Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Completing the Scene

I'm what I call an under-writer, not an over-writer.

After I've written my first draft of a novel and then go back to do edits, I often find myself adding more instead of cutting excess out. I tend to neglect describing much of my characters' surroundings and instead focus intently on their dialogue and the emotions/personalities that are in conflict at that point.

I've found I even do this when I read other people's work. I skim over any long bits of description until I can get back to what the characters are saying or doing.

Usually I can just go back during editing and fill in the "blank spots" in my stories, but sometimes I just get stuck. Recently I hit a part in one of my chapters where a couple of characters were arguing, but somewhere along the way I'd forgotten to add in any description and so the chapter dissolved into nothing but their dialogue. When I tried to go back and edit, I just stared at the screen. I couldn't think of any way to fill out the scene.

Luckily I've devised a solution that works for me every time. I take out a piece of paper (though I'm sure this could be done on the computer, too), and start making lists. Like "What does their surroundings look like?", "Any smells here?" "What kind of sounds would they hear?" And then I go on to questions like: "What is Character 1 feeling/thinking at this point?" "What does he/she WANT people to think he/she is feeling?" "What about Character 2?"

From this, I get a list of physical surroundings that I can start to weave into the narrative. But even better, I get a clearer idea of what's going on in a character's head. So, for example, if I found that a character was nervous about something but didn't want the other person to know, I could weave in details like "She tapped her fingers on her leg" or "She fiddled with her necklace again, but dropped it when she realized the motion was drawing too much attention to herself."

It seems like a simple thing, but it really helps me nail things down instead of trying to keep up with everything I need to remember in a scene.

Do you have the same problem with under-writing? Or do you normally over-write and have to cut? Or are you awesome and do it just right? (Tell me your secret!) Any similar tricks for working it all out?


  1. That is really cool! I would have to say I am somewhere in the middle - I under-write description and thoughts but then I over-write by my writing not being tight and concise. And I have no suggestions. I'm a pantser in nearly every sense. ^_^

  2. I am definitely way too wordy... but I tend to have to give and take--too many words about This, not enough words about That.


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