#Eden Lit Lessons- Setting the Scene

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#Eden Lit Lessons- Setting the Scene

Airen Wolf Airen Wolf
Setting the scene, whether it is a short story or a novel, is crucially important because the reader cannot see what the author takes for granted. Imagine that you are talking to a deaf, dumb and blind person when you are speaking to your readers. The balance between how much is too much information and how much is too little information is fine. Often new writers either skip over the background of a story or they spend too much time setting the scene and the character descriptions and dialogue begin to pale.

Seasoned writers know that a reader needs the basic information but often they need it in less detail than they think they do! Allowing them to discover the surroundings in a more natural manner will make the story come to life in a more deep and meaningful way...it also allows the story to take on a personal meaning to the reader. A seasoned writer also knows that writing is an active process not a passive one.

So then, how do we begin to develop a dab hand at describing a scene that evolves rather than being just a static description? Well, the first step is to become aware of exactly how our senses work to perceive everything that is around us. Presumably you have spent a bit of time perfecting how dialogue should flow and noticing how you perceive the appearance of another person. If you haven't then you can combine all three of these exercises in one excursion.

You will begin by visiting at least three separate locations with a notebook and pen or a lap top- whatever you normally use to write with. You want three different locations because of the premise that there are no new stories ever written just different ways of seeing the same situation! What I mean is there are three different settings for stories: A home setting, a public venue and an outdoor setting devoid of crowds of people.

So, choose three locations you can sit and record what is going on around you. Here are the three I normally choose: my own house, a local restaurant and a state park.
When I am at my home I will begin by sitting quietly and close my eyes. Then I take careful note, after opening my eyes, at what are the important things I notice about the room. The temperature, the ambiance, then the colors, furniture and minutia last. I write down exactly how, and what, I notice because it lets me have an insight about what is actually important to describe to fill the scene.

At a restaurant, or bar, I take in and note what it is that I notice first about the surroundings. Do I notice scents of the food? What does my eye settle on first? Is it the register near the door? Is it the salad bar and all the fresh food there? Does the restaurant have decorations that draw the eye? How would I describe them in one quick sentence?
As I am walking to my table I notice what draws my eye and think about how I would very quickly, but thoroughly, describe this place to someone who had never been there. Are the tables clean and tidy? Are the seats comfortable? Is there a pleasant buzz of conversation or is it very quite? Is there loud music playing or just a quiet murmur?
When I arrive at the table I sit for a while with my head down and eyes closed to listen intently- not to the conversations going on around me, but at the cadence...the sing song quality of the spacing of the words. In a public setting there is an agreed upon quality of conversation. The texture and feel of it is generally the same wherever you are. All of this will inform your writing and scene to make the fictional story more real.

Ok so we've described a very personal setting and a very public one. Let's look at a nature scene. Find a quite place and visit it frequently all year round. Describe your surroundings in detail based on what you notice first, and what touches your senses the most intensely. Write everything down and notice how your soul describes the scene. These sorts of insights will bring your fictional pond to life with all the flavor of the real thing.

Now that you have done some real research into how your own senses work you can begin to set your scene. You have done your research on your characters and their physical appearance, motives and drives. You have also researched how dialogue works and the cadence of it in different situations. Now you have researched different settings in which to place your characters. You have all the building blocks to begin your work, and you probably have some excellent descriptions written as well while doing your research. Perhaps the research has refined your plot or even changed your story altogether!

Remember that your senses don't stop working while you process something else and that you don't notice everything in giant blocks of understanding. Spread out your descriptors and allow the reader to discover things naturally as the scene unfolds.

For instance: The day was warm and fragrant with freshly cut grass. The water sparkled on the pond as the wind played ripples upon its surface. She was wearing a pink cotton sundress and giant sun hat that required her to place a hand every once and a while on the crown to keep it from being blown away in the playful breezes. The birds called to her and she tiled up her head, closing her eyes in ecstasy at the blues, yellows and greens of the day.

"You look like a wild fae, my dear, all red hair and freckles like sun kisses across your nose!" The man spoke in low tones, unwilling to break the spiritual hush that the meadow offered. The woman smiled at him and sat on the red and white blanket across from the laden picnic basket. He handed her a flute of champagne and a plump strawberry. He watched as the rim of her hat raised slowly until he could see the clear green of her eyes flashing mischief and happiness. She studied him for a moment before lifting the berry to her lips and biting into the tart succulence before sipping the bubbly wine.

Her companion was classically attractive, and why not? He looked as though he had stepped out of a photo of the past in his grey chinos, lavender button down shirt and dark, business cut hair. His slight stubble accented his kissable mouth and when he smiled things tightened low in her belly.


So we know where we are, what we are doing and have a hint of what could be going on and what could happen in just a few minutes. We know what each of the people is wearing, a general description of each of them, some pleasant dialogue and yet we are hungering to know more. We have just a slight glimpse of the inner workings of these two lovers....and yet we really don't know if they ARE lovers. This story could be a light romance, or a deep dark mystery.

When you are beginning your tale remember to keep your reader wanting more but don't starve them! Let them see what is in your head but don't try to paint a word picture so detailed your reader feels like you have held up a mirror. Mix it up and let your senses be your guide.
03/09/2013
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