Friday, March 11, 2011

What Yanks You Out of Reality and into a Good Novel? The Importance of Scene.

For some, it’s the unique characters. For others, it’s the twisting plot. For me, it’s most often the scene. This probably stems from the fact that while growing up I loved to read in order to escape out of my world and into one that seemed more desirable to me. If I could have, I would have literally left my home for the novel’s more exciting worlds.

Creating these worlds for my characters is something I thoroughly enjoy and hope to eventually master.

Questions to ask yourself when preparing your scene:

Where and when does the novel take place? What does the air smell and feel like? What sounds does the character hear that are in sync with the chosen place? What sounds or sights are not normal for the place? Like elephants on a beach would be out of the norm, but could definitely be there for a good reason. What else do you see? What does the character taste as she/he takes in the sights, sounds and feelings this scene draws from them?

What is happening in that particular scene? How do the scene, situation, and characters meld together? Can the author make the reader feel like they are truly present, as if they have time-travelled into the midst of the scene?

Here are a few simple examples of what kinds of moods scenes can accomplish:

On a cold foggy morning, Myra shivered into her sweater and started her trusty Chevy, patting the dashboard and saying, “Good girl,” when she started without a hitch. She pulled out of the driveway heading for work. Around the corner, she spotted a recently placed yellow ribbon tied around a huge Oak tree. Alligator tears fill her eyes and her chest constricted trying to imagine what her neighbors must be going through. As she thought about the yellow ribbon throughout the day, her eyes fill with tears again, and her throat clogged with emotion. Gratitude circled through her that her sons were home safe in America, but then danger had begun to drift homeward as well. Still, she was glad they were home. God Bless our troops, men and women alike, she prayed.

Are you in the scene? Did tears threaten to puddle in your eyes? I hope so. Let’s see where Myra goes next.

Beautiful Mini Shetland Pony

After two busy intersections, Myra turned down an old road and slowed to get in line at the four-way stop. Amazed at the growth in the area, she could still see signs all around her of how the neighborhood used to be considered “country living”. On the right side of the road, a Leopard Appaloosa, a silky black Quarter horse, a blonde miniature Shetland pony, and two goats grazed on a grassy plot of land. Myra rolled the window down breathing in the scent of freshly baled hay and newly mown lawns. A couple of Border Collies lazed nearby. She remembered her friend’s grandfather calling them cow-dogs. She wished she could pull up a lounge chair and join them. She wondered about the owner of the property.

Perhaps a frustrated horse rancher lived there. Maybe a couple moved out here when they were quite young, thinking progress and technology wouldn’t make it out this far west any time soon. Maybe a crazed serial killer had set up his insane nest out here before people started filtering in on what used to be his quiet domain. Ha! See how quickly we can change the mood of a scene! Love that creative part. 

Passing the mini-ranch in the mornings gave her a sense of calm country atmosphere, of relaxation, wide open spaces, quiet, no phone, no TV. It brought back memories of a favorite time when she and her childhood best friend grew up spending weekends at their family farm in Falco, Alabama. Crack of dawn Saturday mornings sitting on the tailgate of an old pickup truck full of feed heading out to supply the herd, singing “Somewhere Over the Rainbow”, and having the best of times. Of course she was having a good time, she had a huge crush on her best friend’s brother.

Okay, what about the previous paragraphs of scene? What does it tell you about our character? What emotions is she feeling? What else can you tell about the scene? Have we touched on any of the five senses? Are you drawn into the scene?

Ok, so now where’s Myra going?

On the left side of the road a park sits adjacent to the new gated community. A wide sidewalk offers a pleasant place to walk, jog, and exercise the resident’s and their dogs. Myra watches a young slender woman wearing sexy sweats swiftly walking with her two extremely large but well behaved shaggy dogs. She wishes she had time to stay in shape like the wealthy young ladies of this rich area. Why couldn’t she make more money? Why couldn’t she have been born rich? The scent of pine drifts into the car as the fog begins to lift. Across the road a herd of cows graze near the fence line waiting for breakfast to be delivered.
So what does this scene tell us about Myra? What does this scene tell us about the area of town? One thing I pickup on is that she wishes she had more time and money. So where does she go now?

 Around two more corners, Myra enters a whole new elegant world. Houses the size of castles, some closely resembling the antiquated structures, have popped up faster than they can sell in this modern world. Allowing herself to drift back in time, she wonders what would it have been like to live back then? A romantic tug at her heart steals her breath away.

Okay, what about this previous scene? What is she thinking about? What is she feeling? What kind of crazy imaginings is she having? Are you there with her?

I know I have probably rambled, but I’ve had fun putting together these scenes. In reality, this is what I see in a forty-five minute trip from home to work, of course slightly embellished. I had fun expanding, elaborating and manipulating reality and fiction to prove a point. Thanks for listening, and

Happy Scene Creating,

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