Bridge to Story

Making a Scene

A novice wanted to write about a little girl. The girl slips away from reality and comes back into it later, at different times. She has moments of ‘losing herself’. So, the novice made a list of where this little girl lives when we first see her: (physical stuff)

  • A house.
  • Summertime.
  • There’s a porch.
  • Near noon.

Then she added a few things about the little girl: (story-type stuff)

  • She’s gullible.
  • Four years old or so.
  • They don’t want her in the house.

The goal of a really well realized scene is not using all these notes, literally, in your writing. Maybe a few will go directly into a paragraph, but once you’ve made a list, don’t use each and every one on it. These are notes for your story – not your story itself.

See the Example for how that works.

Example Toggle

Example:

The physical items on her list:

A house. Big or small?  What type?

Summertime. Nigh noon, or late in the day?

There’s a porch. Front or back? What shape is it in?

These questions can bring the scene to your reader’s eyes. They can become lines that draw a setting for the reader like this:

She’s squatting in the sun, cars roll by out on the hot street. Like they told her to, she’s playing with the ants that crawl out from under the porch; in a moving line heading for what’s left of a smashed cookie crumb. With her tongue out, the shadow of her little thumb descending, she tries stopping one of the tiny red guys.

As you can see, this novice used few of the actual words she came up with in her setting points list. You will also see this in your own work if you do your best to Show instead of Tell.

Lesson Exercise 1 Toggle

Lesson Exercise 1:

If you have a scene in mind, list setting points as you see in the example, then

Don’t use all of your setting points, or

Don’t TELL the reader any of the setting you’ve come up with, instead...

Allow your character to react to (and your characters circumstances to reflect) the setting points you’ve come up with. If it helps, try this:

Let's say your setting points are:

  • A house. Summertime.

How can you visualize this? Our novice did it like this:

…the ants that crawl out from under the porch… & the shadow of her little thumb descending.

  • She’s gullible. They don’t want her in the house.

How can you visualize this point? Our novice did it like this:

… Like they told her to, she’s playing with the ants…

Try this with a scene of your own.

  1. Visualize your scene (built around a single physical symbol)
  2. Make a list of setting points (but do not use them verbatim)
  3. Make that image have action, have your inanimate objects, or your non-characters, cause some action/reaction of their own.

How can you make more than only the character have an action? Our novice did it like this:

…the ants that crawl out from under the porch; in a moving line heading for what’s left of a smashed cookie crumb.

It seems very counter-intuitive, but it works so well you’ll be surprised: think of what you are seeing, list things out if it helps, then don’t use any of the list outright in your scenes or settings.