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Monday, 3 March 2014

Writing tips - visualisation

Time and again, in writers’ early drafts I encounter a lack of visualisation. They don’t see the scene, so can’t accurately convey what is happening to the reader.

Some writers prefer dialogue, which admittedly moves the story along. Yet, while people are speaking, they’re usually moving from one room to another, or using props of some kind, otherwise it’s a very static story. I’ve read about characters chatting over a meal, yet from the POV of the main character it would be difficult to know what they ate or drank! If the meal is of no consequence, then why is it in the story? It’s a prop? Well, it should be used as a specific entity, not as a vague ‘thing’. Characters might comment on the quality of the food, or reminisce about a grand meal they had in the past, even if merely asides pertinent to the conversation – and direction of the story. No, we don’t want flab inserted for the sake of word-count, but we do want to feel we’re there, and one sure-fire way of doing that is to indulge in specifics.

An entire book could be written about setting the scene, about showing the reader your characters’ world and how they fit into it.

The following is an extract, so a few points above are made here also:


Remember, a book is a movie inside a reader’s head. Setting the scene means seeing it in your mind’s eye. This might entail zooming in on details or even panning around a street scene, particularly when you’re writing in omniscient mode.

Visualization is often neglected, especially in a first draft. If you can’t ‘see’ it, then your readers most certainly can’t.

People don’t exist in a vacuum – they’re standing, sitting, lounging, and walking in a solid world of your making. Let the readers see it – but let them see through your characters’ eyes.

This applies for every scene, to varying degrees, depending on the importance of the dramatic incident.

Use all the senses when possible – sight, touch, smell, sound and taste.

‘Well, come in.’ She stood aside, swept the slight train of her dress behind her and gestured for him to enter the hallway. She shut the door. ‘You’ve come to the right place, to be sure. Hang your hat, Mister.’

         He hung the slouch on a mahogany hook by the door.

         Turning on her heel with a swishing sound of satin, she said, ‘Follow me, sir.’

         He did so, trailing behind her swaying red bustle as it swept over the narrow strip of hall carpet. Even though it was still day, wall sconces were lit, projecting a warm ruddy glow everywhere Corbin looked. There was a sickly-sweet smell of cheap perfume, which he surmised probably served to keep at bay the pungent aroma of body odour and tobacco smoke. He heard murmuring up ahead.

Once he had passed through an arched doorway, a heavy brocade curtain fell behind him and all sound ceased. They were in a large room, each wall lined with two or three chaises longue, the walls papered in a crimson flock design. Seats were either occupied by young women with painted faces or anxious-looking men of all ages. The women wore white dimity wide skirts and soft ringlets of hair cascaded over bare shoulders; some fluttered lace fans in front of dark coquettish eyes. Most of the men only gave him a cursory look then returned to studying their boots or chatting to each other; the women too resumed their conversation, ignoring him. It was as if they were all congregated in a railway station waiting room. Only here the tickets were to Paradise, even if it was ephemeral. (The $300 Man, p 15)

      You need to personalise the visualization, too.
      Using an earlier sequence where Corbin meets   Jean after many years, I’ll give an example:

Her smile hadn’t been that way before, he realised. Something had altered her face – her nose still turned up at the tip, but it had been broken and was now slightly askew. The freckles were barely noticeable under the powder. Her thin lips usually offered the promise of a winsome smile but now they were dark red and unnatural. At one time her hazel eyes sent his heart soaring when she looked at him, but now she was hardly focussing on him or her world. Her mind was in some dark and distant place. Life once brimmed from her, now it was little more than a flickering candle in a gale.

She’d offered him a lopsided smile, which set off his memory of a younger, more innocent Jean. We see how she is now and how she was, in stark contrast. It’s visual description, but combined with Corbin’s emotion-filled memories and the maturity he’d gained since last seeing her.
- Write a Western in 30 Days, (pp131-133) here here here
Book depository post-free worldwide here
Robert Hale (UK) here

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