Tag: scene

#Amwriting October 21: Description in Scenes

Now that we are working on scenes for our NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) prep series, let’s spend the next four days drilling into each of the components:  description, action, dialogue, and thoughts/feelings. Since a new scene often starts with description, let’s tackle that first.


Description:   The Definition

To make sure we’re all on the same page, the description component of a scene allows the reader to picture a place, person, or thing (or feeling) in their mind. Ideally, it should excite all the reader’s senses with concrete details. It is painting and sculpting with words.

How much description to include and when to include it will depend on genre and your personal style. The common advice is that a thriller will have a lot of action and little description, whereas a literary novel will often revel in description.


Regardless of genre, some writers make their descriptions sparkle. For example, in her essay, “The Map of How to Write,” Mary Sojourner uses description to take us on an intense emotional odyssey. Her personal style is to use amazing, surprising descriptions throughout her work.

“The sun is a platinum disc trapped in a web of dark branches on the surface of the water. A breeze moves over us. Sun and water-trees shudder.”

Typically, a mystery novel would have sparser descriptions, but ace novelist Raymond Chandler makes his descriptions into intriguing poetry. The beginning line of The Big Sleep:

“It was about eleven o’clock in the morning, mid October, with the sun not shining and a look of hard wet rain in the clearness of the foothills. “

No cliché “It was a dark and stormy night…” for him.

The next paragraph describes the entrance to mansion he’s visiting.

“Over the entrance doors, which would have let in a troop of Indian elephants, there was a broad stained-glass panel showing a knight in dark armor rescuing a lady who was tied to a tree and didn’t have any clothes on but some long and convenient hair. The knight…was…not getting anywhere. I stood there and thought that if I lived in the house, I would sooner or later have to climb up and help him. He didn’t seem to be really trying.”

Although it seems like he’s engaging in some playful, offhand remarks, this paragraph mirrors later themes of his main character rescuing people in trouble. It is golden if your description can serve two –or more– purposes.

Upping Your Descriptive Writing Game

How do you write memorable, vivid descriptions?

1. Stomp out all clichés.

Instead of:

  • Shiny gems
  • Armed to the teeth
  • Black as coal
  • Bird’s eye view
  • Crack of dawn


  • Fish scales reflecting sparks of sun
  • More weapons than brains
  • An ebony cat on a moonless night
  • Drone view
  • Salmon pink glimmer at the horizon

2. Get into your character’s body and describe what he/she/they experiences through all their senses. Be as concrete as possible.

A character having a bad day at the gym:

Her leggings were too thick, trapping the heat of her body as she moved in rhythm with the rest of the class. Perspiration gathered at the small of her back and trickled across her skin. She caught a whiff of garlic and panicked that she smelled as bad as she felt, but it was the boy next to her. The ache in her head worsened as they spun left, then right. Where did her teacher get those hiccup sounds she called music, the bargain bin?

Revisit our post about setting in layers, which discusses what a given character will observe.

3. Don’t be afraid to pull out similes, metaphors and other literary devices. In the second Raymond Chandler example above, he used the personification of a stained glass window to great effect.

4. KISS: Keep it simple and keep it short.

We’re writers. We love words. As much fun as it is to write three paragraph descriptions, too much wordiness bogs readers down. If readers dislike the descriptions too much, they will start skipping those paragraphs and may miss out on some vital parts of your story. Write with your reader’s comfort in mind.

Exercise:  Write a description of a place you enjoy visiting using all the senses you can pack in. Now pare it down to only a few sentences. What can be combined? What can be cut?

Share the result in the comments.


Visit our 30 Day Novel Prep Page for all the links.

#Amwriting October 20: Brainstorming Scenes

If you have been following our  NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) prep, you should have at least a few characters, setting, an inciting incident, and a timeline started. Let’s move the story forward by brainstorming three different ways:  orally, visually, and by putting pen to paper (tactile).


1. Oral

Storytelling is an oral tradition, so why not brainstorm by telling your story? Yes, actually speaking out loud. Get the speech and hearing parts of your brain  activated and see where it leads.

Find a private place, like your room, the garage, the car, anywhere you feel comfortable. Start any way you like. Try “Once upon a time…”  The aim is to hit the high points. You don’t need to go deep into details.

You can simply talk to yourself, but if something golden crops up, it might be better if you record it.  You can use a tape recorder, a digital recorder, or the recorder on your phone or computer.



If you have Google Drive and a Smart Phone with a microphone, you can even convert the audio to text. This is how it looks on my phone:

When you open a Google Drive document on your phone and start to edit, look for the microphone symbol. Selecting it will give you the option of adding text via speech.

Note:  If you pause for a breath, the translating app may stop. Glance at the text regularly and tap it to start again if that happens. Also, it won’t be a perfect translation.


When you are telling your story, don’t aim to go smoothly from beginning to end. You might find yourself starting with backstory rather than the beginning. Go for it. Last night I discovered my protagonist’s secret backstory that I had no idea about. It completely explains her behavior later in the story.

You will probably hem and haw, repeat yourself and stumble a bit. That is fine.  If your story quits flowing completely, though, you might want to think about why that happened. What pieces aren’t working? What do you need to add or change? Think about it some and try telling your story again another day.

Drawing/Making a Storyboard

Do scenes come to your mind like video from a movie? Investigate a technique that comes straight from film making.

Start by drawing one scene from your novel on a piece of paper. Add colored pencil or markers.

The novel didn’t get written, but the storyboard was fun.

If you like how it moves the story ahead, consider a full storyboard the plot.

Wave.video Blog has an article that gives details on how to storyboard a video, and many of the ideas apply to novels as well. According to the article, a storyboard can help you get organized, save time, and identify problems in advance.

They suggest starting with how you want the audience to feel. Awesome idea!



Putting Pen to Paper (Tactile)

We are so used to creating on the computer, we forget that writing with a pen on a piece of paper gives us an entirely different tactile experience.

Pull out some three by five cards or even some large sticky notes. Start writing scene ideas, 1 per card or note. Add the setting, which characters will be present, the characters’ goals, and what conflicts will occur. Later you can order your scenes on a board or add them to your Scrivener file.


Hope you find one or more of these methods helpful. Which did you choose?


Visit our 30 Day Novel Prep Page for all the links.


#Amwriting October 19: Scene Basics

If you’ve been preparing for NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) with us, time to consider scenes.


What is a scene?

As a reader, you probably already know what a scene is instinctively.  As a writer, however, it pays to have the nuances clear in your mind.

A scene is often defined as the basic building block of plot. What does that mean exactly? Envision a scene as a mini-novel. It has a beginning, a middle, and an end, during which a action/incident/reaction occurs that moves the entire plot forward. In addition, there’s generally a concrete setting, point of view, and cast of characters. When one or all of those things change, the story is moving to a new scene.

Scenes can be fluid and different authors handle them in different ways, but they often follow a general template:

The Scene Beginning

Like the beginning of your novel, at the beginning of each scene you need to orient the reader, and perhaps give a quick summary of what has happened since the previous scene.

Make sure the setting, the characters, and point of view are all clear right up front. As a reader, I have read a few multiple point of view (POV ) novels where it took a long time to figure out which character was narrating a particular scene. If I have to skim ahead or look back to figure out whose voice I’m hearing, it takes me out of the flow. If I have to do that more than once, I’m likely to go find another novel to read.

With a little crafting, you don’t have to be obvious to show who is narrating. Make sure each character has a unique enough voice and circumstances to stand out once you have dropped a few clues. Also, be sure to introduce any new characters in the scene clearly and precisely. Make them easy to remember with a few carefully-chosen descriptive details.

All in all, make sure the character(s) have something they want to happen. Do they want to get a job, find a clue, or have dinner with their mother? What is their objective or goal?

The Scene Middle

Here’s where the character runs into trouble. Some sort of obstacle gets in their way, making it difficult to achieve their objective. A crisis becomes a bigger crisis, which causes reaction or change. The change might be something like they discover or learn how to use a tool that allows them to progress against a bigger problem coming up later. On the other hand, it might be an argument between boyfriend and girlfriend that drives them apart.

The Scene End

The author has the most flexibility with the ending. Generally, the scene ends when something changes, like the characters split up, the setting changes, or the action jumps to the next day (time changes), etc. The story is moving on. You can wrap up things and set up the next scene, or you can leave on a cliff hanger, with a question that will be answered at a later time.

No matter which ending you chose, try to end on your strongest line. Hook your reader to turn the page and keep reading.

Scene Nuts and Bolts

A typical scene is 750 to 2,500 words, but you control the length of your scenes.  Some authors suggest that shorter scenes make the pacing quicker. Others suggest that shorter scenes work better for readers using electronic devices. If your scenes average longer, don’t worry about it. Some readers prefer a slower pace. You can also mix up the length from scene to scene. Your voice and style is your own.

Another way to individualize your scenes is by controlling the amount of action, description, dialogue, thoughts and feelings you include. One scene might be largely action, the next heavy with dialogue. Keep in mind what is appropriate for what is happening overall. If you are at a climax in your story, action is probably going to work better than long pages of mostly dialogue.

Hopefully, you have a clearer understanding of what a scene is and how you write one.

Exercise:  Go to a scene you have written in the past and analyze it for the components we discussed. Do you have a clear beginning, middle, and end? How did you handle the ending? How much description did you include? How many lines are devoted to action or to dialogue? Did your characters reflect on what happened and formulate a new plan or did they move on?

Now that you have studied it, would you change anything?

Tip:  Analyze a scene or two from your favorite novel for the same components.


Visit our 30 Day Novel Prep Page for all the links.

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