5 Steps to Setting the Scene in a Novel or Story

Setting the Scene: Writing Wednesday

Setting is an important part of any story, but setting the scene can be even more important.

This week I thought I’d try something a bit different and give you my blog on the process of writing in video form!

Setting the Scene Key Points:

1. Know your characters. Be conscious of your characters’ personality traits and whether their actions in a scene are in line with their prior actions. If your character does something totally out of character, it can still work if there’s a reason for it. However, often times this can make the reader stumble. As a general rule, it’s usually good to make sure your characters act within predefined roles, even if those roles are kept secret from the reader. Hiding a character’s motives can make a character have depth, as long as the author, you, knows where the character’s true intentions lie.

2. Don’t waste time. Jump right into the action. There is such a thing as boring your reader to death. Some types of back story are great for the reader and really help with setting the scene, especially in epic fantasy stories and novels with a rich history. However, there’s a point where the reader just wants something to happen. Be cognizant of this while you’re writing and you’ll be doing your reader a service.

3. The first appearance. The first time any character is introduced is when you want to spend the most time describing it. At the end of the scene, you want your reader to come away with a picture in their head. Otherwise, when you reintroduce that character later on, your reader might be confused. Setting the scene from the get-go is important, and getting the initial description down is critical.

4. Setting. Going along with the first appearance, it’s also crucial to describe a place appropriately the first time a reader sees it. While it is recommended that enough description be given to give the reader a picture in their head, there’s something to be said for writing in a concise way. I say this because then every reader will be able to morph the words in their head and create their own picture, as long as you give them enough to go on. Some places are more important than others as far as description goes. If you’re never going to come back to a place, you probably want to get all of your description out at once. If you do plan on going there again, you might be able to get the basics out of the way the first time, and then add more nuances later on. This way, every time a reader sees the place they don’t get the same description, but something more in depth. Don’t play all of your cards at once.

5. The Senses. For me, it’s easier to add these details in later. Otherwise, one week I could be heavily focused on smell and another on taste. Instead, I like to save an entire read-through when I’m on my second draft for adding in different sensory details. This way I can make sure to get a fairly even assortment and avoid becoming repetitive. However, if it works within the confines of the scene and you can see during your rough draft that it will add something to the scene, go for it. Writing is not an exact science. If it were, reading would be very dull. That said, I hear at the dead center of every romance novel is a sex scene. If true, it must be a good formula because romance is the most popular genre in eBook form. I wonder if the readers know it’s formulaic? Thoughts?


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The Process of Writing

Every author’s process varies. Writing Processes are like assholes. Everyone has one, and some of them stink more than others. In this post I’ll share part of my process with you. I won’t share all of it, some parts are secret.

When I write, I write a skeleton. When I’m working on a novel I write 5 pages every day, without exception, until I’m done with a first draft. A first draft for me was about 100 pages in word. It was bare bones, dialogue and general stage directions for my characters.

During the first edit through, I add A LOT of detail. The manuscript will balloon to 200 pages in word. Keep in mind, I’m a succinct writer and the finished product of Memory Leak was 210 pages. I drew inspiration for the size of my Novel from Philip K. Dick. Each of his fantastic novels are between 190 and 250 pages, yet each tells a compelling story and many have been turned into movies.

The second edit adds any forgotten detail and brightens up the language. This is where I focus on the nuances of writing…add bits and pieces that affect the major themes and make sure the voice of the writing is consistent throughout.

The third edit is special. During my first two edits I take notes on little details I want to emphasize later on. In the third edit, I create what I call Circular Themes. Ever see an episode of Seinfeld? Larry David takes a seemingly minute detail in the beginning of the show and brings it back later on. The story comes full circle. In this edit I create these Circular Themes to add subtle layers underneath the main storyline. Some of the Circular Themes I created in Memory Leak were meant to be resolved in a sequel. These little details will tie the two novels together with thin threads, unnoticeable without reading both books. This way, a novel and its sequel don’t have to be connected just by a continuing storyline.

I edit one final time skimming only for typos and grammatical errors.

That’s my process! What’s yours?