails to ‘get the point’ that you realize you’ve somehow missed the mark.
Part of the problem may be in the fact that you CAN picture it so vividly in your head. Your mind automatically fills in the flashes of emotion and the nuances of atmosphere for you until you fail to realize you’ve left out some key elements needed to paint that same picture for your readers.
To assist with this task, I’ve developed a checklist you can apply to a scene, either before, during or after you’ve constructed it, for gauging whether you’ve used all the tools available to paint the picture you intended. Simply go down the list and ask yourself if you addressed each of these points in your scene.
Please keep in mind that these are only intended to help you think through your scene-painting process. You will not want or need to use every element here - just pick and choose the ones that you think will help make your scene come alive.
- Where are your characters
- if indoors : what is the structure type, room, furnishings?
- if outdoors: what kind of landscape, plants, insects, animals, structures are present ?
- if in a vehicle: what is the type of vehicle, is it well maintained or falling apart, is it still or in motion, what view of the outside world is available, what is the look and feel of the interior, what are the occupants’ comfort level ?
- What is the weather/climate like?
- What time of day is it?
- What kind of lighting is present?
- What time of year is it?
PHYSICAL APPEARANCE / PRESENCE
- Where are the characters in relation to each other? Did you remain true to this throughout the scene ? (i.e.: he can’t see her wrinkle her nose if her back is to him)
- What sort of clothing are they
- is it restrictive, flowing, form-fitting, oversized?
- does it rustle, scratch, caress?
- is it new, old, torn, worn, clean, soiled, classic, chic?
- How is their general appearance:
- do they appear neat, disheveled, comfortable?
- is their hair up, slicked back, braided or loose?
- are they wearing make-up, glasses, five o’clock shadow?
- Are they displaying any nervous/unconscious mannerisms?
- What are they doing with their upper body - hand gestures, fingers drumming, head movements, facial expressions, stiff-backed posture, slump-shouldered?
- What are they doing with their lower body - sitting, crouching, limping, pacing, legs crossed, legs swinging, feet tapping?
- Which character dominates the stage? Can the scene be improved if someone else took the spotlight?
- Who is your Point Of View character? Can the scene be improved by changing this?
- What can each of them see?
- What can each of them hear?
- What can each of them smell?
- What can each of them taste? (don’t forget this can be internal, like bile rising or blood from a cut lip)
- What can each of them physically feel/touch
- Do the characters sense different things or the same thing in different ways (perfume can be perceived as arousing or cloying)
- What emotions are each of your characters experiencing inwardly?
- What emotions are each of your characters expressing outwardly?
- Can you heighten the physical awareness/sexual tension of this scene?
- Can you throw bigger obstacles at your characters or otherwise heighten the conflict in this scene?
- Is there any foreshadowing you can do of the secrets your characters are hiding, or of pivotal scenes to come?
- Have you made the best word choices to provide the pacing and convey the mood, level of tension and nuances of character you desire?
There you have it. If you apply this checklist to your scenes, you’ll be on your way to making each of them a sensory delight for your readers. Best of luck and may the muse always whisper in your ear!